Ted Cruz

Cruz vs. Rubio on Foreign Policy is a Test of the GOP's Tolerance for Hawkishness

The two senators have been bashing each other with particular gusto this week.



The most interesting mini-contest in the GOP presidential race this week is between Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who have been bashing each other with particular gusto on foreign policy.

Among other things, the contest may serve as a test of the GOP's support for maximally interventionist foreign policy.

Cruz targeted Rubio directly earlier this week, criticizing his support for military action against Muammar Qaddafi in Libya, and linking the Florida senator to Hillary Clinton in the process.

"Senator Rubio emphatically supported Hillary Clinton in toppling Qaddafi in Libya. I think that made no sense," Cruz said to Bloomberg Politics, as Brian Doherty noted earlier. "Qaddafi was a bad man, he had a horrible human rights record. And yet…he had become a significant ally in fighting radical Islamic terrorism."

Cruz insisted that the 2012 attack on an American diplomatic compound in Benghazi was a "direct result of that massive foreign policy blunder." (Sounds like Cruz has been reading Michael Brendan Dougherty.)

He also linked Rubio with Clinton on Syria, saying that "if the Obama administration and the Washington neo-cons succeed in toppling [Bashar al-] Assad, Syria will be handed over to radical Islamic terrorists. ISIS will rule Syria."

In a separate interview with the Associated Press, Cruz said that he opposed using torture when interrogating enemy combatants.

"We can defend our nation and be strong and uphold our values," Cruz said. "There is a reason the bad guys engage in torture. ISIS engages in torture. Iran engages in torture. America does not need to torture to protect ourselves."

That's another clear contrast with Rubio, who earlier this year declined to vote in support of an anti-torture measure—and by torture we're talking about interrogation techniques like rectal feeding and waterboarding—and said that had he been present, he would have voted no, because he doesn't "support telegraphing to the enemy what interrogation techniques we will or won't use" and doesn't want to restrict the options available to "future commanders in chief and intelligence officials." Basically, Rubio thinks it's important not to take any steps to deny a future president Rubio the opportunity to use incredibly brutal interrogation techniques.

Rubio, in turn, has recent gone after Cruz for supporting the USA Freedom Act, which limited the NSA's bulk data collection of individual electronic communication data—charging Cruz with voting "to weaken the U.S. intelligence programs." 

As we barrel toward next year's primary votes, Rubio and Cruz look like the most plausible challengers to Donald Trump, who has held the frontrunner position since July.

What Cruz is attempting to do is draw a contrast between his foreign policy views and Rubio's unrelenting hawkishness without being tagged as an isolationist like Rand Paul.

Indeed, he's pitching himself as a sort of third-way option, somewhere between the two, saying that he doesn't believe in the "binary" choice between wanting to "retreat from the world and be isolationist" and believing we have to "be these crazy neo-con invade-every-country-on-earth and send our kids to die in the Middle East."

If you believe, as many do, that it is possible and even likely that we're heading quickly toward what is essentially a Cruz/Rubio contest, with Cruz playing the outsider and Rubio the insider, then this may serve as a preview of the GOP's final primary showdown next year.

And that contest could be close. It's probably a little too early to say whether Cruz's foreign policy strategy is working, but a new national poll this morning finds that he's rising in the field, and suggests he could pose a threat to both Rubio and Trump.  

Cruz gained 3 points over the last month, according to a Quinnipiac University poll of Republican voters released this morning, and now holds 16 percent of the field, putting him in third place overall. Cruz is nearly tied with second-placer Rubio, who has the support of 17 percent of those polled. (Trump still leads with 27 percent, up a few points as well, while Carson has fallen 7 points and now lags in fourth place.) That poll is just the latest sign of a trend. The RealClearPolitics poll average also shows that as Ben Carson has fallen over the last few weeks, Cruz and Rubio have gained steam, and a nearly tied, with Rubio less than a point ahead.

What these rising poll numbers mean is that, at minimum, Cruz is going to be getting a lot of media attention over the next few weeks, and he appears to have decided to use this moment, and the platform it affords him, as an opportunity to stake out a foreign policy worldview that is not only in direct opposition to Marco Rubio's, but to the mainline GOP's more typical election-year posture of maximum hawkishness.

Which suggests that Cruz, who has been running a smart and focused campaign so far, believes that there are gains to be made from this strategy, and that at this point there are real limits to the GOP's tolerance for foreign policy chest thumping.

Obviously foreign policy isn't the only issue in play here (Cruz is also attacking Rubio on immigration), but it's a big one, and Cruz's success, or lack thereof, will be revealing. At this point, I don't know whether Cruz is right that Rubio's never-give-an-inch hawkishness is a weakness within his party, but I'm more than a little curious to find out. Because if he is, or if it even looks, in the end, like his foreign policy attacks have hurt Rubio a little, then that could undermine the conventional wisdom about the GOP and foreign policy for a long time to come, and open up other avenues and opportunities for less-than-maximally aggressive candidate in the future.

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  1. Since most voters don’t understand foreign policy nuances, it’s just as likely Cruz’s ascendancy will make his (relatively) reserved intervention ideas attractive to voters rather than the other way around.

  2. Whenever Cruz sounds sane, I start to worry.

    1. Don’t worry, I’m sure he has a scheduled appearance at Liberty University before the primaries.

      1. Well, he did announce his campaign there…

        1. Heh – I didn’t know that. Maybe he’s getting all the sucking up to wacko fundamentalists out of the way early.

          1. Which “wacko” fundamentalists? Like the ones who believe in the fundamentals of “Do unto others”? Or those who’ve read 1 Samuel 8?

            Or do you mean the so called “fundamentalists” who don’t know the fundamentals of a paper bag?

            1. The preacher who said homosexuality should be a crime.

        2. He got all that handshaking out of the way before he started to get national attention.

    2. Then perhaps you should stop deep-throating whatever talking points you have been hearing.

  3. and by torture we’re talking about interrogation techniques like rectal feeding

    This is why capitol hill caterers deserve $15 bucks and hour.

    1. Capitol hill caterers have been feeding assholes for decades…

    2. ‘Rectal feeding’? Is that what power tops call it now?

  4. Rubio is really going all in on our “success” in Libya? He really thinks turning a neutral strongman country into jihadistan is a good strategy? And reinforcing the precedence (after the Ukraine) that turning in your WMDs buys you absolutely no security or goodwill.

    1. Rubio is going with the “Hey team Blue, I’ll cover for your war if you cover for mine” strategy. He can always be against it after he was for it.

    2. I’m more surprised that he’s going all in on the NSA. People may be war-weary, but the NSA spying is what people are much more able to relate to.

      1. Which is why Rand Paul is leading in the polls. Oh, wait….

  5. Well, Cruz is sounding somewhat acceptable. I was starting to worry that there was no one left I really wanted to vote for who stood a chance. There may be some hope yet.

    1. It’s not so much who you want to vote for as who you’d be less depressed about seeing in office.

  6. “Qaddafi was a bad man, he had a horrible human rights record. And yet…he had become a significant ally in fighting radical Islamic terrorism.”

    Stalin was an ally in the fight against Hitler, too.

    So what?

    Libyan nationals made up a disproportionate share of the foreign jihadis fighting for Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Qaddafi’s rule was so bad, it made it practically impossible for huge swaths of the Libyan population to proper and raise a family. If it hadn’t been for the Qaddafi regime, there wouldn’t have been anywhere near as many jihadis in the world–before or after 9/11.

    With an “ally” like Qaddafi in the fight against terrorism, who needed enemies? If the express purpose of the Libyan government under Qaddafi had been to create foot soldiers for international terrorist groups, they could hardly have done a better job. Al Qaeda’s whole argument for terrorism rested on the suggestion that vicious dictators like Qaddafi couldn’t be removed from power by any other means. That peaceful protest followed by international cooperation with the West succeeded where Al Qaeda had failed was a major blow to Al Qaeda’s argument–and may have more to do with popular support for Daesh, subsequently, increasing at Al Qaeda’s expense than a lot of people realize.

    The fact is that there was no outcome in Libya that would have been good for the United States in the short term–including the status quo. Sometimes the world is like that.

    1. So now they are prospering and enjoying their new freedom?

      1. “The fact is that there was no outcome in Libya that would have been good for the United States in the short term–including the status quo. Sometimes the world is like that.”

        Once Gaddafi started firing on peaceful protesters and the people of Libya decided to revolt, the status quo from before the Arab Spring was no longer possible.

        The new status quo (where the West and Qatar did nothing in Libya) almost certainly would have looked like Syria does today.

        The people of Libya may have to go through a phase of bloodshed before they decide they want something better. I hope all parties choose peace, cooperation, stability, and prosperity sooner rather than later–but if they have to go through this bloody exercise before they get there, then that’s what they have to do.

        People talk about the need for a Muslim reformation, but what they fail to realize is that the reforms we’re referring to as “the Reformation” came about because bloody, bloody wars, like the Thirty Years War, eventually produced things like the Peace of Westphalia. The people of the Muslim world need to find their own Peace of Westphalia, and what we’re really talking about when we talk about the “Muslim Reformation” that needs to happen–is probably happening right now.

        These things take time. Will it take them 30 years? I hope not.

        1. What Cruz says about Qaddafi just as easily applies to Saddam. Iraq hardly seems better off for the effort, lives, and treasure put into his ouster. And if firing on peaceful protesters is the calculus, then why did we back the effort to oust Qaddafi but nothing with regard to Iran?

          Stalin was an ally in the fight against Hitler, too.

          Did I miss the concerted effort to remove him from power? If anything, a large chunk of the American left practically lionized Uncle Joe. On occasion, you ally with bad people when confronting even worse people.

          1. “What Cruz says about Qaddafi just as easily applies to Saddam. Iraq hardly seems better off for the effort, lives, and treasure put into his ouster.”

            The status quo, if we hadn’t invaded Iraq, was Saddam Hussein contained, surrounded, under sanctions, and with huge no fly zones in both northern and southern Iraq.

            The status quo if we hadn’t provided air power in Libya was that Libya might have turned into Syria.

            Other important differences:

            One of them is that the Iraq War represented the United States deciding to overthrow Saddam Hussein, but the Libyan Civil War was about the people of Libya rising up against their own dictator. Wouldn’t there be a big difference to you between France invading our country to overthrow the rule of a bad king and France helping the American colonists win our own revolution?

            Another big difference was the use of ground troops. To the extent that we committed troops on the ground in Iraq, it was a giant mistake. Nothing makes it easier to pull troops out than never having put them on the ground in the first place. Never mind Germany and Japan, will we ever get our troops out of the Philippines? Yeah, once we put troops on the ground, pulling them out is very, very difficult. That by itself makes what we did in Libya much more palatable than what we did in Iraq. It wasn’t an eternal commitment–and that is because we never put troops on the ground and our troops didn’t die there.

            1. I should add…

              Watching people scream about why we didn’t send American troops in after some Americans (who shouldn’t have been there) died in a terrorist attack in the aftermath of the Libyan Civil War is a pretty good indication of how we get sucked into these things–and why we should avoid putting troops on the ground whenever possible.

              Once an American soldier dies somewhere, pulling out unless the place is free like America makes it seem like he died in vain. The American people cannot stomach that. It is an affront to the American psyche.

            2. “The status quo, if we hadn’t invaded Iraq, was Saddam Hussein contained, surrounded, under sanctions, and with huge no fly zones in both northern and southern Iraq.”

              1) The sanctions were falling apart.

              2) This situation was untenable eternal low-grade warfare.

              “One of them is that the Iraq War represented the United States deciding to overthrow Saddam Hussein, but the Libyan Civil War was about the people of Libya rising up against their own dictator. Wouldn’t there be a big difference to you between France invading our country to overthrow the rule of a bad king and France helping the American colonists win our own revolution?”

              Who gives a shit? The ‘feelings’ of backwards peoples around the world are not a basis for good foreign policy. Also, pretty sure the Kurds were happy about Saddam’s ouster.

              1. “Who gives a shit? The ‘feelings’ of backwards peoples around the world are not a basis for good foreign policy.”

                If you don’t think the lack of local support for a U.S. led occupation and transition government wasn’t a good reason to avoid invading Iraq in the first place, then you must have been ignoring the news for the past 12 years.

                There is an enormous difference between imposing our will on some other country’s dictator and supporting some other country in their own revolt–and that difference isn’t only qualitative. It speaks to the viability of the enterprise itself.

                1. There’s always a difference b/w one optional intervention and another. Regardless of the differences (which you accurately chronicle) b/w Iraq & Libya, they have one thing in common: they were optional intervention w/o vital US security at stake.
                  The default position on Syria, Myanmar, Congo, Bosnia, Rwanda, Iran, No. Korea, etc. is to follow Jefferson’s advice and avoid foreign entanglements.
                  In sum, you point out distinctions w/o a difference to support selective intervention.
                  Isolationism is not a dirty word. If you think it is then use non-interventionism and consider that as our default option. We cannot borrow another $trillion from China whenever genocide is in the offing, much less when observers such as yourself think you see a “good” revolt brewing.

              2. Qaffadi had just opend one bank with another on the way whose sole reason for existince was to facilitate the sale of oil without using the American Dollar.

                That would have done more damage to the US than an army of suicide bombers.

                I think the protestors were cover. The retail explainations provided the public are often not the true motivators behind a countries actions.

              3. In regards to sanctions and the untenability of low grade warfare, are you somehow contrasting that with the long term tenability of our occupation of Iraq?

                It’s the aftermath of the invasion that’s untenable. By contrast, what we were doing before could have gone on forever.

                Oh, and invasion or the status quo on sanctions, specifically, weren’t the only alternatives–no matter what the Bush Administration said. We could have not invaded AND done any number of other things.

                1. Who even says sanctions and no-fly zones are wise just because “W” had them in place?

                  1. I didn’t say they were wise because Bush had them in place.

                    I said comparing the status quo in Iraq circa 2003 to the status quo in Libya during the Arab Spring is a bad comparison.

                    Someone else was saying that those two situations were exactly the same, suggesting that if I opposed intervening in Iraq then I should oppose intervening in Libya–for that reason.

          2. People like Jay Carney still do. Didn’t he have a bunch of Societ era crap in his house?

          3. ” Iraq hardly seems better off for the effort”

            The parts not under ISIS rule are pretty clearly better off.

            1. The Kurdish part isn’t better off because of the 2003 invasion. That’s mostly because of what we did in 1991.

              The Kurds certainly aren’t better off because of Daesh–whose power is as a direct result of our 2003 invasion–especially if Turkey is attacking Kurds under the guise of fighting Daesh.

              1. The Kurds are interested in maintaining their own safe space against 1. Turkey, 2. ISIS, 3. Any other intruders; not degrading, destroying, denigrating, de-WhateverTheFucking ISIS throughout the region. The Good Kurds are no more our miracle cure than the imaginary Moderate Rebels in Syria.
                Good luck to the Kurds. I’ve never met one but I read the same propaganda you do and according to their press releases they are fine people.
                BUT still not the US’s fucking business.

          4. The thing about Iraq and Libya is that with Libya we had Iraq as a recent example.

            1. An example of what, though?

              Didn’t we already know that toppling dictators creates all kinds of instability?

              We did not occupy Libya. Occupying Libya would have created an Iraqi kind of instability in which the resistance to the occupation becomes focused on resistance to the new government. That’s especially awful when new government represents the means to stability.

              Authoritarianism isn’t the means to stability–it actually exacerbates instability. Authoritarianism papers over instability, like in the former Yugoslavia. Once the mask of authoritarianism was taken off, all the instability comes to the forefront. The ethnic cleansing that happened in the former Yugoslavia was a result of decades of authoritarianism. The massacres in Rwanda, likewise.

              All that instability builds up in an authoritarian state even as it’s being papered over under authoritarian threats. Once that happens, I don’t think you can go to some other non-authoritarian system without some unstable transition period. Libya going through that transition doesn’t mean moving away from an authoritarian central government was a mistake–just like getting nauseated during chemo doesn’t mean fighting the cancer was a bad idea.

            2. Like I said earlier, when you look at what’s going on since the Arab Spring, we’re probably looking at the Muslim “reformation” so many people have been clamoring for. That happened with the Peace of Westphalia, in which governments agreed that rulers should be free to choose their own faith, that individuals should be free to practice their own faith regardless of which faith their rulers picked, that countries should generally avoid interfering in each others’ internal affairs. This was a political realignment as people started reacting to various aspects of modernity.

              But the Peace of Westphalia came as the result of a bloody mess called the Thirty Years War. It was fought over the proper role of government in its relationship with religion–some of it quite fundamentalist. I think what we’re looking at since the Arab Spring is basically like a Muslim version of the Thirty Years War. The realignment of states and governments from North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia–in terms of the state and its relationship to religion–historically, that doesn’t happen peacefully and overnight.

              The libertarian reaction to seeing bloody anarchy in the aftermath of vicious dictatorships should be, “Well what did you expect?” not “Yay authoritarianism!”.

              1. I cannot fault your analysis; nor would I care to. Why must US taxpayers endure MidEast history lessons when we could just stay out of the region and leave it to scholors to study it all they please.
                The only thing these princes & dictators can do with their oil is 1. pump it out of the ground and 2. sell it.
                So we get in line to buy it along with China, Japan, Germany and the rest of the world.
                Why does that dictate all these deep history lessons, much less dumb wars?

                1. “I cannot fault your analysis; nor would I care to. Why must US taxpayers endure MidEast history lessons when we could just stay out of the region and leave it to scholors to study it all they please.”

                  Being engaged in that area as we were was in large part a function of the Cold War and our Cold War alliances.

                  That’s how we won the Cold War the way we did–without a shot being fired, too.

                  Alliances often outlive their usefulness. It’s hard to just pull up stakes and leave our old allies to the wolves. It might be in our best interests to do that, though. With dictators in Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt gone now, that’s probably a lot easier after the Arab Spring than it used to be.

    2. The Taliban is made up of the Taliban either from Afganistan or Pakistan.

      al-Qaeda was made up of primarily of Saudi and Yemen fighters.

      1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Libyan_Islamic_Fighting_Group

        Just one example.

        Libyan nationals represented a disproportionate number of the world’s jihadis going all the way back to fighting against the USSR for the Mujahideen.

        And pointing out that the ranks of Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters were also filled with people from other vicious dictatorships hardly changes the fact that a disproportionate number of them came from Libya.

        This guy’s story is pretty typical…

        http://articles.latimes.com/ 2011/apr/17/ world/la-fg-libya-qaeda-20110417

        1. So what? Hillary’s Libyan incursion was an intervention of choice. Who pays our salary to play globocop?

          1. Whether it was choice or in our best interests are two separate questions.

            Within the context of an argument in Congress (that never happened) about whether we should authorize the President to do what he did, I would (and did) argue that Obama finally got something right.

            It had to happen eventually. Unfortunately, it hasn’t happened again since.

            I think he got it right becasue over the long term, American security is greatly enhanced by Libya not being an anti-American jihadi factory, which is what it had turned into.

            In terms of who’s paying for it, if the only legitimate function of government is to protect our rights, and the legitimate purpose of the military is to protect our rights from foreign threats, then I think what we did in Libya was a perfectly legitimate function of government–with two important caveats.

            1) Need authorization from Congress.

            2) Taxes to pay for it should be collected in as voluntarily a method as possible (e.g., sales taxes on things other than necessities like food and shelter).

            Neither of those caveats have anything to do with whether the war was an intervention of choice. Why would that matter? A war of necessity might flunk both of those tests, too–and it would still be an illegitimate war.

  7. Cruz seems to be running an interesting strategy. He seems to be lining himself up as everyone’s second choice. So, if you can’t get the guy you really want to be the candidate, well, Cruz is alright.

    1. Since this election looks like it’s going to come down to everyone holding their nose and settling for someone, it’s not a bad plan.

      1. Yep – Seems like he throws occasional bones to those of us who are disappointed in Paul’s inability to get anything going.

      2. Yeah, I really do think it’s a pretty good strategy. If you listen, Cruz shows up remarkably consistently as people’s back-up candidate. And I’m talking people ranging from Paul supporters to Trumpelos.

        1. Who says Republicans aren’t willing to compromise?

    2. Worked for Romney – until the general.

      1. Cruz is smarter than Romney.

  8. Using the term neo-con as an epithet. I like it.

  9. Uh-oh

    “I am not a supporter of Lochner,” Cruz said. “I believe that minimum wage laws harm the most vulnerable in our society, that they are bad policy. As a legislator, I would vote against those laws. But I do not believe it is the role of the courts to strike them down. The states have the constitutional authority to impose foolish laws … So I disagree with some conservatives who argue, ? la Lochner, that the courts should impose conservative policy.”

    Where have I heard THAT before?

    1. +1 penaltax

    2. Not from John Roberts. Cruz didn’t say anything about the authority of a federal government of enumerated powers to establish minimum wage laws, he said something about the authority of that federal government to overturn minimum wage laws passed by the states.

  10. The two senators have been bashing each other with particular gusto this week.

    Yeah they have. Rowr.

    1. [vomits]

  11. I still maintain that Cruz is the love child of Pat Buchanan and Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation…

    1. From your keyboard to god’s ears. Someone should take up Pat B’s banner since the zioconservatives declared him persona non grata and CNN/MSNBC blackballed him.
      Who speaks for the millions of US taxpayers who detest global intervention?

  12. So it will be a contest between two people neither of whom is a natural born Citizen. Great.

    1. Oh good, I was dreading going through a political cycle without birther references being involved.

      1. What do you expect when one of the three qualifications for the most power office on the planet literally has no legally relevant definition?

        1. 1. The first 8 presidents were not “natural-born” based on that overly narrow definition.
          2. “natural-born” is not exclusively a geographic term, but also a legal term including people who were born to citizens not on US-soil, and is a criteria that all presidents have met, hence item 1. Not sure how that qualifies as “no legally relevant definition”.

          1. 1. I didn’t offer any definition and the first 8 Presidents weren’t natural born because the country didn’t exist and were grandfathered in.
            2. That’s just your opinion. There is no law or federal court case specifically defining the phrase. If you know of one please post it because people have been looking since 2007.

  13. Can’t Stand With Rand since he signed that vomitatious Tom Cotton letter. Even though it was beyond vile for Cruz to call Chuck Hagel an anti-semite I am glad to see Teddy boy ripoff Rand’s votes. Cruz never really pretended to be anything other than a rank opportunist. Rand had his Dad’s principles to live up to and took the low road.
    What a disappointment. Rand, you’re dead to me. Might as well go Trump or Cruz.

    1. It’s “vomitatious” to explain how the Constitutional system works to those you’re negotiating with? It’s not like the POTUS will frikkin’ admit they have almost no power to negotiate…

      Perhaps you’d like to show me the sentence or paragraph you have a problem with and why.

      1. It’s Sheldon.

        1. Adelson. Exactly.

      2. “explain how the . . .” Yeah, right. Keep drinking the kool-aid. That letter was Tom Cotton’s tongue up Bibi’s butt. It was not a freshman senator teaching constitutional law to Iran. Puhleez!

    2. Can’t Stand With Rand since he signed that vomitatious Tom Cotton letter.

      Talk about the perfect being the enemy of the good…

      1. It’s not an expecting perfection to be sickened by a sellout. Never once in his decades of public life did Ron Paul abdicate his principle the way Rand has done several times now.
        Ron is not perfect. Some of the gold bug stuff seems shaky, to me at least.
        Pat Buchanan is a great voice for non-intervention but his ideas on trade and religion I detest.
        These things (gold, god, trade and a dozen others) would not cause me to write anyone off.
        Selling out to grovel to AIPAC is different in kind.
        So, No, kbolino, I do not believe perfect = enemy of good is applicable.

  14. “America does not need to torture to protect ourselves.”

    It probably does and definitely should. Humanely of course.

    1. Good idea. Once someone can figure out how to twist the English language until “humane torture” becomes a concept that isn’t inherently oxymoronic, they can start with mouthy Canadian internet children.

      1. You can call it ethical torture if you want. No more oxymoronic than humane imprisonment.

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