Last fall, the Government Business Council and Defense One surveyed nearly 430 national security experts, including many in the Departments of State, Defense and Homeland Security, asking who among the ten top potential GOP presidential candidates they would like to see as the next commander-in-chief.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who became the first Republican to formally announce for president on Monday, finished dead last.
It may have been that many of the respondents still had fresh recollections of the freshman Texan’s role in shutting down the government for 16 days in an effort to derail Obamacare. Cruz’s antics in late 2013 enraged many in Washington, including his GOP colleagues. But it also may have been Cruz’s exasperating tendency to straddle a line between the semi-isolationism of Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and other libertarians in their party and the hawkishness of Sens. John McCain of Arizona Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
As Molly O’Toole of Defense One observed yesterday, despite Cruz’s service on the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, “Cruz is not widely seen as commander-in-chief material.” In other words, despite his often tough talk on what he would do differently if he were running the country, many question whether Cruz would turn out to be a “Straddler-in-Chief.”
During his speech to a group of cheering students at Liberty University in Virginia yesterday, Cruz offered a clarion call for a return to Republican principles and toughness on defense and national security matters, and offered himself as an antidote to what he characterized as the failed or misguided policies of the Democrats.
“Instead of a president who boycotts Prime Minister Netanyahu, imagine a president who stands unapologetically with the nation of Israel,” Cruz declared. “Instead of a president who seeks to go to the United Nations and end-run Congress and the American people, imagine a president who says, ‘I will honor the Constitution, and under no circumstances will Iran be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon.’ Imagine a president who says, ‘We will stand up and defeat radical Islamic terrorism — and we will call it by its name.’”
His campaign kickoff speech echoed an earlier charge that President Obama has yet to show a “seriousness of purpose” in confronting the ISIS terrorist group, and that the president instead had engaged in “photo op foreign policy – a bomb here, a missile there.” Yet Cruz – like many of his Republican colleagues on Capitol Hill – remains exasperatingly vague and non-committal over what new war powers Congress should grant the president, or whether more U.S. ground troops will be needed to ultimately defeat the terrorists in Iraq and Syria.
Throughout his relatively brief career in the Senate, Cruz has vacillated between his party’s isolationists and hardliners. For instance, he opposed Obama’s request in September 2013 (later withdrawn) for authorization to attack Syria after President Bashar al-Assad allegedly used chemical weapons against his own people.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chair John McCain (R-AZ) once denounced Cruz as a “wacko bird” for filibustering against the nomination of CIA Director John O. Brennan because of opposition to President Obama’s drone policy.
Then Cruz sided with the hawks in opposing the administration’s nuclear negotiations with Iran and pressing for more sanctions against Tehran. Like many others in his party, Cruz perceives Iran as an even greater threat to the Middle East and U.S. national security than ISIS.
Cruz has sponsored legislation that would immediately re-impose tough economic sanctions against Iran, a strategy that the administration says would kill the negotiations that just now are coming to a head. He was one of 47 Republican senators who signed a recent letter to Iranian leaders warning that any deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program would be short-lived unless Congress approved it.
He offered more tough talk on Iran yesterday. “Instead of a president who seeks to go to the United Nations and end-run Congress and the American people, imagine a president who says, ‘I will honor the Constitution, and under no circumstances will Iran be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon,’” he said yesterday.
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