18 December 2015

Cruz

I don't take his chances at winning the nomination that seriously yet (much more so than Trump's, but not high end legitimacy, largely because if he gets picked, like with Trump, the GOP gets trounced. And they know it, at the top end at least).

What I did find interesting is that he tried, and mostly failed, to draw some kind of distinction on foreign policy in the last debate. This was supposed to be Rand's job, but he's been so irrelevant that nobody really bothers.

Here's the issue. The GOP's foreign policy over the last 15 years, really over the last 25 or so, has been mostly run by neoconservatives, many of whom tend to be among the most hawkish political figures imaginable and cartoonishly likely to press for military interventions abroad, often unilaterally with limited or non-existent diplomatic legwork. This has led to a number of major blunders in foreign policy through hasty and reckless interventions for anything from "humanitarian" purposes to "democracy promotion", to anti-communist regime changes back in the Cold War days. For the most part, this branch of the GOP's three-legged stool has been unrepentant in its ways, insisting that Iraq was fine until a Democrat got into office, things like that. It remains so now.

There was previously a Powell doctrine style approach to the use of military interventions, for clear strategic purposes that can be accomplished quickly and with a minimum of losses and destruction. This view was dominant in the First Gulf War, and it approaches a more realist foreign policy, of a sort which was once common as a method of waging the Cold War, through a mostly indirect style conflict. Among its elements was a capacity, though not always an eagerness, to work with strategic partners diplomatically, to limit engagements to strategic goals (like crushing military power projection abilities and protecting territorial sovereignty), and to work with strategic rivals for mutual gain or diplomatic purposes rather than to wage dangerous and pointless conflicts. Importantly, it was not a common event to hear Presidential candidates risking or calling for open war with a major state (say Russia or Iran), and it was common for American politics to tolerate some fairly nasty people abroad for strategic purposes of our own to be achieved through stability or (perhaps, though not always) the suppression of some other fairly nasty people.

Today, such an approach is described as "GOP hearts dictators forever." Such an approach might have left us with unsavory people in power in Iraq, Egypt, Libya. And as is still the case, Syria and countries such as Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, but might have had the effect of weakening institutional groups seeking to overthrow those governments and conduct operations of aggression through international terrorism. This is not however a strategy which is widely accepted or promoted is the tolerance of unpleasant people like a Qaddafi or Hussein or Assad in the furtherance of some purported large strategic goal (the suppression or elimination of hostile Muslim radicals in the region). If this was something that Cruz was actually pushing into the light, it might have made for an interesting debate.

The problem with this vague notion being taken seriously is that it was paired with a very aggressive stance on virtually any other form of foreign policy. For example, to call for aggressive bombing of ISIS territory (including civilians). Or most notably (and confusingly) effectively stating that we are at war with Iran, or that we should be if not, for the purposes of regime change. In so far as there is a major state player elsewhere on the globe that is most likely to oppose both ISIS and al Qaeda, it is the Iranian state. So if the idea was to propose that we be strategically flexible in our partnerships, that made no sense to immediately demand we take out someone who might be a partnership worth looking into (they're also one of the most likely players to talk to in order to remove Assad, if that was also the goal). If the idea was to present some kind of basis for not being super-ultra-blood-thirsty in foreign policy, there wasn't anything presented as to what that would be, or what it would look like. Not doing "democracy promotion" and then turning around and saying we should be toppling another major state government to do... democracy promotion?

If we assume that a reasonable foreign policy goal should be the use of significant military power projection against non-state actors like ISIS or al Qaeda (or the Taliban, Boko Haram, etc), and if we assume this is a significant if not central foreign policy question is how we should respond to such actors, both of which I think are dubious assumptions, then the question becomes how best to use the forces available to do so. Including Russia and Iran and Syria. What seems more likely than some well-crafted geo-political response being tested out was that Cruz was throwing out some carefully prepared red meat for the conservative base.

Eg "I hates Iran/Russia forever, but don't really care what happens in Syria/Iraq/Libya as long as it stays in house." Things like that. So taking it seriously as a set of policy proscriptions is undoubtedly unwise. But given that belligerent talk toward possible allies or useful agents in the region is not liable to purchase us their cooperation, and given that there does not as yet appear to be the base of support for a wider operation involving significant ground troops and major air assaults (we're not conducting those either), it may not be worth tossing it out except as a cynical political statement. The sad part is that his minor two-step here aside from predictably Rand Paul's relative sanity within the party was considered an improvement over the outrageous belligerence and stupidity of the rest of the field (Rubio, Bush, and Christie in particular).

The reason this matters. Unless some major scandal occurs, or Hillary falls out of an airplane or some such related issue, she will be the Democratic nominee, and except for a couple of the GOP field who might be able to run effectively against her (Rubio for example), she will almost certainly become the next President. Without there being a genuine foreign policy debate within the GOP, I am quite certain what hers will look like, and it won't have much of a contrast with what they have to offer. Basically neoconservative with a little more talking involved, and a remaining excessive focus on the Middle East, fighting several undeclared wars with non-state actors in regimes of high instability, with at best a moderate indifference to the Pacific theater in geopolitical terms, and a continued high reliance on what appear to be dragnet style civil liberties abusing surveillance systems that serve little or no strategic purpose in our current troubles, such as they are in fact troubles. This is not a position I find I can endorse with much optimism as it is probable success in producing either improvement in our security nor our status and prosperity in a global sense. I should like to see someone capable of making cogent arguments against it running in a position of notice. I expect I shall be sorely disappointed.

As a side note, I'm really curious how, or even if, the GOP manages to remain a functional political party after this election. It seems like the main poles on the big tent have all wandered off in their own directions. It also seems like several factions of the conservative world believe they have a number of "promising" candidates. None of them so far have the ability to a) rally conservatives or b) rally anyone else, except out of despising them as insipid or bigoted. That does not suggest this is a well-populated field with many options. It suggests to me there's a lot of human beings running in the misguided belief they could become the next President. An additional defeat, after having put up nothing of note in 2012, putting up whatever they end up with here, presumably with a "moderately conservative" figure selected instead of something perceived as half-assed, will make the next two years very interesting to see if they can remain as a cohesive unit in political terms. 
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