Militarism Without Service

At National Journal today, Tim Alberta puts together evidence that Ted Cruz’ almost-certain 2016 presidential campaign use foreign policy as a central differentiater, not as a supplemental style point.

[E]ver since he played an instrumental role in last year’s government shutdown, Cruz has narrowed his agenda to focus on international affairs, both as an avenue to raise his profile among GOP donors and to pivot away from his reputation as a conservative kamikaze bent on wreaking havoc inside the halls of Congress. It’s an abrupt evolution for someone who ran for Congress just two years ago on abolishing Obamacare and extinguishing comprehensive immigration-reform efforts.

But now, with the “entire world on fire,” as Cruz says, and the Republican Party largely unified on matters of social and fiscal policy, the junior senator has made the calculation that global tumult affords him the best opportunity to stand apart from other probable contenders, in particular Rand Paul.

According to Alberta, Cruz has worked especially hard to build credibility among the Greater Israel lobby (which, of course, includes many Christian Right folk), and will be in a good position to undermine Rand Paul’s frantic efforts to overcome his old man’s unsavory reputation among backers of Israel and the many Republicans who have long been spoiling for another Middle Eastern war. Cruz thinks he has found and occupied a “sweet spot” on national security:

By his own calculation, Republican voters who soured on endless war in Iraq and Afghanistan drifted in recent years from McCain’s pole toward Paul’s but are suddenly reconsidering that move after seeing American journalists murdered by jihadists.

Cruz’s foreign policy profile captures this conflict. In one breath he says, “It is not the job of our military to occupy countries across the globe and try to turn them into Democratic utopias,” and in the next he calls the Islamic State “the face of evil” and argues they must be defeated with overwhelming military force. These principles are not inherently in conflict, but as many presidents have come to realize, they are often difficult to marry.

Well, it’s not that hard for a candidate, who can blithely call for blowing America’s enemies off the face of the earth and disclaim any responsibility for what would happen next. I suspect no one will even come close to matching Cruz in the extent to which he will combine protestations of deep Christian faith with savage pledges to kill as many Muslims as possible–who represent a sort of a global extension of those people, doncha know.

There’s one slight problem with Cruz the War-Monger: he hasn’t so far as I can tell come within shouting distance of military service. But he’s hardly alone: if I’m not mistaken Rick Perry’s the only person being mentioned as a presidential candidate who has worn the uniform. If he doesn’t run, we could have the first vet-less presidential campaign in a very long time.

UPDATE: As several people immediately reminded me on Twitter, Jim Webb, decidedly a veteran, is talking about running for president. I’m still skeptical that Webb will run, but if he does, he’d be just the guy to tear Ted Cruz a new one for shameless chicken-hawkery.

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.