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Cruz and Neoconservatism

Neoconservatives and other Republican hard-liners are unhappy with Ted Cruz on foreign policy:

Cruz’s deliberate and repeated use of “neocon” gave fresh ammunition to many Republican hawks, as well as to his GOP rivals, who have long doubted his sincerity on matters of international affairs. “You don’t accuse someone of being a neocon if you see yourself as a Reagan conservative on national security,” former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum said in an interview. “And he’s not. The Republican party thanks to Ron and Rand Paul have brought in different elements into the party, and I think Ted’s comfortable in those elements.”

It’s not surprising that these critics dislike that Cruz isn’t quite as aggressive abroad as they are, and he has made a point of using their knee-jerk interventionism as a foil for his own arguments. Neoconservatives and other hard-liners in the GOP are bound to prefer Rubio or someone like Santorum, who say exactly what they want to hear. That doesn’t mean that Cruz’s foreign policy is “restrained,” since it clearly isn’t that, but it shows that the most hawkish and dangerous people in the GOP don’t trust him to be on their side in current or future foreign policy debates. That’s not much, but it’s more than some of the other candidates can claim.

The funny thing about these complaints is the insistence that Cruz is supposedly disqualifying himself simply by using the word “neocon” to refer to the Republican supporters of the Obama-era interventions he has opposed. It doesn’t seem to matter that neoconservatism is an identifiable, distinctive strain in the modern GOP, or that some of the people quoted in the article have used that label at one time or another to describe themselves. It also doesn’t seem to matter that they are still proud of their support for intervention in Libya and meddling in Syria, or that their only complaint about administration policy is that it hasn’t been aggressive and meddlesome enough. Cruz used a forbidden word, and so he has to be chastised.

Because the label “neocon” has since come into disrepute through its connection with the loudest supporters of the Iraq war, the same people don’t want to accept it when it makes them look bad, but will happily adopt it again in another context when they think it is advantageous. When one of the wars they have demanded goes awry, they disavow the label and deny that they have anything to do with the policy that is failing. When something happens overseas that they think vindicates them, suddenly it is fine to talk about neoconservatism again. This is very much like interventionists’ aversion to the label warmonger: they pride themselves on calling for one military intervention after another regardless of the outcomes of previous wars they have supported, but when someone correctly describes what they are doing as warmongering they become outraged at being identified as what they are.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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