America needs to retake its role as world leader, Ted Cruz says, and he is available to lead the charge.
The senator from Texas made his case Tuesday at a foreign policy keynote in Washington, where he admonished the Obama administration for what he said was its weakness abroad and explained what a "sound policy"—his—would look like. Hosted by Concerned Veterans for America and The Weekly Standard, the event, "What Should Modern American Foreign Policy Look Like?," seemed tailor-made as a platform for Cruz's political ambitions.
Though his language fell under the general guise of "what should be done," Cruz's speech could easily serve as a primer for the foreign policy plank of his campaign, complete with attacks on what he continued to deride as the "Obama-Clinton foreign policy."
"Unfortunately, right now, as you look across the globe, the failures of the Obama-Clinton foreign policy are manifest," he told the crowd, lamenting that America's ability to protect its security around the world is getting worse. "Leading from behind doesn't work. Leading from behind, we are seeing the consequences when America recedes and hides from the mantle of leadership."
Rather than let a "KGB thug" run rampant through Eastern Europe, Cruz said, the president should have immediately taken action when Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Crimea and announced that the federal government would approve all 22 pending applications to export liquefied natural gas. The senator also repeated his stance that Iran should under no circumstances be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. To stop the country's regime, he said, the approach should be "more stick, less carrot"—lifting sanctions only if Iran disassembles its centrifuges, relinquishes its entire stock of enriched uranium, and shuts down its ICBM program.
As for the terrorist group the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, Cruz advocated for a similar take-no-prisoners approach.
"If the objective were 'defeat ISIS,' if the objective were 'defend U.S. national security,' we would have a serious, concerted, real bombing campaign, not a photo-op campaign," he said. "We would be using the boots on the ground or the Peshmerga to hunt down and kill the leadership of ISIS."
Cruz also criticized Obama for what he said was the president's failure to speak out in defense of liberty abroad. Pointing to his oft-cited examples of Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor and Iranian-American who's been imprisoned in Iran since 2012, and Meriam Ibrahim, a Sudanese woman who was jailed by the African country for refusing to renounce her Christianity, he called for a return to the "tremendous tradition of America speaking out and giving a voice to the hopes to the aspirations to live free across the world."
"Where is America? Where is the president standing up and shining a light? America can be a clarion voice for freedom, and that has been lacking," he said.
Cruz took some bigger shots at Obama, too, again bringing what is clearly one of his favorite shows into the political realm.
"If Saturday Night Live were parodying a hapless, ineffective president, they couldn't make things up worse," he told the crowd. "Just a few months ago, Jimmy Carter criticized this president for being weak on foreign policy. Holy cow."
Touching on the morning's news that former Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter would replace Chuck Hagel in the top job at the Pentagon, Cruz implied that the string of Defense secretaries—soon to be four in six years—stems from the Obama administration's "unwillingness" to defend the country's national security.
"What a failure of leadership at a time when the world is on fire, when the national security threats are manifest, and it seems what the administration is looking for is a Defense secretary who will follow the orders of a political White House rather than focus on defending the national security interests of this country," he said.
Cruz has long been organizing a foreign-policy focused campaign, one that acknowledges that the American people are "war-weary" but doesn't use that as an excuse to shy away from force abroad. With this latest display, he's trying to prove he understands the foreign policy minutiae enough to play ball. In a crowded field of Republican primary contenders, that approach may be his best chance to stand out.
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.