On Wednesday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) delivered an important foreign policy address at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in Washington, D.C.
While Cruz dedicated wide swaths of his speech to the procedural need for Congress to reassert its foreign affairs constitutional duties in the face of an increasingly runaway Executive Branch, the substantive portions of the speech with respect to foreign policy doctrine are more enticing.
Since joining the U.S. Senate in 2013, Cruz’s foreign policy has consistently been in the wide chasm between Ron Paul-style isolationism and Dick Cheney-style moralistic interventionism. Cruz has been blisteringly hawkish on true national security threats to the United States and our core allies — his stances on the Shiite supremacist Iranian terror regime mullocracry and the Sunni supremacist Islamism of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas alike both come to mind — but as a doctrinal rule, he has generally been warier of the risk of prolonged military deployments.
In 2014, conservative columnist Matt Lewis defended Cruz’s “militaristic pessimism” as “prudent and cautious and realistic…in a dangerous world.” Today, in his AEI address, Cruz referred to himself as a “non-interventionist hawk.” In so doing, he called for a national interest-based “third option” and cautioned against “rush[ing] into the arms of isolationism as if it were the only reasonable alternative to interventionism.”
Cruz tore into both the isolationists and the Wilsonian interventionists: “Some have never met a country they didn’t want to invade. Others have never met a theater they didn’t want to abandon.” His focus on the jihad-exporting terrorist government in Tehran provided a keen insight into his thinking as it pertains to genuine national security threats:
If we ever discover the Ayatollah is on the verge of getting nuclear weapons, and I believe his ambitions will continue to be doing just that, we should be prepared to use crushing military force to make sure that doesn’t happen. Military force to destroy their nuclear capacity — that should be our objective. Why? Because that is what our national interest is. To prevent an Ayatollah who chants “death to America” and “death to Israel” from ever having weapons capable of murdering in a flash of light millions of American souls.
At the same time, Cruz has shown reluctance to intervene in internecine Islamic tribal wars where America’s national security is less readily identifiable. In 2015, while running for President, Cruz told NBC’s Chuck Todd that the U.S. had “no business stickin’ our nose” in the raging Syrian Civil War. Similarly, he has (properly) lambasted the Obama/Clinton intervention in Libya in 2011 to depose strongman Muammar Gaddafi as a crucial mistake of the myopic bipartisan foreign policy establishment.
Cruz’s general eschewing of platitudinous democracy promotion — and his resistance to the stubborn, vapid Wilsonian/”neoconservative” creed of “universal values” — in favor of a crasser, blunter, more realpolitik-esque foreign policy doctrine is precisely what conservatives should be seeking. In many ways, it is the “true hawkish” view — a viewpoint that prioritizes the blistering aggression of counter-jihadism when need truly be, but which prudently resists getting sucked into sharia tribal warfare in third-world backwaters in order to save our military, social, and intellectual capital for truly necessary military exercises.
Indeed, Cruz’s approach to foreign policy, and in the Middle East in particular, is a nostalgic throwback to that of our Founding Fathers. In particular, consider this sagacious advice from John Quincy Adams:
[America] has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart. … But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. … She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.
In other words, we may believe that the natural rights values promulgated by our Declaration of Independence ought to be universal — but they are only ours to vindicate. And this is the lesson that Wilsonian progressives and classical liberal-turned-“neoconservatives” so often miss. As Yoram Hazony argues, it is the nationalists — properly defined — who are sober and prudent in this, and the universalists whose unvarnished hubris leads them astray.
To revert to Cruz at AEI today, returning to the issue of confronting the Iranian regime: “Critically, if it ever comes to military conflict, our objective shouldn’t be to invade and try to turn Iran into a democratic utopia; instead, it should be to defend America and prevent a nuclear Iran. Clear, simple, focused with an unmistakable end point.”
To summarize: No on democracy promotion and the conceit of “universal values”; yes on on hardnosed counter-jihadism and a sober assessment of genuine national security threats.
Which is exactly right. Good for Ted Cruz.