US Senator Ted Cruz, the conservative Republican firebrand from Texas, is running for president. Up until a few weeks ago, his candidacy was met with indifference as the media and political operatives all dismissed its viability. But that is beginning to change. The voices arguing that Cruz, the favorite of Tea Party fiscal conservatives and Evangelical Christians may have what it takes to win the Republican nomination have multiplied.
Since arriving in Washington four years ago, Cruz has arguably been Israel’s most avid defender in the Senate. During Operation Protective Edge in July 2014, Cruz used his authority as a member of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee to force the Obama administration to end the Federal Aviation Commission’s ban on US flights to Ben-Gurion Airport. Cruz announced at the time that he would put a hold on all State Department appointments until the administration justified the flight ban.
Rather than defend its position, the administration restored flights to Israel after 36 hours.
Last summer Cruz led the national opposition to US President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. He brought thousands of activists to the Capitol to participate in a rally he organized calling for Congress to vote down the deal. Rather than use the rally as a means to promote himself, Cruz invited Republican front-runner real estate developer Donald Trump to join him at the rally. Trump’s participation ensured that the event received wide coverage from the national media.
I interviewed Cruz by telephone from the campaign trail earlier this week about his views on the purpose of American foreign policy, US-Israel relations, the Iran nuclear deal and the Palestinian conflict with Israel.
The transcript of our conversation follows.
Sen. Cruz, you have managed to anger the two foreign policy wings of your party – the neoconservatives and the isolationists – with your foreign policy positions. How would you describe the rationale behind your foreign policy positions?
Cruz: I believe American foreign policy should be driven by the vital national security interests of our nation. The most central failing of the Obama-Clinton foreign policy is it fails to look to America’s national security interests. And as a result, we have undermined our friendships and alliances across the globe, and we have allowed our enemies to grow stronger in the face of weakness and appeasement.
How does the US alliance with Israel align with that view? A lot of Americans argue that by supporting Israel the US has diminished its capacity to form alliances with the Arab world.
Nobody who understands the reality of foreign policy believes that. That is the view of the Obama administration and the far Left. I think America’s alliance with Israel is overwhelmingly in our national security interest. Israel shares the same democratic values. It has been a tremendously important ally to America in a very troubled region of the world. The military assistance that America provides Israel yields enormous national security benefits to America.
There are some politicians who characterize the United States military aid to Israel as somehow a form of assistance rather than a mutually beneficial military alliance.
I think that stems from a misunderstanding of the fundamental dynamics.
[This week Obama instructed federal agencies to begin suspending economic sanctions on Iran, in conformance with the nuclear deal he concluded with the regime last summer. Cruz argues that the Republicans in Congress have the constitutional authority to prevent Obama from suspending sanctions. He expresses deep frustration with the Republican congressional leadership’s refusal to do so.]
Over a month ago I wrote a detailed letter to [Senate] Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and [House] Speaker John Boehner laying out a specific course of attack to stop this catastrophic Iranian nuclear deal. The first step, I believe, is that the majority leader and the speaker of the House should jointly conclude that Obama has not submitted the entire deal to Congress as required by the Congressional Review Act, which explicitly defines the deal to include any and all side agreements.
The side agreements with the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] governing the incredibly weak inspection of the regime were not handed over to Congress.
So under the terms of federal law, the deal has not yet been given to Congress, which means the clock for the congressional review has not started. The reason that is important is because under the terms of the Congressional Review Act, it is illegal for the administration to lift the Iran sanctions until the expiration of the congressional review clock. If the clock has not started, then the sanctions cannot be lifted consistent with law.
Now unfortunately we know what the next step will be to that. After six-and-a-half years we have seen that with President Obama we have a president who has repeatedly ignored and defied federal law.
So we can anticipate that he would do the same here and say that it does not concern him; he intends to lift sanctions anyway.
At that point, what I recommended is that congressional leadership make abundantly clear to each of the banks that is in possession of the frozen billions of dollars that whether or not Obama chooses to disregard or ignore federal law does not exonerate those banks from the obligation to follow binding federal statutes.
And if those banks, contrary to federal law, release billions of dollars to Ayatollah Khamenei, then those banks will face potentially billions of dollars in civil liabilities and even possibly criminal prosecution.
But senator, they didn’t do any of those things.
Caroline, you’re exactly right that congressional leadership refused to do any of this. Likewise, we just had a battle over the continuing resolution [which funds the government without an approved budget]. I urged Congress to fund the entire federal government but deny any federal funds to implement this catastrophic deal. Again Republican leadership refused to do that. So long as Republican leadership is unwilling to use the constitutional authority given to Congress, the Obama administration will move forward with this catastrophic deal.
I will continue to fight on every front to stop this deal. I believe it is the single greatest national security threat facing America – the threat of a nuclear Iran.
And I also agree with Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu that a nuclear Iran is an existential threat to the nation of Israel. The challenge right now is Republican congressional leadership has been unwilling to use the constitutional authority we have to stop this deal.
If that does not change, then Congress will acquiesce and this deal will go forward for the next 15 months.
This means nothing is more important to stopping a nuclear Iran than the next presidential election in America.
And indeed I believe this issue is becoming the single most important issue in the presidential election. I have pledged that if I am elected president, to rip to shreds this Iranian nuclear deal on my very first day in office and to make abundantly clear that under no circumstances will the nation of Iran, led by a theocratic ayatollah who chants Death to America, be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons.
On the other hand, if Hillary Clinton is elected president, we know to a virtual metaphysical certainty that Iran will acquire nuclear weapons. And if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, the odds are unacceptable that it will use those weapons, either against Israel or against America.
Over the past 15 years, through its sponsorship of Hamas and Islamic Jihad and occasional support for Fatah, Iran has become a key factor in the Palestinian war against Israel. The nuclear deal, which guarantees Iran will receive hundreds of billions of dollars in the coming years, ensures that Tehran will massively increase its funding for Palestinian terrorism. What we’re now experiencing in Israel may in part be a consequence of the nuclear pact.
How would you characterize the Obama administration’s stewardship of US relations with the Palestinians?
This past this week I publicly called for John Kerry’s resignation as secretary of state. This is the second time I’ve done so. A number of months ago I called for Kerry’s resignation when he wrongfully suggested that Israel could become an apartheid state, which is slander. It is one often repeated by the terrorists, and it should not be coming out of the mouth of a United States secretary of state.
This past week John Kerry and the State Department accused the nation of Israel of terrorism. That is a blatant lie. There is a qualitative difference between antics of Palestinian terrorists murdering innocent women and children in response to the relentless incitement from Hamas, from the PA.
There’s a qualitative difference between that and the IDF defending the safety and security of the nation of Israel.
And John Kerry’s suggestion that they are morally equivalent is wrong, harmful and deeply offensive.
If you are elected president in 2016, what would your relationship be with the PA?
I believe that nobody wants to see peace more than the Israeli people. The barrier to peace is not the government of Israel. The barrier to peace is Palestinians who refuse to renounce terrorism and refuse to even acknowledge Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
As it regards to US policy, I think for far too long, American presidents have attempted to dictate the terms of a peace settlement. In my view, America has no appropriate role dictating the terms of a peace settlement.
If Israel chooses to negotiate and reach a settlement with the Palestinian Authority, that is Israel’s right as a sovereign state, and America can help provide a fair forum for negotiations.
But it is not the role of the American government to attempt to lecture the Israeli people or dictate terms of peace.
No one has a greater incentive to seek peace than the people of Israel, who have lived with the daily threat of rocket attacks or knifings or terrorist bombs.
Do you think a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River is a US interest?
I think that is a question to be decided by the nation of Israel and the Palestinian people.
You don’t think it’s a question for America?
I do not believe the United States should try to dictate the terms of peace. We have seen now for two decades American presidents trying to dictate the terms of peace. And it hasn’t worked.
The Palestinians have turned down every reasonable offer of peace. And I believe America should stand unshakably alongside the nation of Israel. If I am elected president, that is exactly what we will do.
Right now the PA is spending around $150 million a year to pay salaries to convicted terrorists sitting in Israeli prisons. The US gives the PA about $550m. annually. Do you think the US should reconsider its commitment to funding the PA?
Of course we should. The PA has formed a unity government with Hamas. The idea that American taxpayer dollars are going to a government that is in unity with terrorists makes no sense whatsoever. The idea that American taxpayer dollars are going to the PA, which routinely engages in incitement, which celebrates the terrorists who murder women and children, makes no sense whatsoever. We should not be funding people who want to kill us. We should not be funding terrorists.
This goes back to what I mentioned before about the central failing of the Obama-Clinton foreign policy – that it fails to focus on the vital national security interests of America. Funding terrorists is directly contrary to our national security interests and we should not be doing so.
The prevailing wisdom is that building in Israeli communities beyond the 1949 armistice lines causes Palestinian terrorism. Do you accept that?
That is yet one more area in which the Obama-Clinton-Kerry foreign policy is deeply misguided. The question of settlements is a question for Israel as a sovereign nation to decide. I don’t believe an American president should be dictating to the nation of Israel where Israelis can choose to live. And the fact that Israelis choose to live in Judea and Samaria is not justification for terrorism or murder. And it is yet another example of the Obama administration’s repeated false moral equivalency to suggest that it is.
That isn’t just Obama’s position. In the road map peace plan, the Bush administration also called for Israel to revoke Jewish property rights beyond the armistice lines, saying that doing so promotes peace. Do you think that makes sense?
I do not. As I said, my views are markedly different from the Obama administration but also from the Bush administration.
I do not believe the American government should be dictating terms of peace or settlement policy to the nation of Israel. Israel is a sovereign nation.
Israel is our ally. We should stand with Israel. We should not presume to dictate matters of internal governance for the nation of Israel. If I am elected president, we will not do so.
Under the Obama administration, American power in the region has been massively diminished. The power vacuum that followed is now being filled by Russia, Iran, Turkey, Islamic State and others. How would you reassert American leadership, if you become the next president?
I believe one of the most, if not the most important issue in the 2016 presidential elections will be restoring American leadership in the world. That consists of number one, standing by our friends and allies. And number two, standing up to our enemies. In both regards, the Obama-Clinton foreign policy has been deeply misguided. We have proven over and over again to be an unreliable friend to our allies under President Obama. Indeed, as I travel abroad and meet with heads of states, foreign ministers and defense ministers of allies across the world, the message is consistently the same, which is: “Where is America? We cannot do this without America leading in the world.”