On Ted Cruz and the 'neocons'

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.): "If you look at President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and for that matter some of the more aggressive Washington neocons, they have consistently misperceived the threat of radical Islamic terrorism and have advocated military adventurism that has had the effect of benefiting radical Islamic terrorists."

This led some neocons to not-so-subtly accuse Cruz of anti-Semitism. Danielle Pletka, the vice president of the American Enterprise Institute, wrote, "I'm not sure where the neo-cons wish us to invade (left my decoder ring at the last Elders of Zion meeting), but what exactly does this would be Commander in Chief wish us to do?"

Nonsense. "Neocon" can certainly be used as an anti-Semitic slur, for example when it's used to attack Jews who are not in fact neocons in any ideological sense. For example, Glenn Greenwald once referred to me as a "neocon" like Jeffrey Goldberg. As I wrote at the time, "the only relevant things Jeffrey Goldberg and I-a moderate and a libertarian, respectively-have in common, and therefore the only reason to refer to us as 'neocons,' is that we are both Jews who are far more favorably inclined toward Israel than is Greenwald."

But there is, in fact, such a thing as "neocons" (short for neoconservatives); it's shorthand for intellectuals (many, but far from all of whom, are Jewish) who believe both that the goal of U.S. foreign policy should be to export liberal democracy to the world and that the U.S. should not be terribly hesitant to use force to achieve that goal. They are especially, and not unfairly, associated with supporting the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, and wildly optimistic (and in retrospect utterly naive) projections of what would emerge from that intervention.

I've been critical of that ideology myself, and in the emerging dispute between Cruz and Rubio (who has many neoconservative foreign policy advisers) over nation-building, the use of ground forces against the Islamic State, and the like, I tend to side with Cruz (and against Rand Paul's more stringent non-interventionism). Regardless, it's a debate worth having, and baseless accusations of prejudice don't help.

Disclosure: Ted Cruz wrote the foreword to my new book, "Lawless: The Obama Administration's Unprecedented Assault on the Constitution and the Rule of Law."

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