Ted Cruz’s Team of Islamophobes

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Ted Cruz’s Team of Islamophobes

Ted Cruz, explains Davison, "has assembled a collection of some of the most prominent Islamophobes in American right-wing circles and balanced them with a group of neoconservatives who only want to go to war against part of the Islamic world, not all of it." (Photo: Gage Skimore/flickr/cc)

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), one of the three remaining candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, is unveiling his national security team today, and Bloomberg View columnist Eli Lake was able to preview some of its members for his readers this morning. Calling the group “an unlikely team of foreign-policy rivals,” Lake argued that Cruz has chosen a wide array of advisors who hold divergent views with respect to at least one key foreign policy issue:

In a year when the Republican Party is breaking apart because of Donald Trump, the only man left with a chance to beat him is trying to build a big tent—by GOP standards—when it comes to foreign affairs.

On Thursday, Senator Ted Cruz is set to announce his campaign’s national security advisory team, and it includes many foreign-policy insurgents and a few more establishment types. The list includes conservatives who disagree on one of the most pressing issues facing the next president: defining and confronting radical Islam.

This is one way to describe Cruz’s team. Another way would be to say that Cruz has assembled a collection of some of the most prominent Islamophobes in American right-wing circles and balanced them with a group of neoconservatives who only want to go to war against part of the Islamic world, not all of it.

The Most Notorious Islamophobe

Perhaps the most shocking name on Cruz’s team, and the one Lake spends the most time discussing, is Frank Gaffney. After working in the Reagan administration, Gaffney went on to found the Center for Security Policy (CSP), where he has become known as “one of America’s most notorious Islamophobes.” Gaffney exhibits a standard variety of neocon militarism when it comes to opposing diplomacy with Iran, though he has diverged from many of his fellow travelers in opposing American intervention in Syria. But it’s on the subject of Islam here in the U.S. where Gaffney’s unique paranoia takes wing. Gaffney has been the leading voice pushing a fringe right-wing theory that the Muslim Brotherhood has somehow infiltrated the highest levels of the U.S. government, a purely McCarthyite claim that fortunately hadn’t been taken seriously by any prominent Republican before Cruz.

Gaffney has in the past called for a “war on Shariah,” comparing Islamic law to “Nazism, Fascism, Japanese imperialism, and communism.” He has praised the work of admitted white supremacists. He has found “proof” of President Barack Obama’s “submission to Shariah” in, of all places, the logo for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. It was a poll—an unscientific poll, at that—conducted by CSP that served as the basis for Republican front-runner Donald Trump’s post-San Bernardino proposal to bar all Muslims from entering the United States.

Gaffney’s unhinged theories have been complemented by his nasty personal invective. He once called for Secretary of State John Kerry’s impeachment over the Iran nuclear deal and for the crime of…having an Iranian-American son in-law. He has accused Huma Abedin, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s long-time aide, of working on behalf of the Brotherhood, a charge that drew criticism from, among others, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Intelligence Committee. He has also accused prominent conservative anti-tax activist Grover Norquist of Brotherhood ties, absent what appears to be any evidence whatsoever.

Gaffney is not the lone Islamophobic voice in support of Cruz. Frederick Fleitz and Clare Lopez, both high-ranking employees of Gaffney’s CSP, are also on Cruz’s team, and both have similarly venomous views on Islam. Fleitz, a close associate of former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, once alleged that a “left-wing conspiracy” within the U.S. intelligence community was covering up proof of Iran’s active nuclear weapons program. Lopez has echoed Gaffney’s belief that Muslim Brotherhood operatives have infiltrated the U.S. government. Through the Iran Policy Committee, where she formerly served as executive director, Lopez has close ties to the Iranian exile (and formerly designated terrorist) group Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK). On the subject of Islam, Lopez actually wrote this in 2013:

Deeply rooted in pre-Islamic tribal social structures, some of the most primitive of all human drives—to conquer and dominate by force—were brilliantly sacralized in Islamic doctrine. With assassination, banditry, genocide, hatred-of-other, polygamy, rape, pillage, and slavery all divinely sanctioned in scriptures believed to be revealed by Allah himself, the world is not likely to see an end to Islam’s “bloody borders” or “bloody innards” any time soon. In the traditional Arab and Muslim system, there is just too much at stake for those who win, as well as those who lose. There is no such thing as a “win-win” concept in Islam.

This person could be advising President Ted Cruz on national security.

Cruz’s team also includes former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy, who along with Gaffney has flirted with “birtherism” (the conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was not eligible to serve as president due to questions about his citizenship). McCarthy has also suggested that former Weather Underground leader Bill Ayers, and not Obama, wrote Obama’s autobiographical Dreams from My Father, and has repeatedly alleged that Obama’s administration represents some sort of “leftist-Islamist” union to take America down from the inside. Apparently, per McCarthy, health care reform is Islamist. Who knew?

Balanced by Neocons?

To be fair to Cruz, his team also includes less conspiratorially minded neocons like Elliott Abrams, who has opposed diplomacy with Iran (he’d prefer a war, thank you very much) and supports stronger intervention in Syria. But Abrams does not believe that America is at war with Islam or that nefarious Muslim agents have infiltrated the federal government at all levels. It also includes former Reagan administration official Michael Ledeen, who told Lake that “We’re at war with a coalition of radical Islamists and radical secularists. It’s not all one thing, nor is Islam all one thing.” Ledeen is perhaps best known for devising the “Ledeen Doctrine,” which, as related by National Review’s Jonah Goldberg in 2002, goes like this:

Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.

I doubt Ledeen would say that the 2011 Libyan intervention qualifies, so that means the United States is long overdue for throwing “some small crappy little country” against the wall. One can only imagine which country a President Cruz, with Ledeen at his side, would pick.

Ledeen, who served for many years as the “Freedom Scholar” at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute before taking the same position at the neocon Foundation for Defense of Democracies, is at least as toxic as Gaffney. He was involved in the Iran-Contra affair during the Reagan administration and was a key advisor to Karl Rove during the George W. Bush years, advocating for the invasion of Iraq and for war with Iran. Ledeen even brings his own conspiratorial baggage. In the 1980s, he was known for pushing the “Bulgarian Connection,” the theory that the KGB was behind Mehmet Ali Agca’s attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II in 1981. In 2003, Ledeen speculated that French and German opposition to the Iraq War was all part of a deal they’d struck with “radical Islam” to weaken the United States. Summarizing this “argument” can’t really do it justice, so read for yourselves:

How could it be done? No military operation could possibly defeat the United States, and no direct economic challenge could hope to succeed. That left politics and culture. And here there was a chance to turn America’s vaunted openness at home and toleration abroad against the United States. So the French and the Germans struck a deal with radical Islam and with radical Arabs: You go after the United States, and we’ll do everything we can to protect you, and we will do everything we can to weaken the Americans.

“It sounds fanciful, to be sure,” Ledeen wrote of his theory. No kidding. At least he won’t feel out of place in a Cruz administration.

Derek Davison

Derek Davison is a Washington-based researcher and writer on international affairs and American politics. He has Master's degrees in Middle East Studies from the University of Chicago, where he specialized in Iranian history and policy, and in Public Policy and Management from Carnegie Mellon University, where he studied American foreign policy and Russian/Cold War history. He previously worked in the Persian Gulf for The RAND Corporation.

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