Hail to the lunchtime speaker.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Ted Cruz's Excellent Foreign Policy Adventure

James Gibney writes editorials on international affairs for Bloomberg View. He was features editor at the Atlantic, deputy editor at the New York Times op-ed page and executive editor at Foreign Policy magazine. He was a foreign service officer and a speechwriter for Secretary of State Warren Christopher, National Security Adviser Anthony Lake and President Bill Clinton.
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Senator Ted Cruz thinks that foreign policy could be a strength for him in a possible 2016 presidential run. If his "keynote" speech to a Weekly Standard/Concerned Veterans for America event today is any indication, however, his day job is looking like a keeper. 

A lot of what he said recycles sound bites from his previous speeches and hearings: "the world is on fire"… the U.S. needs to sound "a clarion call for freedom" … "it is not the job of our military to produce democratic utopias around the world" … "the answer to ISIS is not expanded Medicaid in Iraq" -- and, of course, references wherever possible to "the Obama-Clinton foreign policy."

There were also the customary half-truths, hyperbole and mythical anecdotes: Natan Sharansky probably did not tell Cruz that he was inspired by Ronald Reagan's "tear down this wall" speech while he was in the Gulag, since that speech was delivered more than a year after Sharansky was released. And the Clinton administration did not funnel "billions of dollars" to North Korea that were then used to develop nuclear weapons; it provided about $650 million, mostly in food. That's just slightly more aid than was dispensed by the Bush administration, which presided over the North's first nuclear test in 2006.

More troubling than these political sins, however, were Cruz's vague, simplistic prescriptions. Granted, a Washington lunch speech isn't intended as a briefing paper for the Council on Foreign Relations -- a body that Cruz once called "a pernicious nest of snakes" that is "working to undermine our sovereignty." Even so, Cruz fell short.

After criticizing President Barack Obama's response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine as lawyerly and feckless, Cruz's two prescriptions were that Obama should have immediately announced the deployment of an anti-ballistic missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic and approved pending applications for the export of natural gas. The first recommendation might, among other things, upend future nuclear arms reduction talks; the second wouldn't have significant impact on Ukraine's energy supplies for years.

Then there was Cruz's call for a "serious concerted bombing campaign" against Islamic State fighters in Iraq. Presumably, this bombing campaign wouldn't kill the civilians the group hides among -- the ones the U.S. is ostensibly trying to rescue and protect. Moreover, Cruz's injunction that "we should go in with overwhelming response and we should get the heck out" sounds like the George W. Bush administration's disastrously blithe approach to toppling Saddam Hussein. Curiously, one of Cruz's biggest applause lines was his plan to get combat pay for U.S. servicemen fighting Ebola -- this kind of social work apparently passes muster, while addressing the root causes of radicalism in places like Iraq does not.          

Cruz left the stage with a parting jab at the Obama administration for going through three secretaries of defense (Truman and Nixon, by the way, also had four). As he sees it, defense secretaries are supposed to be independent demigods, not "subservient to political lackeys in the White House." Indeed. Say what you will about the fumble-mouthed Chuck Hagel, he's no Ted Cruz.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
James Gibney at jgibney5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net