WASHINGTON, September 1, 2013 – Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are among the most vocal critics of President Obama’s proposed military intervention in Syria. With both seen by many observers as possible future Republican presidential candidates, the ongoing crisis is very much a “try before you buy” beta test of Cruz and Paul’s national security style.
The two senators are quickly earning the respect of war-weary independent voters and reinforcing the expectancies of libertarian-leaning Republicans that a Tea Party takeover of the White House could happen in 2016. Nevertheless, Cruz and Paul are still nascent players in a Republican Party very much dominated by “9/12” style foreign policy perceptions and enduring neoconservative tendencies.
Behind the boilerplate of Republican rhetoric against action in Syria is a division between conservative factions that view collective U.S. military might as a sword to actively conquer perceived threats and those, like Cruz and Paul, who see it as a shield for defense.
For as many new allies outside the GOP that the two Tea Party senators are winning on Syria, there are many more inside the party who browbeat Cruz and Paul as national security dilettantes and fear their possible rise to the presidency. To the “sword” faction of conservatives, Cruz and Paul are weak idealists who misread the Constitution and should step out of the way.
One conservative columnist even recently went so far as to say the two Tea Party senators “demonstrate clearly why America would be at risk (more so than even under Obama) if either got into the Oval Office (except on a tour).”
But could it be that Cruz and Paul are actually exactly what their party, and indeed America needs most right now?
The Weinberger Doctrine
The GOP near-universally views President Ronald Reagan as an ideological patron saint. But why do they call Reagan “a good president” and not follow his example? Republican critics of Cruz and Paul would do well to remember Reagan’s Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger developed a six-point test for military action in the deadly aftermath of the 1983 terrorist attack on the Marine barracks in Beirut:
1. The United States should never commit forces “to combat overseas unless the particular engagement or occasion is deemed vital to our national interest or that of our allies”;
2. The United States should have a “clear intention of winning. If we are unwilling to commit the forces or resources necessary to achieve our objectives, we should not commit them at all”;
3. Combat forces overseas should only be committed with “clearly defined political and military objectives” and “we should know precisely how our forces can accomplish those clearly defined objectives”;
4. Policymakers must be willing to continually reassess the strategic situation and “continuously keep as a beacon light before us … Is this conflict in our national interest? Does our national interest require us to fight, to use force of arms? … If the answers are “no” then we should not be in combat”;
5. “Before the U.S. commits combat forces abroad, there must be some reasonable assurance we will have the support of the American people and their elected representatives in Congress.”
6. Military action should be a last resort.
Weinberger’s test for military action had the lessons of the disastrous Vietnam War behind it and the moral supremacy of the Reagan Administration’s desire to prevent future military quagmires. The Weinberger Doctrine allowed the U.S. military the space to recover from the exhaustion and bloodletting of Vietnam and develop new tactics and weaponry for defending America against Soviet aggression.
It was exactly this doctrine that later enabled President George H.W. Bush to decisively liberate Kuwait and defeat Saddam Hussein. When Iraq first invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990 Saddam had the fourth largest army in the world yet the U.S. led-coalition obliterated the Iraqi forces in only the span of 42 days from the beginning of combat.
General Colin Powell would later write in the New York Times a scathing editorial on October 8, 1992 that “There have been no Bay of Pigs, failed desert raids, Beirut bombings and no Vietnams … The reason for our success is that in every instance we have carefully matched the use of military force to our political objectives … We owe it to the men and women who go in harm’s way to make sure that their lives are not squandered for unclear purposes.”
Responding to columnists who at the time had called for limited military intervention to stop the then-developing humanitarian crisis in former Yugoslavia, General Powell added “Decisive means and results are always to be preferred, even if they are not always possible. So you bet I get nervous when so-called experts suggest that all we need is a little surgical bombing or a limited attack. When the desired result isn’t obtained, a new set of experts then comes forward with talk of a little escalation. History has not been kind to this approach … We have learned the proper lessons of history, even if some journalists have not.”
That wisdom and rebuke should be remembered today.
Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are right to not only hesitate in Syria but to call for military restraint. America needs more political personalities who have the maturity, discernment and the seriousness of historical relevance of these two men and less of the bombastic voices who think being “presidential” means starting a new war every month.
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