On Wednesday the Donald Trump Fan Club on "Morning Joe" asked the candidate who he is talking to for foreign policy advice. He replied: “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things.”
Remarkably, this was only the second dumbest foreign policy-related news coming out of the Republican primary this week. Because even though Trump’s steroidal jingoism could easily overtake the Bush era for the worst foreign policy of the post-World War II era, Ted Cruz is always there in the background to remind us that it can always be worse.
To wit: Meet the Texas senator’s newly announced team of foreign policy advisors.
Let’s start with Elliott Abrams, a poster boy for failing upward in Republican circles. Aficionados of the Reagan administration’s Iran-Contra scandal remember that Abrams was buried up to his neck in that affair, to the point that Lawrence Walsh, the independent counsel who investigated it, was prepared to charge him with multiple felonies. Abrams slithered out of that with an agreement that had him plead guilty to two misdemeanors, was later pardoned by George H.W. Bush, and then censured by the D.C. Court of Appeals for giving false testimony to Congress on three separate occasions.
Anyone with an ounce of shame would have retired to a dark closet to spend the rest of his life thinking about what he had done. But Abrams is a neo-conservative, which meant he could still serve for eight years in the George W. Bush administration, where he was a proponent of the Iraq invasion, while also pushing for the U.S. to flex its military muscle all over the world. He has spent the Obama years decrying the current president for negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran and suggesting the U.S. should intervene in Syria not only to fight ISIS but to restrict, if not overthrow, the regime of Bashar al-Assad. He once wrote an editorial in Politico in which he blamed Obama for pretty much all the unrest in the Middle East, as if it had been a model of calm before the Kenyan Alinskyite entered the White House. And, to top it all off, he was one of the neocons who accused Chuck Hagel of being an anti-Semite, despite the drawback of having zero evidence to support such an inflammatory charge, after Obama nominated the former senator to be Secretary of Defense.
Basically, Elliott Abrams is what happens when you cross a vampire with an old VHS copy of "Red Dawn." The possibility of him whispering in the ear of yet another president for four or eight years should be enough to disqualify Ted Cruz from the White House.
Then there is Andrew McCarthy. No, not that one. This is the bad Andrew McCarthy, the National Review writer and conservative activist who wrote one of the greatest “Yeah but” columns ever about Obama and birtherism. McCarthy’s argument was essentially that, while there is no doubt the president was born in Hawaii, the fact that there was any controversy over it at all was proof he couldn’t be trusted to be honest about anything. He has also used his perch at NR to excoriate the president for, among other things, wanting to close Gitmo, calling waterboarding “torture,” and having any association with “radical America-hating leftists” like Bill Ayers.
A quick perusal of the NR archives shows McCarthy’s credulousness for nearly every silly right-wing conspiracy that has bubbled up from the fever swamps of the Internet. For example, in McCarthy’s mind, Dinesh D’Souza is not a flim-flam artist grifting the rubes with his ridiculous movies and books, but rather a “victim” of a politicized Department of Justice, which scorched the earth in its efforts to, uh, prosecute D’Souza for a crime he admits he committed.
The archives also reveal that McCarthy has been plumping for Cruz for months, which is one good way to get a presidential candidate to put you on his team. Presumably now that he is advising Cruz he’ll stop doing that, since it could be a journalistic conflict of interest. But this is the National Review we’re talking about.
But the crown jewel of Cruz’s foreign policy team, the shining star of the firmament, has got to be Frank Gaffney. The Newsmax columnist and Pamela Geller running buddy is so far to the right that the Reagan administration shut him out of working on nuclear arms-control negotiations with the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, despite the fact that his job title then was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for — wait for it — Nuclear Forces and Arms Control Policy. He was eventually fired, but the right wing being what it is, there was apparently still plenty of work for a guy who the Southern Poverty Law Center has called one of our country’s “most notorious Islamophobes.”
Gaffney has spent the Obama years making an ass of himself with dumb conspiracy theories. The most famous was in early 2010, when he wondered if a new logo being used by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency was a secret signal by the president to the Muslim world that the nation now considered itself subservient to Islam. One might ask why Obama would use the logo of an obscure Defense Department agency that was most likely barely known outside of its own offices to signal his Muslim overlords he was preparing the U.S. for their takeover. But that’s obviously the kind of deviousness he would employ to keep anyone from noticing the implementation of sharia law until it was too late, I guess. How a person like that is allowed out of his own house without wearing a bicycle helmet is one of the world’s great mysteries.
Yet these are the people that one of the top two contenders for the Republican Party’s nomination has chosen to listen to for foreign-policy advice. And from one perspective, it’s almost an improvement from Donald Trump’s “go it alone” approach. After all, at least Cruz is listening to people with a background in the field! The fact that said background is drawn right from theories so nuts the John Birch Society might not have wasted mimeograph ink reprinting them back in the 1960s is of absolutely no comfort whatsoever.
And to think: This is all still an improvement from a couple of months ago when we found out that Cruz’s only foreign policy advisor was a right-wing art historian.
Because foreign policy is usually less important to the American electorate, we tend to ignore that it is the area where a president actually exercises more authority and autonomy than in crafting domestic policy. Which makes Cruz’s choices all the more frightening.