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Difficult as it is to remember sometimes, there are still candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination other than Donald Trump. For example, there’s Senator Ted Cruz, who in fact has established himself as the runner up in most national polls so far and the leader in Iowa, whose caucuses kick off Campaign 2016’s actual voting.

I’m no Cruz-an, but I’m grateful to economic and security commentator Nevin Gussack for calling my attention to an April interview given to The Daily Caller by the freshman legislator. It shows that Cruz has some sensible instincts when it comes to an overall American approach to world affairs, but that he has a lot to learn about China.

In other contexts, Cruz’ claim that he’s neither a  “full neocon” nor a “libertarian isolationist.” in his strategic leanings could legitimately be dismissed as cynical, Clintonian triangulation. Unfortunately, both American foreign policy and the commentary it’s generated have so typically tended to view the nation’s world role in terms of starkly and foolishly dichotomous choices (like “interventionism” versus “isolationism”) that Cruz’ apparent attempt to stake out a middle ground decidedly encouraging.

In fact, though he cited former President Ronald Reagan as a role model, Cruz actually sounded more like John Quincy Adams, who served not only as president himself but as Secretary of State. In 1821, he famously articulated this definition of the U.S. purpose in world affairs:

Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will [America’s] heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication….” [The rest is very much worth reading, too, but this section suffices for this post’s theme.]

It sounds an awful lot like the Caller‘s account of a “Cruz Doctrine”:

‘I believe America should be a clarion voice for freedom. The bully pulpit of the American president has enormous potency,’ he [said], before praising former President Ronald Reagan for changing the ‘arc of history’ by demanding Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev tear down the Berlin Wall and lambasting President Barack Obama for not sufficiently standing on the side of freedom during Iran’s 2009 Green Revolution.

But, Cruz noted, speaking out for freedom ‘is qualitatively different from saying U.S. military forces should intervene to force democracy on foreign lands.’”

I’m not sure I’m with Cruz on Reagan rhetoric bringing down that “Evil Empire.” But for all my hesitancy about the place of moral considerations in American diplomacy, I have no problem with a president speaking out on such questions, provided he or she doesn’t create unjustified foreign expectations about American actions, or provoke dangerous responses. It’s also, after all, entirely conceivable that such statements can do some good.

Even better, like Adams, Cruz is skeptical about involving the United States in protracted democracy-promotion campaigns: “It is not the job of the U.S. military to engage in nation building to turn foreign countries into democratic utopias.”

So far so good. But Cruz betrays some deep ignorance on the subject of China, and on the magnitude of the security threat it poses to America versus that of, say, Cuba. Asked why he favors normal relations with human rights abusers like China and Saudi Arabia, but not with Cuba, Cruz (whose father was born on and fled the island) replied:

The situation with Cuba and China are qualitatively different. For one thing, in China, direct investment is allowed, where American investment can go into the country invest directly and work with the Chinese people, which is bringing economic development and is transforming China in significant ways. In Cuba, all outside investment has to go through the government. Lifting sanctions will inevitably result in billions of dollars flowing into the Castro government into its repressive machinery.

Secondly, China or Qatar or the different countries you mentioned, none of them are 90 miles from our border.” Cuba is uniquely situated 90 miles away from the state of Florida. Cuba is a leading exporter of terrorism throughout Latin America. Cuba was recently caught smuggling arms to North Korea in the Panama Canal.”

If he wasn’t running for president, or serving as a U.S. Senator, Cruz might deserve some slack for his clearly emotional feelings about Cuba and his family. But whatever his family background, these views are ridiculous. The economic picture painted of China is flat wrong. First, the Chinese government still sets very strict conditions on incoming investment, and second, although China’s economic growth and modernization unquestionably have benefited, so has China’s military strength and technological sophistication. Even many of the world’s most historically craven panda-huggers have decided that reform in the PRC has now shifted into reverse despite all the economic and even political liberalization that they once predicted inevitably would be produced by engagement with democratic, capitalist world.

Moreover, China’s burgeoning military power wouldn’t be such a concern if its leaders had decided to keep conducting a relatively quiet, passive foreign policy. But those days clearly are long gone, as Beijing has demonstrated a strong determination to expand its territory and influence in the East Asia/Pacific region at America’s expense. Moreover, the Chinese government’s burgeoning cyber-hacking activities are only the latest signs of the dangers of allowing current economically “normal” relations – including massive technology transfer – to proceed apace. And we haven’t even gotten to the damage to the U.S. economy and therefore to its defense industrial base and potential done by China’s predatory trade policies.

No matter how close to American shores lilliputian Cuba might be, it would need to turn into a something like a huge ISIS base even to start threatening major U.S. security interests to this extent – and of course such hostile assets would be easy for American forces to flatten, or simply to embargo into helplessness.

A final worrisome note on the (obviously still embryonic) formulation of Cruz’s foreign policy ideas: Although he claims to reject “full neocon-ism,” the advisers he told The Caller he consults with are all firmly in that camp. Since the end of the Cold War, American conservatism has bred an impressive variety of schools of foreign policy thinking (unlike American liberalism). The more such resources he taps, the likelier Cruz will be to develop an international strategy that both wins votes and furthers American interests.

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