An Analysis of the Candidates on National Security and Defense Issues: Ted Cruz
This is the fourth in a series of analyses of the candidates’ national security positions based primarily on information gleaned from their web sites. Part 1, Bernie Sanders, can be found here, Part 2, Donald Trump, can be found here, and Part 3, Hillary Clinton, can be found here.
Overall Evaluation. Senator Cruz is consciously trying to rebuild the old Reagan platform, and a key component of that program was a strong national defense. As a consequence, Cruz has the most robust defense platform of the four people vying most closely for their respective party nominations (Sanders, Clinton, and Trump being the others). Senator Cruz is specific about how he will rebuild what he sees as a badly deteriorated American military and how he will pay for it. Voters looking for a strong national defense will like his approach, and those who think that the United States military consumes too much of the national budget will hate it because the Cruz spending plan on defense will rise to 4.1% of GDP over the first two years of his administration. Cruz plans to pay for that by growing GDP by 5%.
Iraq and Afghanistan. Senator Cruz believes that; in retrospect, the decision to go to war in Iraq was wrong, but that President Obama’s disengagement was also a mistake. He believes that nation building in Afghanistan was misguided and that the primary American ongoing mission in both countries should be counterterrorism.
Senator Cruz does not want to be pinned down on troop numbers in Afghanistan and believes that force levels should be tied to mission; that would likely mean that troop strength would remain at its present level, or be built back up to that level if President Obama reduces it. That is because the present level is what most military analysts think is the bare minimum to keep the Afghan government going, and it is likely what the generals would recommend.
Dealing with the Islamic State. To date, the Cruz position on combating ISIS has been his weakest link regarding national security. Until recently, Senator Cruz echoed President Obama in not wanting to commit American ground troops. However, in the week leading up to Carolina primary, he has softened that position and now apparently does not rule out U.S. ground forces.
The Senator’s position that the Kurds should lead the anti-ISIS ground war has been criticized by Middle East experts who point out that the Kurds are primarily interested in taking back lost ground rather than doing the heavy urban combat that would be needed to retake places such as Mosul and Raqqa in ultimately destroying the Islamic State’s military grip on the region. The Cruz position on this will likely continue to evolve as the Republican field shrinks and debates on policy issues become more substantive.
Russia, China, Libya, and North Korea. Senator Cruz points to Russian and Chinese military build ups in arguing for rebuilding American troop strength and calls for an end to the “peace dividend” as a cash cow to fund Obama’s domestic programs. He will likely continue engagement with both countries, but try to do so from a position of increasing strength.
Cruz has said that he would provide Ukraine the tools and equipment that it will take to allow that nation to stand up to the Russians, and he proposes a much stronger stand on North Korea to include strengthening South Korea’s anti-missile capabilities.
Senator Cruz is critical of the decision to intervene in Libya in 2011, but has not taken a strong position on what to do with the increasing power of ISIS in that country. He will likely need to develop a clearly defined position as the Republican field narrows and debates focus more on specific issues.
Iran. Without a doubt, Mr. Cruz is the strongest critic of the Kerry-Obama Iranian nuclear deal vowing to tear it up on his first day in office. This will likely not be a key issue in the Republican primaries as all Republican candidates oppose the agreement. However, if Cruz is the Republican nominee in the general election, it can be expected to be a major debating point as the Senator views Iran as a major threat. Meanwhile, either of the Democrats will likely favor continued Obama-Kerry strategy of constructive engagement.
Counter-terrorism and Homeland Defense. The Senator is against allowing more Muslim Syrian refugees into the country on national security grounds, but would allow other sects. President Obama has denounced this as a religious test that he views as unacceptable. Cruz opposed the National Defense Authorization Act because it is tied to Obama immigration policies, and he is a critic of the Transportation Safety Administration.
Pentagon Reform and the Size of the Military. Senator Cruz makes specific recommendations for rebuilding the strength of all of the armed services and the nuclear triad on his web site. As previously mentioned, he intends to pay for these improvements by raising the GDP by five percent through his economic policies and reducing pentagon waste. His program is ambitious. However, virtually all candidates threaten to reduce Pentagon waste and bureaucracy while few give specific proposals; Mr. Cruz does not differ in this to date.
Senator Cruz understands that much of what President Reagan did to improve military morale was attitudinal in reversing the institutional neglect of the Carter administration. He sees much of the same neglect repeated in the Obama years. His tacit but unstated message to the military is that help is on the way. In that, he is well within the Republican mainstream despite his maverick reputation in other areas.
Immigration. Virtually all Republican candidates want to strengthen the border, eliminate sanctuary cities, and reverse the Obama executive orders on immigration. Mr. Trump is strongest here and Senator Cruz is vying with Senator Rubio to see who is second toughest. Neither Rubio nor Cruz have gone as far as Mr. Trump in threatening mass deportations although Senator Cruz would make a second attempt to enter the country illegally a crime punishable by a five- year jail sentence.
The Republican Primaries. National Security is a Cruz strength, and his website lays out his positions fairly clearly. However, all Republican candidates advocate reversing President Obama’s downsizing of the military. Mr. Trump and Dr. Carson are not conversant on details, but several other candidates are. Senator Cruz would be well advised to clarify his debate positions regarding ISIS, the Ukraine, Syria, and the South China Sea. All candidates would be smart to develop positions on the fast breaking Apple encryption controversy as it will surely come up in future debates.
The General Election Campaign. If Ted Cruz becomes the Republican nominee; national security, defense, and foreign affairs will be among his natural main points of attack. Both of his potential Democratic opponents will be at a disadvantage here. Senator Cruz is probably the best debater in the field and he is conversant on the subjects.