Cruz Channels The Base on IS

To the casual reader of headlines, what most distinctively characterizes Sen. Ted Cruz’s typically loud rhetoric on the IS challenge and what to do about it is his bizarre focus–which NH Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown has also picked up on–on the Mexican border rather than Syria or Iraq as the most important theater of operations against IS.

But in a perceptive piece last Friday, Peter Beinart looked a little more carefully at how Cruz talks about the IS threat and discovers he represents a POV–which he calls “militaristic pessimism”–that favors military strikes without any real political strategy for–or even interest in–dealing with the situation in Syria and Iraq:

Like George W. Bush before them, McCain and Graham are militaristic optimists. They want America to bomb and arm its way toward a free, pro-American Middle East. Cruz is a militaristic pessimist. He mocks the Obama administration’s effort to foster reconciliation “between Sunnis and Shiites in Baghdad” because “the Sunnis and Shiites have been engaged in a sectarian civil war since 632.” Notably absent from his rhetoric is the Bush-like claim that Muslims harbor the same desire for liberty as everyone else. Instead of mentioning that most of ISIS’s victims have been fellow Muslims, Cruz frames America’s conflict in the language of religious war. “ISIS right now is the face of evil. They’re crucifying Christians, they’re persecuting Christians,” he told Hannity.

Notice the difference. When Sunnis kills Shiites, Cruz shrugs because there’s been a sectarian divide within Islam since 632. But when Muslims kills Christians—another conflict with a long history—Cruz readies the F-16s.

In this respect, says Beinart persuasively, Cruz probably best represents the views of the GOP “base:”

With his combination of military interventionism and diplomatic isolationism, Cruz probably better reflects the views of GOP voters than any of his potential 2016 rivals. According to polls, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to see ISIS as a threat to the U.S. and to back airstrikes against it, but less likely to support arming Syria’s non-jihadist rebels. As Republican strategist Ford O’Connell recently told The Hill, “Ted Cruz is probably most in line with the Republican base in the sense he doesn’t want to have a discussion of Syria versus Iraq. He wants to dismantle and destroy ISIS. Period.”

More than a decade after the invasion of Iraq, this is where the GOP has ended up. Ted Cruz wants to kill people in the Middle East who he believes might threaten the United States. And he wants to defend Christianity there. Other than that, he really couldn’t care less.

There’s an old military saying (variously attributed to Marines or special forces troops, and dating back to the Catholic Church’s 13th-century campaign of extermination against the Albigensians) that probably describes this POV even better than “militaristic pessimism:” It’s “Kill em’ all and let God sort ’em out!” It’s a monstrous but ever-popular sentiment that’s highly appropriate for a political party where unfocused rage is often confused with “patriotism.”

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.