Wall Street Journal launches another missile at #TedCruz — and misses again (*IMPORTANT UPDATE*)
UPDATE: I foolishly published this post during a very busy, chaotic day (including my old dog’s falling into the swimming pool and almost drowning). A friend called my attention to the fact that it contained too many typos, some confusing text, and omitted important information about the USA Freedom Act. Rather than doing an update at the bottom of the post or interrupting the flow with an update in the middle, I published the revised version as a separate post, which you can find here. I recommend that you read the new post and ignore this one (although the comments to this one are still good).
During the fifth Republican candidates’ debate, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio clashed repeatedly over national security issues, with each accusing the other of having been weak on national defense in the past and following the wrong path into the future. Because American voters identify national security as their primary concern going into the 2016 election, the differences between Cruz and Rubio deserve close analysis. A good starting point for this analysis is to compare Ted Cruz’s recent address on national security to the Heritage Foundation with Bret Stephens’ Wall Street Journal hit piece attacking that speech – and, moreover, doing so using talking points that precisely reflect Marco Rubio’s national security talking points.
The starting point for this analysis is Cruz’s speech, both because it synthesizes Cruz’s thoughts about national security and because Stephens targeted it to marginalize Cruz with conservative voters and to elevate Rubio before the same crowd:
If you don’t have the time to watch this comprehensive speech, here’s an executive summary of the first four factors Cruz holds are necessary to achieve America’s security goals (interwoven with Bookworm commentary), all of which Stephens challenges using Rubio talking points.
First, Cruz states that our government’s top priority must be to keep us safe at home and strong abroad. Rubio would agree with this priority but, as this post develops at greater length below, he and Cruz differ on the specifics. Cruz contends for the front line of America’s national security is her own border. America must address her porous borders, visa overstays, and immigration policy.
The last factor is particularly important vis-à-vis Syria, given terrorist attempts to infiltrate America. As the Tashfeen Malik experience demonstrates, our current visa process is more concerned with political correctness than national security. Malik’s Facebook page was a neon sign advertising her allegiance to ISIS, but Homeland Security policy barred anyone from checking it before inviting her into America.
Second, Cruz emphasizes that protecting our nation does not (and should not) require us to surrender our Constitutional liberties. He specifically addresses NSA’s government bulk data collection, which many people (Rubio included) believe aids in the fight against terrorist attacks.
The reality, though, is that the government is collecting so much metadata from everybody that it is impossible to analyze the data in real time in order to head off future attacks. What happens instead is that, without any probable cause, the government collects a vast amount of information on every American, information that is then stored away for the government to cherry-pick for later use on an as-needed basis. There is nothing benign about this last fact.
This stored data means that when the government has you in its sights for whatever reason, it’s got a go-to repository that it can mine without any tiresome Fourth Amendment due process interference. For those who doubt that the government can be so malevolent, Cruz brought up the case of Lois Lerner. The long list of charges against her includes the claim that she culled confidential IRS information from Tea Party proponents and handed it over to their Progressive political opponents.
Cruz also points out that one cannot justify this constitutional overreach by claiming that metadata collection protects Americans. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. Indeed, it has proven wholly ineffective in stopping terrorist attacks on our soil, as the attacks at Fort Hood, in Boston, in Chattanooga, in Garland, and in San Bernardino have shown.
Moreover, when the government has managed to prevent an attack, as it did with Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a Somali Islamic refugee who planned to blow up a Portland, Oregon, Christmas tree lighting festival, the government did so by monitoring email communications to and from a known terrorism recruiter. That is, the FBI did not randomly stumble across Mohamud’s emails by distinguishing them from the trillions of other communications the NSA swept in.
The other constitutional liberty at issue in the current national security debate is the Second Amendment. Undeterred by the fact that California’s gun laws (the most stringent in the nation) would have done nothing to stop the San Bernardino shooting – although they did ensure that the victims, trapped in a “gun free zone,” were appropriately helpless when the terrorists arrived — Obama is leading the charge to “prevent” ISIS attacks by disarming Americans. Fortunately, Americans are recognizing that this argument is a non sequitur, and are arming themselves as quickly as they can.
Third, Cruz says that our government must act with moral clarity — by which, he means the government must openly identify radical Islam fundamentalism as both the source of the terrorist attacks on our country and the wellspring of ISIS. If the government continues to refuse to identify Islam as terrorism’s source, it cannot possibly address terrorism.
Once the government finally escapes metaphor, denial, and avoidance, it can directly counter Islamic fundamentalism (for example, by supporting Dr. Zuhdi Jasser) and use military force to destroy its militant adherents. Doing so will requires a combination of air power, unconstrained by concerns over environmental damage.
Fourth, Cruz holds that our government must reach outside of American borders to repair relations with our allies and it must protect our interests by projecting strength. As Osama bin Laden highlighted, people – especially people kept ignorant and debased by a zero-sum totalitarian ideology – will always be drawn to or bow down before the strong horse. Defeating the ideology matters because, while ISIS and the Middle East are current Ground Zero for Islamic fanaticism, it is a worldwide problem.
Fundamentally – and this gives rise to an important distinction between Cruz and Rubio – Cruz believes our foreign policy must be tempered to serve real issues, not ideological theories. Thus, Cruz states that we should not make promoting democracy the centerpiece of our foreign policy.
Certainly America has had minimal success when it’s tried to manipulate other country’s ideological beliefs or political structures. Whether it was Bush attempting a polite, delicate war against Saddam Hussein (before retrenching and going with a powerful Surge) or Obama, who is working to alter the entire balance of power in the Middle East, bad things have happened.
Nor can Bush or Obama supporters point to WWII to justify their belief that America can and should change a nation’s structure to help achieve lasting world peace. Too many modern politicians and theorists forget that America did not set out to building democracy in Germany and Japan. Instead, it did so only (1) after those nations had first declared war on America and (2) after America fought the war to a complete and total victory.
Bush eventually learned his lesson in Iraq about first destroying the enemy before beginning nation building, and thereafter aimed for old-fashioned victory. Obama has not learned any lessons at all. He cavalierly threw away the hard-won Iraq victory and immediately, disastrously, and for purely ideological reasons, unconditionally embraced the Arab Spring, leading to the current anarchy in much of the Muslim Middle East.
Egypt is a case study in how not to run American foreign policy for purely ideological reasons. First, Obama worked hard to overthrow President Hosni Mubarak, who had been a friend to both Israel and America, and to have elected in his place Mohamed Morsi, a hardcore Muslim Brotherhood candidate. When the Egyptian people rose up against Morsi’s efforts to turn Egypt into a fundamentalist Islamic state, General al-Sisi took that momentum to lead a successful coup against Morsi, stopping Egypt’s journey down the path to a sharia-compliant, jihadist Islamic state.
Nor did al-Sisi stop with preventing Egypt from becoming yet another radical theocracy. Instead, at great personal risk, he also called for a reform of Islam to prevent the radicalism that gives rise to terrorism. Egypt should therefore be a natural ally for the United States. Instead, Obama shuns al-Sisi, who fails to meet Obama’s Islamic purity test for leading a Muslim majority nation.
Cruz had much more to say, but for purposes of this post, the above four issues are sufficient. To get the full flavor of Cruz’s fully developed thoughts on American foreign policy, you would do well to listen to the entire speech. For now, though, it’s sufficient to see the treatment that the Wall Street Journal meted out to Cruz’s speech, since that article disingenuously attacks Cruz in order to promote Marco Rubio’s national security viewpoint. To that end, in his “Global View” column, the WSJ’s Bret Stephens savages Cruz’s speech. Given the WSJ’s position as the most popular right of center paper, and given that these precise issues arose during the 5th Republican debate, this savagery deserves notice.
Stephen’s article is neither fair nor measured. Instead, he crafted a scurrilous piece of drive-by journalism, following the New York Times template of faux objectivism. His manifest purpose isn’t to promote rational debate about differing ideological approaches to national security. Instead, he wants to support Marco Rubio.
It’s true that Stephens doesn’t mention Rubio’s name anywhere in this hit piece. However, along with the ad hominem attacks against Cruz, Stephen’s explicit criticisms read like a Rubio presser. For this reasons, analyzing Stephens’ article is a useful way to analyze the points Cruz and Rubio tried to develop, in abbreviated fashion, during the recent Republican debate.
The WSJ editors were helpful enough to dispel any thought that this might be a reasoned column, one that fairly discusses the pros and cons of Cruz’s national security approach and how these policy differences affect America’s long-term safety. That is a dialogue conservative voters and Americans should be having. But again, dialog is not the WSJ’s goal. Instead, its goal is to take out a candidate who might rock the immigration boat. To that end, here is how it titled Stephens’ piece, which is directed at the many conservatives who routinely read the WSJ:
The Cruz Imposture
The Texas senator’s foreign policy is closer to Obama’s than he lets on.
In other words, “Dear WSJ reader: A vote for Cruz is a vote for a third Obama term.” That’s poppycock! As will be explained, it’s actually Rubio who is ideologically closer to Obama on foreign policy grounds, not Cruz. Be that as it may, Stephens approaches his readers as if they are mental midgets of the Moveon.org variety waiting to be led to party-approved “good thinking.”
Stephens shows his disdain for Cruz in the first paragraph by forthrightly calling Cruz a deceitful hypocrite. He contends that Cruz is too smart to actually believe the positions he has taken and, instead, advances them solely to get elected. Apparently the litmus test for whether a candidate’s position is an ideological contrivance is whether or not Stephens himself agrees with it. Stephens’ belief that rightness means aligning with his values sounds remarkably like Obama, doesn’t it?:
Not everything in Ted Cruz’s foreign policy speech on Thursday at the Heritage Foundation was awful. There was enough intellectual heft in there to suggest that the senator from Texas is too smart to believe the ideological contrivances and strategic impostures by which he seeks to gain the GOP nomination.
Having lobbed the first grenade at Cruz, Stephens retrenches by accurately defining the foreign policy problems the next president must address, and the limitations on any such policy:
The central foreign-policy challenge facing the next president is how to re-establish American credibility with friends who no longer trust us and enemies who no longer fear us. Mr. Cruz gets this, just as he gets that the purpose of U.S. foreign policy cannot be to redeem the world’s crippled societies through democracy-building exercises. Foreign policy is not in the business of making dreams come true—Arab-Israeli peace, Islamic liberalism, climate nirvana, a Russian reset, et cetera. It’s about keeping our nightmares at bay.
Today those nightmares are Russian revanchism, Iranian nuclearization, the rise and reach of Islamic State and China’s quest to muscle the U.S. out of East Asia. . . .
All of those concerns rightly should be at the top of the next president’s list. However, what’s suspicious about the list is that it’s missing something of paramount importance to Americans; namely, protecting our nation from Islamic terrorist attacks on our soil. This conspicuous absence is almost amusing considering that a recent Wall Street Journal poll reveals that national security tops American concerns going into the 2016 election.
Stephens’ decision to ignore national security and focus on foreign policy – even though Cruz’s Heritage Foundation speech was about national security – was no accident. Instead, Stephens formulated the issues as he did to set up his first attack on Cruz and, by implication, defend Rubio. He does this by mischaracterizing Cruz’s speech as one about “foreign policy” rather than “national security”:
Mr. Cruz . . . wants you to know that he intends to finish the wall along the border with Mexico. And triple the border patrol. And quadruple the number of aircraft patrolling the border.
Why? Because “when terrorists can simply swim across the Rio Grande, we are daring them to make the journey.”
By now, illegal immigration is to the GOP what global warming is to the Democrats: the all-purpose bugaboo that is supposed to explain nearly every problem and whose redress must be part of every solution. But immigration policy is not foreign policy, much less a counterterrorism strategy. And there are probably larger pools of would-be jihadists in Montreal and Vancouver than in Monterrey or Veracruz. Shouldn’t Mr. Cruz call for a wall from Quebec to British Columbia?
Given that Islamic immigration was front and center in the recent terrorist attack in San Bernardino, given that we are about to invite tens of thousands of Muslims into our country with virtually no vetting, and given that illegal immigration in the many millions has been going on virtually unchecked in our nation, any candidate who ignores illegal immigration as a national security issue ought to be disqualified immediately.
So why is Stephens not only chastising Cruz for raising immigration in his speech, but going so far as to dismiss it as a false issue? Simple: He’s doing it to protect Rubio, who is extremely vulnerable on the issue thanks to his association with the Gang of Eight and their plan to legalize the many millions of illegal aliens already in this country. For Stephens to take the position he takes is a sure sign that he thinks — or at least hopes — that voters are so stupid they’ll mindlessly agree with his unsupported (and unsupportable) immigration pronouncement.
Stephens next criticizes Cruz’s concerns about NSA bulk data collection, which is something that Rubio supports (and was something the two men tangled over during the recent debate):
Similarly depressing—because he surely knows better—are Mr. Cruz’s efforts to paint himself as a champion of civil liberties when it comes to his recent success in gutting the National Security Agency’s bulk telephony metadata collection program.
Mr. Cruz must feel politically vulnerable on this score, especially after the San Bernardino massacre and the sense that the pool of libertarian-leaning GOP voters is fast drying up. But he’s decided to double down on his objections to the (now lapsed) NSA program. “Hoarding tens of billion of records of ordinary citizens,” he said last week, “didn’t stop Fort Hood, it didn’t stop Boston, it didn’t stop Garland, and it failed to detect the San Bernardino plot.”
All true—nobody ever said intelligence is foolproof. But here’s another plot the NSA program failed to stop. “Telephony metadata,” wrote Judge William H. Pauley III of New York’s Southern District in a 2013 ruling affirming the constitutionality of the program, “would have furnished the missing information and might have permitted the NSA to notify the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the fact that [9/11 hijacker Khalid] al-Mihdhar was calling the Yemeni safe house from inside the United States.”
Stephens is really trolling his audience here, baldly asserting that all right-thinking people know that collecting metadata has nothing to do with civil rights. Again, he’s entirely wrong.
When it comes to the government collecting and storing the metadata that all but the most off-the-grid American citizens generate, it’s hard to imagine a program more threatening to our Fourth Amendment rights — i.e., to be free from government search without a reasonable belief that we may have committed a crime — or a program with more potential for government abuse. We’ve already seen Lois Lerner and others release private data for political reasons. The reality is that, while the collected data is too vast to monitor for future crimes, it is a perfect repository for an Orwellian government to troll once it has a citizen in its sights and needs to create a crime with which to destroy him. (Again, think: Lois Lerner.)
Here’s the bottom line, which Stephens assiduously ignores: If we can’t trust Obama to tell us the truth about Obamacare or ISIS or, well, anything of substance, how can we trust his administration (or any administration) to use appropriately information that can be mined for attacking political enemies? And just as a reminder, our Constitution is built on the Founding Fathers’ very healthy distrust of government power.
Again, as Cruz noted, the analysis might be different if metadata collection had resulted in stopping any actual terrorist acts. But in practice, it has stopped none, including the San Bernardino attack. The San Bernardino terrorists, without much effort, kept off the grid right up to the moment they committed their act of slaughter.
If the data collection had been effective, that wouldn’t have happened. Instead, law enforcement would have identified the terrorists well before November 30, when collection finally ended. While the type of information that phone and internet companies collect is invaluable after a terrorist attack for finding malfeasors and possibly preventing connected future attacks (in the way any criminal investigation leads to further, related information), government bulk collection and sequester of such data on all Americans has proven to be useless attack predictor.
After several further ad hominem attacks warning that Cruz is the second coming of Obama, Stephens then lifts his next substantive attacks directly from the Rubio campaign. This is the scurrilous claim that, because Cruz voted against two defense funding bills on civil rights grounds, Cruz actually supports a weak military, his full-throated claims to the contrary notwithstanding. (And again, we heard Rubio launch this attack in the recent debate.)
Paired with that claim is Stephens’ contention that Cruz is mimicking Obama because Obama has been reluctant interventionist and Cruz did not want to intervene in Libya. That one truly is a head scratcher in terms of advancing Rubio’s cause, because Libya was a debacle and Rubio was one of its cheerleaders. Sometimes being a reluctant interventionist is a good thing. The issue isn’t whether or not a politician votes for intervention; it’s the reasons behind a given vote.
While Rubio’s attacks against Cruz on Libya grounds are confusing, the whole Libya debacle is useful for showing how profoundly Cruz and Rubio differ on foreign policy – and that it is Rubio who is closer to Obama, not Cruz. As a predicate to this part of the discussion, you may want to read “A Stark Choice: Ted Cruz’s Jacksonian Americanism vs. Marco Rubio’s Wilsonian Internationalism.”
I would differ somewhat from the article in that I would say the Woodrow Wilson world view is to approach war with limited objectives that may not necessarily benefit the US directly. Because our battles must be fought for altruistic reasons, Americans should never think in terms of winning, which is déclassé. The goal is never victory but, instead, is peace. The Andrew Jackson view is less subtle and simpler to articulate: We shouldn’t fight a war that doesn’t directly benefit us, but when we fight, we fight to win.
Wilsonians would say their policy creates a generally safer world, which then indirectly benefits us, making intervention-style wars worth the money and blood. Jacksonians would say that too many of our wars have not only failed to give us any benefit, they’ve been very bad for us, especially because — as Obama exemplifies – something so crude as winning is anathema to the Wilsonian world view.
As mentioned above, WWII was arguably the perfect balance of those two views: We fought a Jacksonian war and, once we achieved total victory using both our military and our money, we again used our military and our money to create a lasting peace that would have the best long-term benefits for America and, by extension, for the rest of Europe and the Far East.
George W. Bush went into Iraq with Wilsonian goals (regime change for a better world), which is why he first tried to fight a minimalist war to encourage maximum peace. What happened instead, was that he dragged the war out, and gave the bad guys time to regroup, something that changed only when Bush switched to the Jacksonian Surge – which Obama then threw away.
Obama’s approach to national security has been a triumph of Wilsonian ideology: He thinks it’s classless to intervene when doing so would advance American national security. Encouraged by Samantha Powers, though, he believes America has a responsibility to bringing about regime change in other parts of the world. Obama adds his own unique little twist to Wilson’s theory, however, by advancing regime change that is hostile to, rather than supportive of, the United States. The way this plays out at home, as Edward Kosner explains,, is that Obama has decided that it’s better for Americans to live with the constant threat of Islamic terrorism hanging over them than to engage in a war that ends with victory (which is anathema to him), as opposed to stalemate (which even he understands is not worth our military’s blood and our nation’s money).
With that Wilsonian/Jacksonian divide in mind, consider the issue of Syria, which is the last substantive item on Stephen’s anti-Cruz hit list. There again, Cruz and Rubio are on opposing sides and again, Stephens belittles Cruz for taking an entirely supportable position. Cruz contends that we should stay out of the Syrian civil war, which is a sticky wicket:
As for Syria, Mr. Cruz insists “we do not have a side in the Syrian civil war” and endorses Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s view that nonintervention allows two evil sides to exhaust themselves in the fighting. But this is indistinguishable from Mr. Obama’s hands-off approach to the conflict, notwithstanding the administration’s flaccid efforts to arm a credible opposition and bomb ISIS.
If your aim is to bomb ISIS until the “sand glows in the dark,” you are taking a side in the conflict. Mr. Cruz knows this. If you want to destroy ISIS without strengthening the Assad regime and its backers in Tehran, you have to target the regime, too. The truth about Syria isn’t that we have no dog in the fight. It’s that we’ve got to fight two dogs. The alternative is the endless chaos in which ISIS incubates and desperate refugees come knocking on our doors.
This is the closest Stephens comes to putting actual substance into his hit piece. What he gets wrong is that the Syrian Civil War is not just ISIS, on the one hand, versus Iran and Assad, on the other hand. There are a whole host of groups fighting on either side in that civil war. ISIS may be a major combatant, but to say that the Syrian opposition is coextensive with ISIS is simply false. Nor does taking on ISIS of necessity insert us into the Syrian civil war. Stephens is conflating the two, again to Rubio’s benefit.
Despite the limitations on time during the debate, Cruz did manage to sum up his approach to ISIS — and, again, it’s Jacksonian. He believes in using “overwhelming air power” against ISIS, but doing it in an intelligent way. Thus, despite Wolf Blitzer’s pushing, Cruz did not agree to flatten Raqqa (in which ISIS is headquartered) as thoroughly as the Allies flattened Dresden during WWII. Instead, relying on well-developed intelligence, Cruz would carpet bomb ISIS troops: “You use air power directed – and you have embedded special forces to direct the air power. But the object isn’t to level a city. The object is to kill the ISIS terrorists.”
Critics immediately pointed out that ISIS has lodged itself in a city, amongst civilians. That’s true, but there’s much more to ISIS than huddling in family apartments. The reality is that (a) ISIS is an army on the move and satellite data means that we can see its movement in real time, when it’s not embedded amongst civilians; (b) that we’ve long had the information and power to take out convoys shipping supplies or oil fields supplying ISIS’s vast wealth; and (c) we already have information to make pinpoint strikes on ISIS in Raqqa, so that the soil will glow directly under ISIS feet, not under all the civilian feet too. Incidentally, those devastating target strikes are precisely what France did following the Paris massacre, and it did so in reliance upon American intelligence.
The only reason we have not taken out ISIS targets is because the president wants to wage a minimalist war against ISIS, one that’s just obvious enough for him to claim that he is challenging ISIS in the Middle East. It turns out, if one is to believe the information coming from the Obama administration itself, that Obama is pathologically opposed to any possibility that an American action could injure or, worse, kill a civilian. To this end, the Obama administration has promulgated a new rule of engagement: “Zero civilian casualties,” despite an enemy that deliberately embeds itself among civilians:
U.S. and coalition air forces are aiming for zero civilian casualties in airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), frustrating some lawmakers who say the military campaign is progressing too slowly.
“There’s a target of zero civilian casualties, so if there are civilian casualty concerns, we would continue to monitor a target or a potential target to see if there is a way to mitigate that,” said an Air Force official.
The only exception to this new rule is drone strikes, which continue despite claims that far more civilians die than do designated terrorists. Obama long ago established that he personally approves every drone strike. Thus, in 2012 (an election year), The New York Times boasted on Obama’s behalf that “Mr. Obama has placed himself at the helm of a top secret ‘nominations’ process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical.”
In other words, it’s okay if Obama personally orders hits on terrorists and civilians alike. It’s not okay if our military fights a war to win. (As an aside, Obama might learn something if he read my annual Passover article about the fate of civilians living under a terrorist regime.)
Stephen ends his hit piece by opining that Cruz is simply being an opportunist who’s running away from his own knowledge about the righteousness of Rubio’s positions:
Again, Mr. Cruz knows this. Again, he’s too smart not to. Intelligence is never in question when it comes to the junior senator from Texas. Character is.
Well, Stephens is right that character is at issue here, but it is Stephen’s character, not Cruz’s. If Stephens wants to ignore serious issues in favor of character assassination, perhaps he would feel more at home writing for Salon, which does not expect its journalists to show any degree of intellectual honesty.
Both Senators Rubio and Cruz are very serious candidates for the Republican nomination. Significantly, they have vastly differing views when it comes to national security. Rubio hews closer to the Wilsonian view, which is that America has an obligation to make the world a safer place, thereby triggering (one hopes) a vicarious benefit. This view allows America to enter wars to effect ideological changes on the ground and wants to see those same wars fought to some type of functional stalemate, rather than to a victory benefitting the US.
Cruz, on the other hand, is a Jacksonian. He recognizes that America cannot be the world’s policeman, and says that it should fight only those wars that hold out an immediate (and serious, not frivolous) benefit for America. He believes, moreover, that if America fights such a war, she must fight to win, with ideological change on the ground following victory, a la the WWII approach.
Given the complex and serious ideological issues separating the two candidates, Stephens’ drive-by journalism does a disservice to them both.