Ted Cruz gets the Iraq Question Wrong

cruz kelly

Though [mc_name name=’Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001098′ ] remains one of my top two picks for president in 2016 it was disappointing to see him play to the cheap seats in his interview with Megyn Kelly. When given a chance to answer the question that has caused Jeb Bush (not one of my top six picks for president) no end of grief he said that knowing what we know today he would have not invaded Iraq. I disagree with him, I think the situation in Libya and Syria both show the time of the national socialist Arab strongman model of governance has passed. Be that as it may, his view is defensible in domestic politics even if it is a bit nonsensical when dealing with national security. If Vietnam taught us anything it should be the folly of letting your enemies have a sanctuary in which to plan and to train and equip their forces.

Where I think Cruz goes absolutely off the rails is in his exposition on the subject. I am quoting here from Erick’s post titled [mc_name name=’Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001098′ ] Gets The Iraq Question Right:

[I]f and when we’re required to use military force, it should be with a clearly defined objective. It should be with overwhelming force, and then we should get the heck out. It is not the job of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines to transform foreign nations into democratic utopias. It’s [their] job to hunt down and kill terrorists who want to murder Americans before they can carry out jihad.

While this will get rave reviews for Cruz from sections of the GOP base and it avoided putting Cruz in the position of answering a hypothetical question when no one has had the guts to ask that question of Hillary, who voted for the war,  it is actually a dangerous and juvenile way of using military force in the furtherance of national security objectives. As this is the month of V-E Day, let’s look at what the world would have looked like if in May 1945 the United States had started flowing troops home instead of carrying out a military occupation? Would we be better off without a Marshall Plan? How does this answer even apply to Iraq, we weren’t there hunting down and killing jihadis we invaded because Saddam Hussein had retained stockpiles of chemical weapons in violation of the truce signed after the Gulf War. From the ultimatum given Iraq by the United States:

In the case of Iraq, the Security Council did act, in the early 1990s. Under Resolutions 678 and 687 – both still in effect – the United States and our allies are authorized to use force in ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. This is not a question of authority, it is a question of will.

Last September, I went to the U.N. General Assembly and urged the nations of the world to unite and bring an end to this danger. On November 8, the Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1441, finding Iraq in material breach of its obligations, and vowing serious consequences if Iraq did not fully and immediately disarm.

And, contra all the propaganda put out by the media, the Democrats, and people who hate America (I realize if you compared these groups in the form of a Venn Diagram it would basically be one huge circle) we now know Iraq had retained chemical weapons in violation of UNSC resolutions. From Cruz’s answer we have to assume that he thinks we should have left those weapons in Iraq and let Iraq flout the armistice terms it had agreed to. If that is not what he means, if he means we should have invaded Iraq, destroyed the weapons and left, then he should be as happy as a pig in doo-doo over what is happening in Iraq right now. Because once Saddam Hussein’s military had been obliterated there was no way he was going to remain in control. Yet Cruz doesn’t like the current chaos in Iraq, or didn’t back before he was running for president:

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.

In short, Iraq today is the model for the use of military force advocated by Cruz. Go in with overwhelming force, get out, and to hell with what remains.

The strategic purpose of using military force is not merely killing people and breaking things. The purpose is to either modify your opponent’s behavior or to fix a problem diplomacy has been unable to solve. If we look at the most likely theater of operations, Iran, how would this strategy play out. It is impossible — IMPOSSIBLE — to take out Iran’s nuclear weapons research facilities for two reasons. First and foremost, we don’t even know where they are located. Secondly, they are so hardened that they are beyond the reach of the physics available to conventional bunker buster bombs. We can reach them with nuclear earth penetrators but that poses a whole new set of problems. If we must use military force to eliminate their weapons research that will require a 19-year-old private with an M-4 and bayonet. It will require capturing and interrogating large numbers of Iranian scientists and apparatchiks so we can find every hidden lab and every cache of fissile material. Can we accomplish that without overthrowing the existing regime? If so, what keeps the regime from starting again?

Winning the military portion of wars is damned easy for a nation like the United States. Winning the peace afterwards requires a lot of hard work. We shouldn’t use military force unless we are willing to change the geopolitical landscape to our advantage and reducing our military strategy to the level of Tartar slave raids makes no sense.

Cruz’s statement shows he either hasn’t given any serious thought to the geopolitics or even the strategy of using military force or, more likely, he has but he understands the politics of the question and knows the correct answer in the context of the GOP presidential primary. Either option is disappointing.