Global Leadership Versus ‘America First’ in Vegas

• December 15, 2015 11:44 pm


Not a few of Ted Cruz's supporters have been in a huff  in the lead up to today's debate, on account of a strongly worded column in this morning's Wall Street Journal likening the Texas senator's foreign policy to that of Barack Obama. After the last debate I made more or less the same comparison to Obama, but concerning Trump and Paul.

In one limited respect—confrontation with ISIS—this is all a little unfair. The GOP candidates agree, or at least say they agree, that Obama is not doing enough to protect American from Sunni terrorist groups like the Islamic State, and that such protection involves doing something about the Caliphate's core territorial holdings in Iraq and Syria. The real division concerns what they think about the axis formed by Syria, Iran, and Russia.

In their opening statements, Cruz emphasized keeping America safe, while Rubio emphasized American leadership in the world. Later in the evening, Cruz went as far as to call for an "America-first foreign policy," an echo (or dog whistle?) of the right wing effort to keep America out of World War Two, organized at the time as the America First Committee. Tactical disagreements aside, Bush, Fiorina, Christie, and Kasich fall with Rubio under the banner of American global leadership, while Paul, Trump, and Carson (as best as anyone can tell) believe with Cruz that "global leadership" can come at the expense of American safety.

The breakdown occurs roughly on the same line over the issues of metadata collection, of how to deal with Assad and his backers in Tehran and Moscow, and over how big the defense budget should be relative to other priorities. If those critical of the Cruz, et al, position are quick to draw comparisons to Obama, Cruz revealed a ready response tonight by comparing Rubio's interventionist stance to Hillary Clinton's.

Republican primary voters have a pretty clear choice: an America that is focused on its own safety, or an America that believes that its safety is best guaranteed by a world order sympathetic to American values. The former seems to me like an attitude that great nations don't typically adopt.

Published under: 2016 Election