Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) on Wednesday during an address at the Heritage Foundation said his foreign policy views are somewhere in between those of Sens. John McCain (R., Ariz.) and Rand Paul (R., Ky.) and that he opposes U.S. military intervention in Syria because it is not in America’s national security interests.
Cruz compared his stance on foreign affairs to that of former President Ronald Reagan and said he believed the United States should always focus directly on protecting America’s national security and interests, speaking with moral clarity, and fighting to win.
These principles represent a “balance” between the views of the anti-interventionist Paul and the more hawkish McCain and are encapsulated in Reagan’s mantra of “peace through strength,” Cruz said.
“I agree with Rand Paul that we should not intervene militarily in Syria,” Cruz said.
“But I also agree with John McCain: If Iran is on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons, we should intervene because it’s in the national security interests of the United States.”
“It has to be tied to that objective. Syria was not,” he added.
Cruz slammed a number of President Barack Obama’s policies but commended him for seeking congressional authorization before ordering limited strikes on the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Although the president has said as recently as May that al Qaeda’s core is “on a path to defeat,” Cruz said the “war continues” amid revelations that the diffuse terrorist network has expanded into new regions and plotted attacks on U.S. airliners and facilities overseas.
“Somebody didn’t tell the terrorists,” he said.
The firebrand senator, who is widely expected to be considering a run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, has drawn comparisons to other outspoken conservatives such as longtime Sen. Jesse Helms (R., N.C.). Cruz spoke about his admiration for the late senator, who served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, at the Heritage Foundation’s fourth annual Helms Lecture.
“The willingness to say all these crazy things is a rare, rare characterization in this town,” Cruz said of Helms.
“It’s every bit as true now—we need a hundred more Jesse Helms.”
Cruz defended his opposition to strikes in Syria by arguing that reports suggest as many as seven of the rebel groups fighting Assad are linked to al Qaeda. The al Qaeda-affiliated groups Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which are Sunni Islamists, have poured into Syria in sectarian opposition to Assad, a member of the minority Alawite sect of Shiite Islam.
The presence of radical Islamists in Syria should give pause to administration officials planning a response to chemical weapons attacks in the suburbs of Damascus last month that U.S. intelligence analysts say killed more than 1,400 people, including more than 400 children, Cruz said. The public and his constituents overwhelmingly oppose intervention, he added.
“Even though Assad is a brutal, murderous thug, that doesn’t mean his opponents are any better,” he said.
“The predictable effect [of strikes] could well be enabling al Qaeda, al-Nusra, the Islamic radicals, to seize control of those [chemical] weapons.”
However, Cruz said he does not think the United States should “do nothing” in response to the attacks. Lawmakers and U.S. officials should move to cut off about half a billion in aid to Iraq if it continues to allow Syrian ally Iran to fly over its airspace and resupply Assad, as well as force a vote at the United Nations Security Council on a resolution condemning Assad and the chemical weapons attacks.
If Russia and China refuse to sign, the United States should counter by resuming construction of antiballistic missile stations in Eastern Europe near the Russians and approving the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Chinese adversary Taiwan.
However, other experts have argued that Assad likely used the chemical weapons in a frustrated response to rebel gains near his capital, and that it will be difficult for him to reestablish control over much of the country. Advocates of more robust intervention argue that the United States should strike the Syrian army’s weapons systems and aid the Free Syrian Army rebels to ensure that relatively more moderate forces, and not al Qaeda, assume control of a post-Assad Syria and comply with international chemical weapons bans.
Cruz said Obama has proven to be both too “hawkish” by favoring to uphold international norms rather than U.S. interests in Syria and too “dovish” by his refusal to state that the United States will employ “overwhelming military force” to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
He also cast doubt on a Russian proposal to prod Assad into handing over his chemical weapons to the international community for dismantlement, saying the United States, like Reagan said, should “trust but verify.”
“If you look at Putin’s prior conduct, there is very little evidence that this is any more than a delaying tactic or a propaganda tactic,” he said.
“We shouldn’t expect that Russia or China will do anything more than act in their own national interests.”
Cruz said his other foreign policy priorities are missile defense and modernization of the U.S. military’s weapons and equipment, which have been put on the backburner in the face of nearly $1 trillion in defense cuts stemming from sequestration.
“When America doesn’t lead, the world is more dangerous,” he said.