WASHINGTON — Ted Cruz, looking to fuel new-found momentum in the Republican presidential race, said Thursday he would seek a strategy to “defeat and destroy” the Islamic State, though he left open the question of U.S. ground troops and denounced any American intervention in Syria’s civil war.
Likening the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and other extremist groups to the Ronald Reagan-era Cold War on communism, the Texas senator said the focus should be on radical Islamic terrorism.
“It is real, it is growing, and it is profoundly dangerous,” Cruz said during a foreign policy address at The Heritage Foundation.
Cruz called for a “sustained, coherent, directed bombing campaign” against Islamic State positions in Syria and Iraq, arming the Kurds in Iraq, and recruiting the Jordanian and Egyptian military forces.
As for ground troops, Cruz said he would rely on the views of his military advisers. While he has previously questioned the use of U.S. ground troops, Cruz said Thursday his strategy will involve “using whatever ground troops are necessary.”
In criticizing the Obama administration for supporting the removal of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, Cruz said that previous interventions in Egypt and Libya led to worse governments from the American point of view.
The ouster of Assad, Cruz said, could result in “radical jihadis” controlling Syria, leading to more problems for the United States.
Cruz devoted much of his speech to attacking the Obama administration’s foreign policy, saying the president would prefer to ignore the threat of radical Islamic terrorism, or even use the phrase.
Citing the recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., Cruz disputed the administration’s description of the attackers as “lone wolves,” saying instead: “These wolves are not alone — they are instead operating in ideological packs.”
Seeking to align himself with the legacy of Reagan and foreign policy adviser Jeane Kirkpatrick, Cruz said today’s leaders should take the same approach to Islamic terrorists that the nation’s 40th president did towards communists: “We win, they lose.”
As part of that effort, Cruz echoed his calls for tighter security at U.S. borders and halting refugees from “terror-ridden countries,” particularly Syria.
Drawing contrasts with some of his Republican rivals, Cruz opposed expanded surveillance powers, saying the ones that exist already threaten civil liberties. He also hit Obama and “the left” for re-asserting calls for more gun control after the California shootings.
“The Second Amendment is not the enemy,” Cruz said. “ISIS is.”
Recent polls show Cruz moving up in the Republican presidential race. At least one has him ahead of national front-runner Donald Trump in Iowa, which opens the delegate selection process with caucuses on Feb. 1.
Cruz is also locked in a battle with other Republicans — including Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, and Jeb Bush — seeking to be the alternative to Trump should he falter when voting time comes.
The Cruz critics say he has shifted his positions on foreign policy in a search for political advantage. They have also described his policies as near-isolationist and said his opposition to surveillance programs undermines national security.
In a statement, the Rubio campaign said: “In one speech, Ted Cruz will try to clarify weeks of conflicting statements trying to cover-up his weak record on national security and a foreign policy vision built upon whatever he needs to say to win the next election.”
The Texas senator did not cite Republican opponents by name during his Heritage Foundation speech. In a question-and-answer session later, Cruz declined comment on a New York Times story saying he questions whether Trump has the “judgement” to be president.
In a statement issued by his campaign, Cruz said voters have a basic decision about all candidates: “Who has the right judgment and the right experience to serve as Commander in Chief? Every one of us who is running is being assessed by the voters under that metric, and that is exactly why we have a democratic election to make that determination.”