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In Heritage speech, Cruz looks to thread the needle on foreign policy

This post has been updated 

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) on Thursday defended his support for ending the collection of bulk metadata, laying out his vision for U.S. foreign policy and national security in a bid to distinguish himself from his GOP presidential rivals.

Cruz championed voting to end the bulk collection of phone records, a position his rival for the GOP presidential nomination, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), has blasted as weak on national defense.

“More data from millions of law abiding Americans is not always better data,” Cruz said. “Hoarding tens of billions of records of ordinary citizens didn’t stop Fort Hood. It didn’t stop Boston. It didn’t stop Chattanooga. It didn’t stop Garland. And it failed to detect the San Bernardino plot.”

Speaking on Fox News Thursday night, Cruz said Rubio's super PAC is "running $200,000 worth of attack ads against me" that make it appear that "Somehow conservatives in the House and Senate were responsible for the Paris terror attacks."

Cruz co-sponsored the USA Freedom Act, which ended the bulk collection of phone records and took them out of the hands of government -- but allowed the data to remain with private companies. Cruz said Rubio and his super PAC are "lying" about the bill, which he said expanded the scope of records that could be searched for terrorist activity.

Cruz’s speech at the Heritage Foundation in Washington offered little new in terms of how he believes the United States should conduct its Middle East policy. But as the race heats up, and Cruz is being attacked on his foreign policy bona fides by his rivals, it gave the Texas Republican a platform to offer more detail on views he has been espousing on the campaign trail and in a blitz of media appearances over the past several days.

As Cruz seeks to consolidate support from conservatives, evangelical Christians and libertarians, his foreign policy has attempted to thread the needle between the party’s hawkish and dovish factions.

Cruz, drawing a line between himself and presidential rivals from Rubio to Democratic contender and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton -- as well as former president George W. Bush -- said that he does not believe the United States should topple dictators, pointing to Libya and Egypt. Libya is a “chaotic war zone ruled by radical Islamic terrorists” after Moammar Gaddafi, Cruz said on NBC. He did not mention Iraq.

“We will not win by replacing dictators, as unpleasant as they may be, with terrorists who want to destroy America,” Cruz said.

Cruz said the United States should not choose sides in the Syrian civil war, calling for the Islamic State to be “carpet-bombed” and Kurdish forces to be armed.

“For as bad as [Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad was and is, radical jihadis patrolling Syria would be a significant turn for the worse,” he said.

The Texas Republican has intensified his rhetoric against the Islamic State in wake of a terrorist attack in Paris last month that killed 130 people and the killing of 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif., last week by a couple who authorities said were radicalized.

"If I am elected president, we will utterly destroy ISIS," Cruz told reporters in Iowa last weekend. "We won’t weaken them. We won’t degrade them. We will utterly destroy them. We will carpet-bomb them into oblivion."

Cruz said President Obama has become an "apologist" for "radical Islamic terror."

Read: Ted Cruz vows to ‘utterly destroy ISIS’ and ‘carpet bomb’ terrorists

Cruz has also called for a a three-year moratorium on refugees from countries where the Islamic State has taken root, letting governors opt out of accepting refugees and revoking the citizenship of Americans who travel abroad to join the Islamic State. Cruz has called for a ban on Muslim refugees but has said there is "no meaningful risk" of Christians committing terrorism.

Read: Cruz: ‘No meaningful risk’ of Christians committing terrorism

Cruz has said as recently as last month that he doesn't believe that sending U.S. ground troops into Syria is the answer, but has now left the door open to the possibility.

"Some in the course of a political campaign have have focused on the question of boots on the ground, American boots on the ground, as a talismanic demonstration of strength,” he said. "That is getting the deployment of military force precisely backwards.  this is not a game of risk where politicians move armies around to demonstrate their machismo.

Instead, Cruz said, he would allow military leaders to make the determination of what is needed, "including overwhelming military power, including arming the Kurds, and including using whatever ground troops are necessary to kill the terrorists and then come home.”