Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) said the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) could lead to a "massive loss of life" in the United States if it is not stopped, but added that he still believes Iran’s nuclear ambitions pose a greater threat to the U.S. than the Islamic State, in an interview with the Washington Free Beacon last week.
The senator also tied Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the Obama administration’s Iran policy, and warned the White House against using a military campaign against ISIL as an excuse to appease Tehran.
"As grave as the threat from ISIS is, in my view the most significant threat to U.S. national security remains the threat of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons capability," said Cruz. "The incoherence of the Obama-Clinton foreign policy will come to full flower if the peril of ISIS is used as an excuse to further appease Iran and facilitate their acquiring nuclear weapon capability."
He added that "everything President Obama and Hillary Clinton and John Kerry have done have increased the chances of Iran acquiring nuclear weapon capability, and have perversely increased the chances of future military conflict."
While Cruz has not said whether he will run for president in 2016, his response to one question suggested that the possibility is on his mind.
"What should a strong president do [to prevent a nuclear Iran]? Well number one, I’ve introduced legislation in the Senate, comprehensive Iran sanctions legislation that demonstrates the direction I believe we should be taking," said Cruz.
Although he noted that he remains supportive of a new sanctions legislation introduced by Sens. Mark Kirk and Robert Menendez, he called the proposals "weak sauce."
"Kirk-Menendez on its face is pretty weak sauce. It lays out future contingencies in which ultimately sanctions will be re-imposed. That’s not a rational way to negotiate with religious extremists like [Iranian Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei," said Cruz.
"The legislation I’ve introduced would immediately re-impose sanctions on Iran, would strengthen those sanctions to make them as crippling as humanly possible, and then it lays out a clear path to how Iran can lift those sanctions."
Cruz said both ISIL and the Iranian regime are "radical Islamic terrorists who want to kill us. The one thing on which they agree is killing Americans."
His comments echoed former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who said earlier this month that Tehran posed a more significant geo-strategic threat than ISIL.
Still, the senator warned that failing to confront ISIL could lead to massive U.S. casualties.
"If we don’t act now and if they are able to consolidate power and control of a nation state with massive oil revenues, the inevitable consequence of that will be a significant and perhaps even massive loss of life here in the United States," said Cruz.
He criticized the idea of arming Syria’s anti-Assad rebels, saying that many of them were allied with ISIL, and the Obama administration had not provided a clear plan on how to keep the weapons from falling into the hands of terrorist groups.
Cruz also defended his opposition to U.S. military action against the Syrian regime last summer.
"Had the administration gotten what it wanted last summer, there’s a very real chance ISIS would be stronger today than it is right now," said Cruz.
The potential 2016 presidential hopeful sought to strike a middle ground between the non-interventionist wing of the Republican Party and those who supported President Bush’s "freedom agenda."
"We have a job to do, and it’s not transform distant countries into democratic utopias," said Cruz. "It’s not turn Iraq into Switzerland. It’s to prevent people who want to kill Americans from killing Americans."
"I think it is unquestionably right that we are tired of sending our sons and daughters to distant lands to engage with nation-building," he added. "But I think it is a profound misreading of the American spirit to confuse that with Americans being unwilling to defend themselves, being unwilling to stand up to serious and real national security threats, and to stand up with overwhelming force."