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Wise Words on Iraq from Senator Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz

Yesterday, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, spoke on the Senate floor and delivered remarks about the President’s proposed actions in Iraq that should be applied not just to Iraq, but to a host of other challenges facing America today. Until the leaders of our government stop making bad choices, said Cruz, we will be left with bad options.

Here’s a transcript of Senator Cruz’s remarks:

I rise today to discuss the deteriorating situation in Iraq.  There has been considerable debate in recent days about what we want to achieve in that country, and the importance of achieving political reconciliation in Baghdad.

I would like to propose three simple principles that should guide any action we take in Iraq:

First, we should secure our people;

Second, we should defend our national security interests;

Third, we should not partner with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

First and foremost, we need to be sure we are doing everything possible to secure the Americans who are still in Iraq.  The instability of the situation in the north of that country that could quickly devolve into nationwide chaos requires our urgent attention.  We need to be developing and implementing an immediate plan to get all non-essential American personnel to safety. Now.

I am deeply concerned that our people will become pawns in a sectarian conflict that we cannot control.

I am concerned that the 275 Marines who may be deployed to assist in embassy security along with the 300 additional Military Advisors that President Obama announced today will become isolated targets.  In Baghdad, it is not at all reassuring to have security provided by either Shia militias loosely controlled by the al-Maliki government or by the Iranian Quds forces themselves or their agents.  If we have to rely on either to keep our people safe, we should not be there. Let me repeat that. If we have to rely on either to keep our people safe, we should not be there.

Second, we need to define and then defend the current national security interests of the United States in Iraq.  There has been extensive discussion of “political reconciliation” in Iraq, and making any American military action contingent on achieving this ephemeral objective. This makes no sense.

Although a political solution to Iraq’s troubles might have been an appropriate goal in 2005 or 2011, it simply may not be feasible in 2014.  The time for this sort of argument would have been three years ago, when America was the most influential voice in Baghdad and we were completing our largest embassy on the planet on the banks of the Tigris River.  But we chose to relinquish that influence when we did not successfully negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqis.  Much of the blame for this diplomatic impasse lies with the al-Maliki government, but the Obama administration bears considerable responsibility as well. 

The President campaigned on “ending the war in Iraq,” which he defined by removing our forces, not winning. So immediate troop withdrawal, not negotiating a proper Status of Forces Agreement, was the priority.  In the words of Secretary Clinton on CNN last Tuesday, “We did not get it done” and the result is that today we have little or no influence in Baghdad.

It is not my purpose today to re-litigate the history of U.S. involvement in Iraq, but rather to propose what we can do with the circumstances in which we find ourselves right now.  Given our current circumstances, any attempt to reconcile a Sunni-Shiite religious conflict that has been waged for more than fifteen hundred years in the context of the current crisis seems either the height of hubris—or naiveté—or both.

Rather than prioritizing a political solution that we have no power to effect, it seems much more practical to focus on what is in the actual national security interests of the United States. 

The most acute security threat to the United States is the aggressive movement of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) forces out of Syria and into Iraq over the last six months. These vicious Sunni fanatics may be relatively small in number but they make up for it in sheer brutality. Although President Obama dismissed their aggression into Fallujah in January of this year as the terrorist equivalent of the junior varsity, recent events suggest they are of a much higher capability. 

Indeed, an obvious question that the administration should answer is, have the Obama Administration ever armed ISIS? Has the Administration given lethal weapons to ISIS? We are doing so to rebels who are fighting alongside ISIS in Syria, and it is an obvious question to ask whether we have in fact armed these radical Islamic terrorists as well.

ISIS is in fact much more than a local or even a regional threat.  They are among the worst of the radical jihadists who attacked us on 9/11/01 and 9/11/12—so bad in fact that “core al Qaida” as President Obama likes to call the terrorist cells in Pakistan and Afghanistan have renounced them. Their goal is to establish a new caliphate in the Middle East and northern Africa, and they have publicly announced that when they achieve their ambitions in Syria or Iraq, their goal is to move on to Jordan. To Israel. To the United States.

Because of their actions and their stated intentions, it seems that a concise but decisive mission to degrade the lethality of ISIS would be in the national security interests of the United States.  Such an action would not require the commitment of American combat forces. 

But it would require a commitment from the Commander in Chief that this action would not be merely a symbolic message or an effort to perpetuate the al-Maliki government in Baghdad. 

It would need to be an expeditious and emphatic demonstration of America’s ability to strike the terrorists at the time and means of our choosing.

If the President needs to respond to an imminent threat to the national security interests of the United States he has the constitutional authority to do so. However, Congress has the authority to declare war.

If the President is launching or planning to launch a concerted offensive attack and is not constrained by the exigency of the circumstance, he should come to Congress to seek and receive authorization.

A precondition for any such mission in Iraq should be the utter rejection of any partnership with the Islamic Republic of Iran, on which the al-Maliki government is increasingly dependent. 

Iran has been the implacable enemy of the United States since 1979, when revolutionaries took 54 American citizens hostage for 444 days.  Earlier this year, Iran demonstrated that this rapid, anti-American hostility is alive and well by trying to get a U.S. visa for one of those hostage takers to serve as their ambassador to the United Nations. 

It was one of my proudest days in the US senate to introduce the legislation countering this action that passed unanimously through both houses of Congress and was signed by President Obama. 

When push comes to shove, the American people know that Iran is our enemy.

We need to bring this same clarity to current circumstances in Iraq. 

Just because Iran fears the ISIS jihadists, it does not follow that we should partner with them in this fight.  The enemy of our enemy, in this instance is not our friend.

If we cannot secure our people absent Iranian involvement, we need to get them out.  If we cannot strike ISIS in Iraq without Iranian involvement, then we will need to look for another means to do so. 

It is deeply concerning that not only Secretary of State John Kerry, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel have all signaled in recent days that they are actively interested in exploring a partnership with Iran in Iraq, but today President Obama suggested “Iran can play a constructive role.”

It is deeply disturbing that so many current and former senior Obama administration officials would share this same misguided view.  There could be no more ill-advised or counter-productive policy for the United States at this moment. 

Rather than partnering with Iran on Iraq, we should be all the more mindful of the dangers of taking our eye off the ball of Iran’s nuclear program, as no doubt Tehran hopes we will in this most recent crisis.  As grim as the threat of ISIS is, it pales by comparison of a nuclear-armed Iran given their long and well-documented history of state-sponsored terrorism. 

They are working to develop nuclear ICBMs for one reason – to strike America and potentially murder millions of Americans.

It would be the height of folly to take any action in Iraq that would further embolden Iran, which is already moving to make Iraq a client state in its pursuit of regional hegemony.

We already know how this script plays out. 

We have seen it in our ally Ukraine, where former President Victor Yanukovych acted as Vladimir Putin’s stooge and planted pro-Russian agents throughout the Ukrainian government and armed forces.

But the Ukrainian people refused to accept Russia’s attempt to re-integrate them into a 21st reincarnation of the Soviet Union.  

They stood up in the Maidan Square and braved the cold and sniper fire to demand freedom and closer ties with the West.

Iran, in its attempt to create a modern version of the Persian Empire, has attempted a similar power play on behalf of so-called Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei through the Iraqi regime of Nouri al-Maliki.

Iranian agents now permeate both the government of Iraq and the Iraqi security forces. 

America has demonstrated, beyond any shadow of a doubt, our offer of liberty to the people of Iraq. But if the Iraqi government is more interested in forging a relationship with Iran than with the United States, we should not—and cannot—attempt to force them to adhere to our political goals for them.

Absent active partners in Iraq who want a closer alliance with America and our allies, our key objectives should be to secure our people, to counter active terrorist threats to our national security, and to make sure we do not further embolden the Islamic Republic of Iran. 

These objectives, not the fantasy of resolving the Sunni-Shiite conflict that has been raging since the death of Muhammad in 632 AD or the illusion that we can find productive common ground with Iran, should define our policy towards Iraq.

I’d like to make one final note.

I hope that my colleagues will think more broadly about what’s happening in the world—in Iraq, in Iran, in Russia, in Libya.

We are being faced with terrible options that are created by the bad choices our leaders have made.

Those guiding our foreign policy—at the White House, at the State Department and even here in the US Senate have refused to address the true dangers posed to Americans at home and abroad.

Bad choices leave us with bad options.

Refusing to recognize the radical religious extremism of individuals who are committed to jihad and have pledged to murder Americans is a bad choice.

Refusing to utter the words “radical Islamic terrorists” is a bad choice.

Negotiating with terrorists to release terrorists is a bad choice.

Considering any kind of deal with Iran is a bad choice.

In the last five years, America has receded from leadership in the world, and into that vacuum have stepped nations like Iran, like Russia, like China. As we’ve abandoned our allies, the consequence has been to make the world a much more dangerous place.

America’s leadership has never been more critical than it is today.

Until the leaders of our government stop making bad choices, we will be left with bad options.

The video of Cruz’s remarks is available here and it is worth watching in its entirety.

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