Ted Cruz recently authored an op-ed ostensibly on Syria and Russia’s intervention there that has almost nothing relevant to say about either of them. His argument was at its most irrelevant when he was left repeating discredited talking points from five years ago:
We can redouble our efforts to develop the defensive weapons that neutralized the offensive Soviet threat — particularly missile defense, which has seen a 25% budget reduction under Obama, according to an analysis from the conservative Heritage Foundation, and has been constrained by bad arms deals like New START.
We should not only move quickly to install the canceled interceptor sites Putin opposed in Poland and the Czech Republic, but also to develop the next generation of systems that will only increase his discomfiture.
The first thing to understand here is that Cruz’s claims about missile defense are mostly nonsense. New START in no way constrains missile defense, but it has been a frequent false complaint by treaty opponents that it does. The cancelled installations in Poland and the Czech Republic weren’t wanted in their host countries before they were cancelled, and there is certainly no interest in revisiting the issue in Prague. Poland is now participating in a different missile defense plan that makes the earlier one redundant. U.S. missile defense plans changed after 2009, but they never halted, but like any other hawk Cruz can’t admit this. It is telling that Cruz now admits that missile defense proposals are aimed at “discomfiting” Moscow when their advocates a decade ago strenuously denied that they had anything to do with Russia. As with many of his other proposals, Cruz isn’t arguing for these things because they make sense or have anything to do with enhancing U.S. or allied security, but rather only because they grate on the Russians’ nerves.
The very few things he proposes that are in any way related to Syria involve arming Kurdish forces and having “a real, robust campaign that maximizes our overwhelming air advantage” against ISIS. In short, Cruz wants to escalate the war on ISIS, but doesn’t say so in so many words. Otherwise, he talks about throwing more weapons at regional client states (i.e., Egypt, Israel, and Jordan) that have little or nothing to do with the conflict, and objects to “pouring more resources into a dysfunctional Baghdad.” It’s not clear how he thinks this haphazard grab-bag of proposals will produce a significantly different outcome, but then the main purpose of any Cruz argument is to position himself in such a way that he isn’t obliged to deliver on any of his promises. Thus Cruz will be just hawkish enough to ward off charges of “weakness” while not being as deranged as his competitors that want to talk about their willingness to shoot down Russian jets.
Cruz differs from most other hawks on Syria in that he is not prepared to argue for more direct U.S. intervention. Unlike them, he has no attachment to the fantasy of a “moderate” opposition that needs to be armed, nor does he care about establishing a “no-fly zone,” but he also can’t bring himself to recognize that the U.S. role in Syria is already far more activist than it needs to be. Though he would be horrified by the comparison, tCruz’s maneuvering on Syria is actually quite Obama-like in hat he .is prepared to endorse mild hawkishness and entanglement in a foreign conflict without risking a much larger intervention.