LAS VEGAS — Ted Cruz wants you to know that he isn’t a Rand Paul on foreign policy – but he isn’t a John McCain either.
The Texas senator and Republican presidential contender outlined his foreign policy worldview Friday in an in-depth interview with The Daily Caller from the lobby of the Mandarin Oriental in Sin City, where he was in town to attend both the Republican Jewish Coalition’s Spring Meeting and a convention of evangelical pastors.
“The touchstone of foreign policy should be the vital national security interest of America,” Cruz said, arguing his foreign policy was neither “full neocon” nor “libertarian isolationist.”
“I believe America should be a clarion voice for freedom. The bully pulpit of the American president has enormous potency,” he added, before praising former President Ronald Reagan for changing the “arc of history” by demanding Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev tear down the Berlin Wall and lambasting President Barack Obama for not sufficiently standing on the side of freedom during Iran’s 2009 Green Revolution.
But, Cruz noted, speaking out for freedom “is qualitatively different from saying U.S. military forces should intervene to force democracy on foreign lands.”
“Historically, America has always been reluctant to engage in military conflict,” he said. “It’s worth noting, in eight years, the largest country Ronald Reagan ever invaded was Grenada.”
Cruz says he is a hawk on some issues, like preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. But on other foreign policy questions, like whether to support the Syrian rebels in their fight against Bashar al-Assad, he is more hesitant because he doesn’t see how it will benefit American interests.
“Assad is a bad actor, no doubt about it. He’s a monster who’s murdered hundreds of thousands of his own citizens, women, and children with chemical weapons, but the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend,” Cruz said. “I opposed President Obama’s proposed military attack against Syria because the administration was not able to articulate how it furthered U.S. national security interest, and the consequence of arming the rebels, among those rebels are radical Islamic terrorists.”
Cruz says “if and when U.S. military force is required,” it should only “proceed under three preconditions.” You might call it the “Cruz Doctrine.”
“First, it should begin with a clearly stated objective at the outset. It should be directly tied to U.S. national security,” he said. “Second, we should use overwhelming force to that objective. We should not have rules of engagement that tie the hands of our soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines.”
The final point in the Cruz Doctrine is that the U.S. military should not be asked to help birth democratic societies.
“Third, we should get the heck out,” he said. “It is not the job of the U.S. military to engage in nation building to turn foreign countries into democratic utopias.”
Cruz’s foreign policy differs from Rand Paul’s because, among other things, he appears more willing to commit American military might if necessary than the Kentucky senator, such as potentially in Iran. But Cruz sometimes opposes more hawkish senators like John McCain, Lindsey Graham and — arguably — Marco Rubio because he doesn’t believe America should use the military to help spread democracy abroad.
As the Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein recently noted, “Though the differences Paul has with the rest of the party deserve attention, a far more interesting — and important — debate is the one likely to emerge between Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas.”
Egypt is a perfect example of where Cruz’s foreign policy outlook diverges from some of his more interventionist Senate colleagues. Elements of the right, including McCain and the Weekly Standard, enthusiastically supported the protesters in the street demanding the ouster of longtime Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak during the country’s 2011 revolution. But Cruz argues that though “Mubarak was a leader who did not respect human rights, who trampled on free speech rights, who trampled on individual liberty in Egypt,” he was also “a leader who had been a reliable ally to the United States and a reliable ally in the fight against radical Islamic terrorist.”
“The proper approach, I believe, when you have a leader who is standing with America but not respecting human rights is not to undermine and attack that leader, but rather to urge reform,” Cruz explained. “This goes back to the touchstone of foreign policy being U.S. national security interest.”
Cruz said the result of Mubarak’s ousting was disastrous for both Egypt and for America’s interests in the Middle East.
“By any measure, the Muslim Brotherhood leading Egypt was a much worse outcome for American national security interest than was Mubarak staying in office, and by any measure today, [current Egyptian] President [Abdel Fattah] el-Sisi is much better for U.S. national security interest than was the Muslim Brotherhood,” he argued.
Then there is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which Cruz was in town to speak to the Republican Jewish Coalition about. (He would tell the gathering during his well-received speech Saturday, “It’s not complicated for Republican politicians to come to the RJC and say, ‘We should stand with Israel.’ Unless you’re a blithering idiot, that’s what you say when you come to the RJC.”)
All joking aside, in a Congress filled with pro-Israel politicians, there aren’t many politicos more pro-Israel than Cruz. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a likely 2016 challenger of Cruz’s for the GOP’s evangelical base and another strong supporter of Israel, recently called the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the “nuttiest thing I’ve ever heard.” Asked whether he philosophically supports the idea of a two-state solution, even if a peace deal doesn’t seem likely in the near future, Cruz said the U.S. president shouldn’t be pressuring Israelis to come to any specific outcome.
“The question of whether peace is ultimately achieved through a one-state solution or a two-state solution is a question for Israel, and America shouldn’t dictate the answers,” he stated, noting that the impediment to peace has been a “Palestinian leadership that embraces radical terrorism.”
But what if the Israelis and Palestinians came to a peace accord, could a President Ted Cruz imagine recognizing a Palestinian state?
“If Israel were on its own initiative to negotiate a two-state solution,” he said, pausing as he chose his words carefully, “every nation on earth would recognize those two states. There would not be a disagreement if it were negotiated by the parties in question. What it should not be is imposed from outside.”
Cruz, whose father fled Cuba for America in the 1950s, has been a staunch critic of President Obama’s opening with the communist island. But why continue to maintain an embargo on Cuba when America maintains more open relations with just as horrific human rights abusers like Saudi Arabia and China — and even terror-sponsoring Qatar?
“The situation with Cuba and China are qualitatively different,” Cruz argued. “For one thing, in China, direct investment is allowed, where American investment can go into the country invest directly and work with the Chinese people, which is bringing economic development and is transforming China in significant ways. In Cuba, all outside investment has to go through the government. Lifting sanctions will inevitably result in billions of dollars flowing into the Castro government into its repressive machinery.”
“Secondly, China or Qatar or the different countries you mentioned, none of them are 90 miles from our border,” he added. “Cuba is uniquely situated 90 miles away from the state of Florida. Cuba is a leading exporter of terrorism throughout Latin America. Cuba was recently caught smuggling arms to North Korea in the Panama Canal.”
Like many 2016 contenders, Cruz — who says he occasionally consults foreign policy thinkers like former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, former CIA director Jim Woolsey and former George W. Bush administration deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams — frames his foreign policy through Reagan’s “peace through strength” credo.
But there are real, if sometimes subtle, foreign policy differences between the likely 2016 presidential aspirants. Cruz, who says he has spent a “lifetime” thinking about foreign policy questions, appears ready for the debates to begin.