The Vizzini Cabal: Syria according to Cruz and Rubio

The Vizzini Cabal: Syria according to Cruz and Rubio November 30, 2015

This classic clip from The Princess Bride is surely familiar to everyone:

The punch line here is the classic, “You made one of the classic blunders… never get involved in a land war in Asia” – but the entire scene has relevance to the utter gibberish of Republican foreign policy. Vizzini’s character passes himself off as an intellectual (“You’ve heard of Aristotle? Plato? Socrates? Morons.”) but ultimately has no real principles, relying instead on misdirection and deceit to win.

Syria is exhibit A of this kind of behavior, well-summarized by principled conservative writer Michael Brendan Dougherty in The Week:

Conservatives today are incensed that President Obama didn’t plunge America deeply into a needless war in Syria two years ago. They see a refugee crisis expanding to destabilize the region, the emergence of Russia as a key regional player in the Middle East, and the threat of terror in Europe and think, “If only Obama had sunk us deeper into this mess!”

But two years ago, it was conservative opposition to a needless war in Syria that stopped Obama from plunging in.

Republicans are so obsessed with blaming Obama for being cowardly and feckless in the Middle East, they cannot see that instead he has been reckless and too full of bravado. They castigate him for not halting a refugee crisis by means of war actions that surely would have exacerbated that refugee crisis. And it was a war they passed on when it was offered to them.

If you query the current GOP candidates for President on Obama’s Syria policy, all are unanimous that Obama has been “feckless” and should have done more, outright laying the blame for the rise of ISIS. Of the crop, Cruz and Rubio may not be atop the polls, but are realistically the only two candidates with the longevity and ground game to really secure the nomination, so they are the ones whose policy stances on Syria and ISIS are worth review.

Ted Cruz Voted NO on Obama’s request for military strike on Syria in 2013, arguing instead for a vote to condemn Assad at the UN, since “Assad’s actions, however deplorable, are not a direct threat to U.S. national security,” argued that arming rebels opposing Assad is a mistake because “seven of the nine major rebel groups appeared to have significant ties to Islamists,” and “the potential for escalation is immense… forcing us into the civil war”. (Cruz’s op-ed in the Washington Post)

Now on the campaign trail, says “We are seeing the chaos in Syria and the chaos in Iraq is also a direct consequence of the failed foreign policy of this administration”, and that he would defeat ISIS in 90 days by “number one, using overwhelming air power to target and destroy ISIS. Number two, we need to be arming the Kurds.” (

Marco Rubio also voted NO on strikes against Syria in 2013, arguing (in contrast to Cruz) that we should be arming rebels instead. He explained his vote on the Senate floor:

“while I have long argued forcefully for engagement in empowering the Syrian people, I have never supported the use of U.S. military force in the conflict. And I still don’t. I remain unconvinced that the use of force proposed here will work. The only thing that will prevent Assad from using chemical weapons in the future is for the Syrian people to remove him from power. The strike the administration wants us to approve I do not believe furthers that goal. And in fact, I believe U.S. military action of the type contemplated here might prove to be counterproductive.”

A year later, Rubio was criticizing the President of “presidential malpractice” due to “setting red lines that weren’t enforced” in Syria, a reference to Assad’s use of chemical weapons that triggered Obama’s request to Congress to deploy airstrikes (NRO Corner). How should Obama have enforced the red line, if not for the airstrikes that Rubio opposed? He never clarified. Here’s a good detailed summary of Rubio’s Syrian flip flop timeline.

Now, Rubio’s campaign position is that Obama’s “disengagement from the Middle East” allowed ISIS to rise. His plan is to send troops and airstrikes into Syria, including US troops, and arming everyone – Syrian rebels and Kurds alike ( Rubio also outright lied about Obama’s 2013 plan, claiming Obama intended to just make a “pinprick” attack when in fact Obama explicitly said the opposite.

For the record, arming the Kurds would weaken Baghdad’s government and drastically increase the chances of an Iraqi civil war, which would be a godsend for ISIS in the same way that the Syrian civil war was. Congress actually voted on and rejected arming the Kurds during the summer; here’s a comprehensive article that summarizes the issue.

This is why Rubio and Cruz are the Vizzini Cabal – they don’t have any real vision, just bouncing from rationale to rationale about whether or not to arm/bomb/intervene, just like Vizzini’s hapless reasoning about which wine glass to choose. It’s all a delay tactic to fool GOP primary voters into believing that they Socratic wisdom when in fact they are just stalling for time. It’s noteworthy that Cruz’s favorite movie is the Princess Bride. He has good taste! Watch him brilliantly re-enact the “To Blave” scene! I am impressed. Perhaps he should have paid more attention to the rest of the movie, though.

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