The really interesting thing about the Junior Senator from Texas is the fact that he demonstrates that anyone who wants it badly enough can become president. It is, of course, something for which there is a precedent, when voters elected an inexperienced and largely unknown Barack Obama. Cruz shares Obama’s lack of preparation for the highest office while he is also something of a throwback to fellow Texan George W. Bush’s tradition of anti-intellectualism and lack of curiosity about how the rest of the world interacts with the United States. This is particularly unfortunate as Cruz, a conventional Republican conservative on all social issues, ironically has chosen to identify differences in foreign policy to distinguish himself from the rest of the Republican pack.
Cruz might rightly be seen by some as a nightmarish incarnation of a narrow minded conservative Christian vision of what the United States is all about, aggressively embracing a world view based on ignorance coupled with the license granted by God endowed “American exceptionalism” from sea to shining sea. His father is an Evangelical preacher and the son has successfully absorbed much of both the blinkered notions of right and wrong as well as the Elmer Gantry style, but that is not to suggest that he is stupid. By all accounts Cruz, a graduate of Princeton and of Harvard Law School, is extremely intelligent and by some accounts endowed with both extraordinary cunning and ambition. He is possessed of excellent political instincts when it comes to appealing to the constituencies in the GOP that he believes to be essential to his success.
Washington has seen presidents who were truly religious in the past but it has rarely experienced the Cruz mixture of demagoguery combined with a Biblically infused sense of righteousness which admits to no error. His Manichean sense of good and evil is constantly on display, but he is most on fire when he is speaking to his fellow conservative Christians, most recently at the gathering of the Faith and Freedom Coalition in Iowa. Cruz was one of a number of GOP speakers, which included potential presidential hopefuls Bobby Jindal and Paul Ryan, who were received tepidly while Cruz was greeted with cheering and a standing ovation before launching into his most recent theme, blaming the White House for not pressuring foreign governments to protect their Christian minorities. The enthusiastic reception was not surprising as Cruz is, after all, the “real thing” speaking “their language” fluently and the Evangelicals know it.
Cruz is intelligent enough to realize that what he is peddling is a type of narrative designed to make himself electable. What he actually believes is somewhat irrelevant except that if he is an actual zealot he might well be immune to viewpoints that run counter to his biases, dangerous in a president. A year ago Cruz grandstanded in leading the GOP dissidents’ attempt to shut down the government over the issue of Obamacare, a move that the party leadership regarded as a major “tactical error.” He was widely condemned for his performance in the media and within his own party but he made points with the constituency he was courting, the Tea Partiers.
The disturbing thing about Cruz is that his foreign policy statements are awash in what must be a willful disregard of reality, but, as with the threatened government shutdown, he apparently knows what will sell with the Bible thumping America first crowd that he is primarily targeting. His latest leitmotif which he has been hammering relentlessly is the worldwide persecution of Christians, with the clear implication that it is uniquely a Muslim problem. It is also a line that is being pursued by the Israeli government and American Jewish groups, that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is somehow a protector of Christianity. He opposes negotiations with Iran, for example, because a Christian pastor is in prison there. That several other Americans are also being held by the government in Tehran, including a former US Marine, appears to be of secondary importance and US broader regional interests do not enter into the discussion at all.
As part of his strategy to outflank his competition in the GOP, Cruz is shameless in his promotion of Israel and its interests. He did so recently by telling an audience of beleaguered Middle Eastern Christians that they had “no greater ally than Israel,” a statement so palpably out of sync with the actual experiences of those in the audience that he was booed of the stage. His response: “Those who hate Israel hate America.” Countering conservative critics of his performance Cruz subsequently wrote that “…the only time at least some of these writers seem to care about persecuted Christians is when it furthers an anti-Israel narrative for them.”
Cruz will, of course, finds Israel haters wherever he looks as it constitutes a convenient way to dismiss critics without affording them a hearing. He will never concede that Israel discriminates against its Christian minority in spite of the considerable evidence that it does so. That Israel chooses to describe itself as a Jewish State, a designation that Cruz enthusiastically supports, does not ring any bells for him though he is quick to pounce on Iran for calling itself the Islamic Republic.
This willful blindness derives from the fact that Israel is central to Cruz’s foreign policy thinking. He has visited the country three times since becoming Senator. In Des Moines last week he spoke about Israel and he has referred to it from the Senate floor literally thousands of times, according to the Congressional Record. His private Senate office features a large framed photo of himself with Netanyahu. Nearly every speech Cruz makes sooner or later comes around to the issue of “standing for Israel” even when there is no logical reason to make that connection. At the recent Values Voters Summit in Washington he brought the cheering crowd to its feet by shouting “We stand for life. We stand for marriage. We stand for Israel.”
To be sure, part of the Cruz strategy comes from his recognition that no Republican can become a presidential candidate without the endorsement of Israel’s supporters. Cruz has met privately with the leaders of Jewish organizations, including Bill Kristol, editor of the neocon Weekly Standard and founder or board member of the multitude of pro-Israel alphabet soup organizations that seem to spring up spontaneously. The Weekly Standard has, not surprisingly, promoted the Cruz candidacy. Cruz also has his eye on Jewish money. He is seeking the support of Las Vegas casino mega-billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who could single handedly fund his campaign if he should choose to do so, as well as with other potential donors.
Cruz, who apparently believes he has learned something from the Vietnam and Iraq fiascos, describes his foreign policy in simple terms: have a clearly defined objective, use overwhelming force, and then get out. If viewed at face value, the formula is an antidote for prolonged and unsuccessful nation building, which would be good, but it has to be taken in the context of Cruz’s other pronouncements. He describes the world as being “on fire” and his rhetoric is uniformly belligerent. He sees “overwhelming” military intervention by the US as a God given right whenever the policy makers in Washington feel threatened and he also regards the military option as a first resort without any regard for what is going on in the country that is the target. Making a mess and leaving it is a recipe for international anarchy.
In a recent speech Cruz denounced the Administration for talking with Iranian representatives at the opening of the UN General Assembly in New York. He characterized the event as “swilling chardonnay with the Iranian government.” That the United States has very compelling interests to be working with Iran both on ISIS and on nuclear proliferation apparently escaped Cruz’s grasp, so he was left with little more than a cheap shot joke to explain his unwilling to negotiate with a government that he and Israel have repeatedly demonized.
Regarding Russia, Cruz has called for an expansion of NATO and more sanctions without any explanation of what the strategy might be or any curiosity about where increasing pressure on Moscow might lead. As a Cuban American he is inevitably hostile towards the government in Havana. Regarding Iran, Cruz supports harsher sanctions even though it would mean an end to negotiations over that country’s nuclear program.
Cruz’s foreign policy vision has been reported to be finding a “sweet spot” between the nation building of the Democrats and the reflexive belligerency of some Republican Senators like John McCain and Lindsey Graham who have not apparently realized that the country is weary of war. In reality however, Cruz veers strongly towards McCain-like solutions, accepting military interventions while eschewing the occupation and rebuilding bits only because they are too expensive and prone to misadventure to entertain. Sadly, like other GOP hawks, Cruz does not recognize that Washington has caused many if not most international problems, that foreign nations actually have interests that should be respected or at least considered, that military solutions are rarely sustainable, and that inextricably linking the United States to a rogue nation like Israel might not actually be good policy. But such considerations count for little when a man with a mission is on his way to become President of the United States.