Odd as this sounds to say out loud, Ted Cruz is a huge fan of “Dictatorships and Double Standards,” and that might be good news for American foreign policy.
I should clarify the Texas senator and GOP hopeful is a fan of the book, not necessarily the strongmen — or double standards, for that matter. Written by the late Jeane Kirkpatrick, ambassador to the United Nations under Reagan and a longtime American Spectator board member, the book began as an essay-length indictment of Jimmy Carter’s stumbling foreign policy. However, its implications are far-reaching and relevant, as Cruz understands.
Let me overdub Kirkpatrick’s words only slightly to make the point. Don’t worry, I’ll put them back in later. “The U.S. has never tried so hard and failed so utterly to make and keep friends in the [Middle East],” she wrote in an essay that originally appeared in Commentary magazine in 1979. “[N]o problem of American foreign policy is more urgent than formulating a morally and strategically acceptable, and politically realistic, program for dealing with non-democratic governments who are threatened by [jihadist] subversion.”
In Kirkpatrick’s version, the Carter administration was trying to make friends in the [Third World] with its human rights agenda and the subversion of liberal governments there was mostly [Soviet] in nature, though a resurgent, highly political Islam did play a role. In the sequel, it’s the Obama administration that bet heavily on the Arab Spring and worked to help depose strongmen in Egypt, Libya, and, still, in Syria, with awful side effects — not the least being the rise of ISIS.
“Kirkpatrick is for Cruz a lodestar. His national security adviser, Victoria Coates, requires each new class of interns to read the essay on their first day working for the senator,” reported Eli Lake in Bloomberg News in December. Lake tried to argue that this is a bad thing, an abandonment of the Bush “freedom agenda” and an open, uncritical embrace of “jailers of journalists” as a “key pillar of U.S. foreign policy.”
Yet Cruz’s words on the subject, words that acknowledged Kirkpatrick’s influence, were far more persuasive than Lake’s objections. Speaking before a Heritage Foundation audience last December, Cruz asked, “Would it be nice if the progress of liberal democracy was an inevitable evolution in human affairs?”
Of course it would, said the senator, standing in the role of all people of goodwill, “but even a cursory glance at the history of democracy in some two and a half millennia since the experiment was first attempted in ancient Athens reveals this is far from the case.
“And the reality is that in order to preserve and strengthen the United States, we cannot treat democracy promotion as an absolute directive, but rather as a highly desirable ideal — one that can be reached most effectively through the promotion of the security and interests of the United States.”
Kirkpatrick argued that America consistently underestimates what will happen to a country when a strongman is removed, and how that could boomerang and hurt American interests, not to mention the folks we’re trying to help.
Just glancing at the recent examples validates her point. In Iraq, we siphoned troops from Afghanistan to wage war, and that siphoning likely allowed Osama bin Laden to evade retribution for many years. The U.S. government did this to go depose a strongman who had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. We got an unstable, chronically failing state-in-name-only with conflicting religious and ethnic factions in return that has proven a pushover for ISIS invasion.
In Syria, Obama has worked hard to undermine a ruler by empowering various “moderate” groups that have proven to be mostly ineffectual or not at all moderate. Many of the weapons the U.S. has given the Syrian opposition have found their way into ISIS hands. This has made the refugee crisis currently roiling Europe much worse. And in the cherry on top, now two different Syrian proxies that America has been backing are at war with one another.
As for Libya, Cruz said in his Heritage speech, “The intervention in Libya was, in a word, a disaster. And the argument that Republicans had to, in principle, support what might have been a democratic uprising against Qaddafi, but that the Obama administration botched the job, is revisionist history.”
In reality, we thought Qaddafi was being too rough against his armed opposition and didn’t particularly care that the opposition may have been overrun with jihadists, which it was. The country is now a safe haven for both al Qaeda and ISIS.
There may be some problems in applying Kirkpatrick today. The Soviet Union was a large threat capable of projecting armies and missiles over great distances. It was asserting its influence even over countries not so far from the U.S. border. ISIS and related groups are worrisome but not nearly that much of a menace.
But still, Cruz is right that much of Kirkpatrick’s wisdom — about priorities and realism and restraint, about not upsetting the peace of nations just to give ourselves a pat on the back — can still speak to us today.