Sen. Ted Cruz speaking on the Senate floor. (R-Tex.) (Associated Press)
Sen. Ted Cruz  (R-Tex.) (Senate TV via Associated Press)

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) is making no bones about his views on foreign policy. Last week, it was a speech at the Heritage Foundation on Russia. Yesterday, he spoke on the Senate floor about the president’s foreign policy, such as it is.

The remarks are noteworthy on a few counts. First, while the language may be different, the policies are very similar to those of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), with whom Cruz previously tangled. Moreover, they aren’t materially different from many hawkish Democrats’ views; the difference is that Cruz is not inhibited by party affiliation. Second, Cruz is adopting a perspective that could not be more different from the sentiments of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) with whom he has sometimes allied himself (e.g. on drones). Cruz, I think correctly, sees that strong foreign policy is also good politics on the right. Paul is often left of the president and Hillary Clinton; Cruz is going right. And, last, Cruz weaves a narrative to explain a number of discrete events as part of one syndrome that affects the president (and I would argue, the left more generally). In that, he is giving voice to the frustration and fears of those who see this president as frittering away U.S. prestige and making us less safe. (“I’d like to talk today about the contrast concerning foreign policy between the fantasy that was presented to the American people and the cold hard realities of the dangerous world in which we live, which is only getting more and more dangerous.”)

He began with a blistering attack on Obama’s counter-reality on Syria. He said, “On Syria, in the State of the Union, the president claimed , ‘American diplomacy backed by the threat of force is why Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated, and we will continue to work with the international community to usher in the future the Syrian people deserve, a future free of dictatorship, terror and fear.’ Truly a rosy scenario, and yet what is the reality? On Sunday, just four days after the president delivered the State of the Union Address, Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly told a congressional delegation that the administration’s Syria policy is on the brink of collapse.”

Then on Iran:

On Iran, the president claimed, “It is American diplomacy backed by pressure that has halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program.” The reality, Mr. President, is quite different. No enriched uranium has been destroyed, not a pound, and no centrifuges have been dismantled. The Iranians quickly refuted the president’s claim in the State of the Union, announcing quite publicly that they have not halted their progress in the slightest. Mr. President, I wish he were not speaking the truth, but that reality did not emerge on the House floor last week. On the House floor, the president claimed, “If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today. The reality is that the claim that we are negotiating with Iran from a position of strength and confidence is a blinkered view of reality because it isn’t even clear our president is negotiating towards actual victory.

Capitulation is not victory. President Obama announced in the State of the Union that in order to keep negotiations going, he would veto any additional sanctions Congress might pass to pressure Iran to actually stop pursuing nuclear weapons, a position that is supported not only by his current administration but expressly by his former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

He rejected the comparison Obama made to Ronald Reagan’s negotiations with the Russians. “Standing for U.S. national interest, he was facing an existential threat that he defined as an evil empire. There was no danger of misunderstanding what the goal was or who was going to be doing the surrendering, and as a result of his leadership, the Cold War was won without firing a shot. Today, Mr. President, on Iran, we are tragically repeating the mistakes of the past.”

Cruz went on to rap the president’s knuckles on everything from Israel, Ukraine and Benghazi, Libya (which too many conservatives seem to want to top the list of foreign policy indictments). As to the latter, he said, “The reality is we have four Americans murdered in a preventable attack and that’s what the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded in a bipartisan manner, that this was preventable, by al-Qaeda terrorists, and more than 16 months later, no one in Washington or Libya has been held accountable. Congress and the American people and particularly the families of the fallen deserve the answers that only a Joint Select Committee of Congress could get and yet sadly, Mr. President, the majority leader and Democrats in this chamber are blocking a Joint Select Committee. What difference does it make, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said. It makes all the difference in the world to ascertain the truth.”

Cruz paints a picture of a dishonest, or at the very least clueless, commander in chief. Moreover, he is tying Hillary Clinton to Obama’s sinking ship as tightly as he can. He is taking the bet (a good one, I think) that in 2014 and 2016 Americans will respond to strong leadership. Like a number of foreign policy gurus and a few pols (Rep. Tom Cotton of Arkansas being the most noteworthy among the crop of 2014 Senate candidates) Cruz must figure that voters, especially on the right, will recoil against weakness. Since Ronald Reagan, the notion that the United States would cede the world stage to our foes has been anathema. Unlike Sen. Paul, who no doubt fully believes the isolationist diet he was fed by his father, Cruz is refusing to stoke the “nation-build at home” hooey that Obama repeats at every opportunity.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) for years tried to establish himself as the preeminent voice on foreign policy. Paul tried to establish an alternative approach at odds with modern conservatism. I suspect Cruz, as the very least, will rival Rubio and blow Paul away when it comes to national security — that is, so long as he keeps a steady and forceful counterpoint to the president’s dangerous policies. (That includes the president’s allergic reaction to the National Security Agency.) Republicans who have drunk the isolationist Kool-Aid may, one hopes, rethink their indulgence.

 

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.