By Bret Stephensm, WSJ
The Texas senator’s foreign policy is closer to Obama’s than he lets on.
Not everything in Ted Cruz’s foreign policy speech on Thursday at the Heritage Foundation was awful. There was enough intellectual heft in there to suggest that the senator from Texas is too smart to believe the ideological contrivances and strategic impostures by which he seeks to gain the GOP nomination.
The central foreign-policy challenge facing the next president is how to re-establish American credibility with friends who no longer trust us and enemies who no longer fear us. Mr. Cruz gets this, just as he gets that the purpose of U.S. foreign policy cannot be to redeem the world’s crippled societies through democracy-building exercises. Foreign policy is not in the business of making dreams come true—Arab-Israeli peace, Islamic liberalism, climate nirvana, a Russian reset, et cetera. It’s about keeping our nightmares at bay.
Today those nightmares are Russian revanchism, Iranian nuclearization, the rise and reach of Islamic State and China’s quest to muscle the U.S. out of East Asia. How to deal with them? Mr. Cruz has thoughts on these and other important matters, but first he wants you to know that he intends to finish the wall along the border with Mexico. And triple the border patrol. And quadruple the number of aircraft patrolling the border.
Why? Because “when terrorists can simply swim across the Rio Grande, we are daring them to make the journey.”
By now, illegal immigration is to the GOP what global warming is to the Democrats: the all-purpose bugaboo that is supposed to explain nearly every problem and whose redress must be part of every solution. But immigration policy is not foreign policy, much less a counterterrorism strategy. And there are probably larger pools of would-be jihadists in Montreal and Vancouver than in Monterrey or Veracruz. Shouldn’t Mr. Cruz call for a wall from Quebec to British Columbia?
Similarly depressing—because he surely knows better—are Mr. Cruz’s efforts to paint himself as a champion of civil liberties when it comes to his recent success in gutting the National Security Agency’s bulk telephony metadata collection program.
Mr. Cruz must feel politically vulnerable on this score, especially after the San Bernardino massacre and the sense that the pool of libertarian-leaning GOP voters is fast drying up. But he’s decided to double down on his objections to the (now lapsed) NSA program. “Hoarding tens of billion of records of ordinary citizens,” he said last week, “didn’t stop Fort Hood, it didn’t stop Boston, it didn’t stop Garland, and it failed to detect the San Bernardino plot.”
All true—nobody ever said intelligence is foolproof. But here’s another plot the NSA program failed to stop. “Telephony metadata,” wrote Judge William H. Pauley III of New York’s Southern District in a 2013 ruling affirming the constitutionality of the program, “would have furnished the missing information and might have permitted the NSA to notify the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the fact that [9/11 hijacker Khalid] al-Mihdhar was calling the Yemeni safe house from inside the United States.”
At this point, readers may sense that Mr. Cruz is closer to President Obama when it comes to fighting terrorism than he lets on. His views on metadata collection are identical to those of James Clapper, the incompetent and dishonest Director of National Intelligence whom Mr. Cruz cites approvingly in his speech. He excoriates the Obama administration for hollowing out the military but fails to note that he was one of just two Republican votes (the other was Rand Paul) against the latest National Defense Authorization Act, opposition he justifies on obscure civil-liberty grounds. He cites Libya as a case study in why not to intervene in a Middle Eastern civil war. But he may also have noted that his anti-interventionist instincts precisely track those of Mr. Obama, who was reluctantly dragged into a war he led from behind.
As for Syria, Mr. Cruz insists “we do not have a side in the Syrian civil war” and endorses Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s view that nonintervention allows two evil sides to exhaust themselves in the fighting. But this is indistinguishable from Mr. Obama’s hands-off approach to the conflict, notwithstanding the administration’s flaccid efforts to arm a credible opposition and bomb ISIS.
If your aim is to bomb ISIS until the “sand glows in the dark,” you are taking a side in the conflict. Mr. Cruz knows this. If you want to destroy ISIS without strengthening the Assad regime and its backers in Tehran, you have to target the regime, too. The truth about Syria isn’t that we have no dog in the fight. It’s that we’ve got to fight two dogs. The alternative is the endless chaos in which ISIS incubates and desperate refugees come knocking on our doors.
Again, Mr. Cruz knows this. Again, he’s too smart not to. Intelligence is never in question when it comes to the junior senator from Texas. Character is.