Ted Cruz during a news conference Tuesday on Capitol Hill. (Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz said that the Middle East was more stable before the United States helped topple dictators Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Moammar Gadhafi in Libya.
The Texas senator went into detail about his foreign policy strategy in an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” He said the United States should be concerned primarily with defending its vital national security interests — not overthrowing brutal regimes in the Middle East.
From Cruz’s perspective, it is the lesser of two evils to have stable, though cruel, tyrants in charge of Muslim-majority nations than vacuums for ISIS and other jihadis to exploit.
“Now, what has been a mistake — and we’ve seen a consistent mistake in foreign policy — is far too often, we’ve seen Democrats and a lot of establishment Republicans in Washington get involved in toppling Middle Eastern governments. And it ends up benefiting the bad guys. It ends up handing them over to radical Islamic terrorists,” Cruz said.
In response, show host Joe Scarborough asked if the Middle East had been more secure when Hussein and Gadhafi were in power and Syrian President Bashar Assad was not fighting for his life in Syria.
Cruz speaks at the Heritage Foundation in Washington on Thursday. (Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
“Of course it was,” Cruz said. “That’s not even a close call.”
He said that Assad is a “bad man” and “a monster” but that if he were ousted, ISIS terrorists would take over even greater swaths of the region than they already control — a far worse alternative.
“My view, instead of getting in the middle of a civil war in Syria, where we don’t have a dog in the fight, our focus should be on killing ISIS. Why? Because ISIS has declared war on America. They’re waging jihad,” he said.
Instead of backing anti-Assad moderate rebels — whom he described as “mythical” and “a purple unicorn” — the U.S. should focus on doing everything possible not to degrade or weaken but to “utterly destroy ISIS.”
Cruz characterized his approach to foreign policy as “peace through strength,” an ancient phrase most associated today with his political hero President Ronald Reagan.
Back in the ’70s and ’80s, according to Cruz, the Great Communicator understood the shortcomings of his predecessors’ approach to foreign policy, notably Jimmy Carter’s strained relationship with the shah in Iran, which set the stage for the Islamic Revolution and the Ayatollah Khomeini.
The GOP candidate accused President Obama and Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton — and many of his fellow Republicans — of not learning this lesson from history, as evidenced by the United States’ role in toppling Gadhafi.
“We killed him, and he was actually cooperating and hunting down and stopping radical Islamic terrorists,” Cruz continued. “And what happened instead was Obama and Hillary led NATO in killing Gadhafi and, by the way, with the support of a whole lot of Republicans in Washington, who were wrong to do so. And the result is now Libya is a chaotic war zone ruled by radical Islamic terrorists.”