Home/Daniel Larison/Cruz’s “Anything But Obama” Approach to Regime Change

Cruz’s “Anything But Obama” Approach to Regime Change

Dan Drezner read Cruz’s Heritage Foundation speech from last week and found his foreign policy to be muddled:

It’s almost as if Cruz is just trying to occupy the GOP foreign policy sweetspot between Rubio and Paul rather than articulating a coherent doctrine.

Drezner hits on a number of weaknesses in Cruz’s proposed policies, not least the gap between his alarmist rhetoric about the threat from jihadists and his relatively modest recommendations for how to counter it. What struck me as I was reading the speech was his confused handling of democracy promotion. In general, Cruz is very skeptical of siding with opposition forces against authoritarian regimes. He objects to this when it comes to Egypt, Libya, and Syria, and sees support for regime change in these countries as misguided and dangerous to the U.S. But when it comes to Iran, Cruz conveniently rediscovers enthusiasm for toppling foreign governments and celebrates the one movement in the region that wasn’t trying to do this:

A case in point is perhaps the single greatest blunder of the Obama Administration and one of its first in 2009—when the President ignored the Green Revolution in Iran, thereby forfeiting an opportunity to replace the radical Islamist, terrorist-sponsoring regime in Tehran that chants ‘death to America’ and ‘death to Israel’ and pursues nuclear weapons, and instead America could have stood with a peaceful, secular rebellion that was crying out for support from the United States [bold mine-DL].

There was a case where regime change squared up with our most pressing national need. But instead of standing with the Iranian people
in what could have been his ‘Tear down this wall’ moment, instead President Obama fell silent and decided to open up negotiations with the mullahs instead.

This is standard Iran hawk nonsense, but the curious thing about it is that it is completely at odds with everything else he said before this in the speech. He wrongly touts the Green movement as one that was seeking regime change, but it was actually seeking redresswithin the existing political system. Cruz finds the one “revolution” in the region he wants to get behind, but it wasn’t a revolution and it wouldn’t have produced the result he claims to want. Leave aside for the moment the small problem that the protesters didn’t want U.S. help and wouldn’t have benefited from it if they had received it. Cruz is simply lying when he says that most of the protesters were “crying out for support” from the U.S. By refusing to insert itself into the dispute in 2009-10, the U.S. responded in the way that Cruz thinks it should have responded to every subsequent uprising and protest, and yet Cruz declares this one of Obama’s greatest blunders. I know Cruz is slippery and unscrupulous, but this is ridiculous.

Like otherIranhawks, he accuses Obama of missing an “opportunity” for regimechange that neverexisted, but unlike most of them this cannot really be squared with his opposition to destabilizing and overthrowing regimes elsewhere in the region. The only consistency in Cruz’s approach to these issues is that he is always against whatever Obama did. If Obama refrained from siding with an opposition somewhere, Cruz thinks we should have been supporting them, and if Obama supported them in any way Cruz thinks that was a terrible mistake. That may help Cruz in the primary by always keeping on the anti-Obama side of every argument, but if put into practice it would produce a very erratic and confusing foreign policy.

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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