Ted Cruz's foreign policy mess: Talk tough, blow everything up, repeat as necessary

Ted Cruz wants to run for president as a foreign policy tough guy. Here's why his policies are so dangerous

Published September 30, 2014 10:58AM (EDT)

  (Jeff Malet, maletphoto.com)
(Jeff Malet, maletphoto.com)

Ted Cruz is running for president, it seems. National Journal’s Tim Alberta interviewed Texas’ junior Republican senator for a story published this weekend, and he quoted an unnamed Cruz advisor putting the chances of Cruz declaring his candidacy before the end of the year at better than 90 percent. If Cruz, who’s been in office since January 2013, does announce a run before the close of 2014, he’ll have proved himself even more ambitious than another first-term senator who made an early and audacious bid for the White House: Barack Obama, who logged just two years and one month in the Senate before announcing his presidential candidacy.

What’s interesting about Cruz’s presidential ambition, however, is the subject area he hopes to run on and make his own – foreign policy. Ted Cruz has a vision, apparently:

"Is it true that the American people are war-weary? Absolutely," Cruz said. "We are tired of sending our sons and daughters to distant lands year after year after year, to give their lives trying to transform foreign nations. But I think it's a serious misreading of the American people to conclude that we are unwilling to defend ourselves, that we are unwilling to be strong and vigorous defending U.S. national security."

Haha. OK. All you people out there who have concluded that Americans don’t want to be strong and defend ourselves, you are SO WRONG. You know who you are, you people who’ve concluded that. We don’t need to bother saying who you are because it’s very clear you exist and are not at all made from straw.

So the Cruz foreign policy vision is to BE STRONG, but not strong in the way that people hate, like sending soldiers to go fight places in long and extended conflicts. As a generally meaningless and platitudinous campaign position, that’s a fine stance to take – politicians do make it a habit of promising everyone huge successes with little to no cost, and it's probably pretty close to what the average Republican is looking for these days. The problem Cruz runs into is that the policies he recommends as part of this vision are absurd and premised on the notion that foreign policy success depends entirely on how tough you look.

On ISIS, for example, Ted Cruz says that the national security objective for the United States should be to ”destroy terrorists who have declared jihad on our nation.” That sure does sound like STRENGTH – but how do we go about doing that? Here is Ted Cruz’s plan, laid out in an Op-Ed for CNN.

There are three specific steps that should be taken.

First and foremost, Washington should resolve to make border security a top priority finally, rather than an afterthought, of this plan in light of concerns about potential ISIS activities on our southern border, cited in a Texas Department of Public Safety bulletin reported by Fox News. As long as our border isn't secure, the government is making it far too easy for terrorists to infiltrate our nation.

The first and most important step in the Ted Cruz strategy for confronting ISIS is … a fence on the Texas-Mexico border to address a problem that isn’t actually happening.

The other parts of his plan are to revoke the citizenships of American-born ISIS fighters, and (lastly) “we should concentrate on a coordinated and overwhelming air campaign to destroy the capability of ISIS to carry out terrorist attacks on the United States.” And it’s not enough to simply degrade their capabilities, Cruz explained. “The objective should not be to make ISIS ‘manageable’; the objective should be to protect the United States and to destroy the terrorists who have declared jihad on our nation.”

Dropping bombs on terrorists doesn’t make Cruz’s stance unique. What does set him apart is that his tough-guy determination to kill ISIS is paired with an absolute refusal to do any of the non-military work needed to even come close to achieving that goal. “It's not our job to be social workers in Iraq and put them all on expanded Medicaid,” Cruz said on Fox News. “It is our job to kill terrorists who have declared war on America and who have demonstrated the intention and capability to murder innocent Americans.”

The Cruz foreign policy doctrine, therefore, is: talk tough; blow things up; repeat as necessary. And he really does seem to emphasize image and rhetoric over actual objectives – because what’s the point of succeeding internationally if you can’t look like a tough guy doing it?

The degree to which Cruz prizes image over results was evident in his position toward Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles. Last June, Cruz gave a speech on the Senate floor laying out what he believed the U.S. should do in response to Bashar al-Assad gassing his own people:

We know Assad has used these weapons, and there is good reason to suspect the al Qaida-affiliated rebels would use them as well if they could get their hands on them. This poses an intolerable threat not only to our friends in the region, but also to the United States. We need to be developing a clear, practical plan to go in, locate the weapons, secure or destroy them, and then get out. The United States should be firmly in the lead to make sure the job is done right.

The language was unclear, but to many ears this sounded like Cruz calling for the U.S. to attack Assad’s chemical weapons sites. A few months later, the U.S. and Russia hammered out an agreement under which Assad’s chemical weapons would be forfeited and destroyed. Cruz voiced extreme skepticism of the deal at the time, and later lashed out at the administration for giving Vladimir Putin the chance to look good: “If U.S. foreign policy is so bungled that it makes Putin seems like the good guy and an advocate for peace, we have done something very, very wrong.”

Last month, the administration said that the entirety of Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile had been destroyed. Even if you have a genuine concern about Putin claiming a propaganda victory from the episode, the fact of the matter is that the national security objective – the destruction of a chemical weapons stockpile that Cruz called an “intolerable threat” to the country – was achieved.

But that doesn’t fit within the Ted Cruz foreign policy vision, in which all of the country’s international problems can be solved through bellicose rhetoric and the projection of force and literally nothing else.

By Simon Maloy

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