What Ted Cruz Really Thinks About Foreign Policy

By Tania Cohen

Senator Ted Cruz's Middle East policy is somewhat unique among Republicans, particularly in comparison to former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. Regardless of the success of their respective endeavors in the Middle East, both pursued actions that at least partially prioritized stability and democracy. In contrast, as revealed in his speeches and op-eds, Cruz's primary conviction has been that the United States should only intervene militarily in foreign conflicts when the conflict or its actors pose a direct threat to the United States, yet he also emphasizes his belief that the United States should "restore [its] leadership in the world," which is somewhat contradictory to his isolationist tendencies and necessitates soft power diplomacy.

In his December 2015 speech at the Heritage Foundation, Cruz argued: "Nothing that has happened [since 2013 when the Obama Administration began taking action in Syria] has given me any more confidence that intervention in the Syrian civil war is in American interests...because... we do not have a side in the [war]." While this is a legitimate viewpoint, Cruz contradicts himself by adding: "I believe we should focus on the immediate and unambiguous challenge to our security, which is utterly destroying [ISIL]." With these statements, Cruz misrepresents reality. The civil war in Syria is a multi-sided conflict in which the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is one force of many. As such, the United States cannot simply 'destroy ISIL' while staying out of the war itself.

Cruz used a September 2014 op-ed, written after ISIL beheaded two American citizens, to propose his three key steps for defeating ISIL. First, he advocates prioritizing border security on the U.S.-Mexico border, which is far from ISIL's centers of power and influence. Second, he proposes rescinding American citizenship from Americans who fight for or support ISIL. If Cruz's goal is to eradicate ISIL and its membership, this policy measure would be insufficient, as most ISIL fighters are not American. Lastly, Cruz says he will "do everything possible to make [ISIL] understand there are serious ramifications for threatening to attack the United States and for killing American civilians", through "principally military" means. While this statement may appeal to voters for its bravado, it lacks substance.

In the same piece, Cruz did not explicitly rule out soft power, but shared his hope that President Obama would not propose an intervention "laden with impractical contingencies, such as resolving the Syrian civil war, reaching political reconciliation in Iraq or achieving [international] consensus." Diplomatic strategies are key to effective global leadership and vital to any successful foreign policy, yet Cruz presents them as signs of weakness. This philosophy represents a major strategic inconsistency for Cruz. For example, in 2013 Cruz suggested responding to Bashar Al-Assad's use of chemical weapons with a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) vote "condemning" Assad. While there is nothing fundamentally wrong with this proposal, Cruz also wrote: "It is not the job of U.S. troops to police international norms or to send messages." On the contrary, as a global power and signatory state to many UN treaties and conventions, we are obligated to uphold those principles. Furthermore, endorsing a UNSC resolution is certainly a form of "policing international norms" and "sending a message," but his specific reference to U.S. troops allows him to make these otherwise contradictory statements.

Similarly, in an October 2015 op-ed Cruz wrote: "We should extend consistent, robust assistance to our regional allies - Israel, Egypt, and Jordan - who are on the front lines of this fight." His apparent openness to cooperating with other countries on this issue indicates a shift in his approach to foreign policy. The issue with this plan is not Cruz's hesitation to get involved in a foreign conflict. Rather, the problem is his failure to embrace the important role that diplomacy and international dialog play in multilateral action.

Following the recent terrorist attacks in Brussels, Cruz called for preventing Middle Eastern refugees from entering the United States, "patrol[ling] and securing Muslim neighborhoods" to prevent radicalization, securing the southern border, and destroying ISIL. Respectively, these ideas ignore our humanitarian obligation to help refugees; discriminate against American Muslims based on religion; mischaracterize ISIL's sphere of influence; all while failing to describe any specific actions Cruz would take against ISIL.

In an interview following the attacks, he also said, "Donald Trump is wrong that America should withdraw from the world and abandon our allies ... [he] is wrong that we should retreat from Europe." This statement and his calls to return to our position as an international leader demonstrate a belief that the United States should intervene in foreign conflicts not only when there is a direct threat to American security, but also when our ideals are threatened. This contradicts his opposition to soft power and appears to contradict his earlier beliefs that we should only intervene militarily when there is a direct threat to American security.

In each of these examples, Ted Cruz attempts to position himself as a fearless defender of American security by emphasizing military power and dismissing diplomatic actions. He simultaneously proposes a return to American leadership and multilateralism, which both necessitate soft power, indicating subtle contradictions and inconsistencies in his approach to American foreign policy. If he is to be considered a serious presidential candidate, Cruz must reconcile the inconsistencies in his policy proposals and seriously acknowledge America's responsibility to engage with other countries with strength and understanding.

Tania Cohen is employed by the American Society of International Law and is a Campaigns Fellow at Young Professionals in Foreign Policy. Her interests include domestic civic engagement, refugee and migration policy, and the influence of history on contemporary policy development and foreign relations. Any views expressed are those of the author and not those of the American Society of International Law.