by Eli Clifton
Last night’s Republican debate had many memorable and exciting moments as Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) duked it out. Donald Trump became the new “9/11 candidate,” after he parried Cruz’s attack that the real estate mogul embodied “New York values.” Cruz, for his part, countered Trump’s absurd claim that he might not be eligible to serve as president due to his birth in Canada. But a much earlier moment in the debate deserves scrutiny. It happened at the very beginning of the night.
Ted Cruz implied he would start a war if he were faced with the same diplomatic challenges President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry defused peacefully in the Persian Gulf after Iran briefly detained 10 American sailors after they entered the country’s territorial waters.
In a meandering answer to a pointed question about the economy, Cruz made a promise with huge potential consequences. Cruz said:
And I give you my word, if I am elected president, no service man or service woman will be forced to be on their knees, and any nation that captures our fighting men and women will feel the full force and fury of the United States of America.
In other words, if faced with the predicament that Obama and Kerry resolved without force and without setting back the agreement that restrains Iran’s nuclear program, President Cruz would start a war because 10 U.S. Navy sailors found themselves inside Iran’s territorial waters and were briefly detained.
Although campaign promises are often shrugged off as empty promises, Cruz’s denunciation of a peaceful resolution to a potentially explosive situation—in favor of bringing the “full force and fury of the United States of America” to bear—offers a useful insight into what the presidential aspirant believes the Republican electorate and the GOP’s financiers want to hear from their candidates.
Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, who spent approximately $100 million on the 2012 presidential election, are reportedly split between supporting Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). According to reports, Sheldon Adelson supports Rubio while his wife supports Cruz. Cruz may figure that if he proves himself sufficiently hawkish—Adelson proposed a first strike nuclear attack on Iran as an alternative to the nuclear diplomacy being undertaken by the White House—and Rubio continues to flag in the polls, he can secure the Adelsons’ endorsement.
Cruz wasn’t the only candidate to attack the White House for using diplomacy to secure the release of the 10 sailors.
Donald Trump offered a bizarre explanation of why Iran released the sailors after “putting guns to their heads.” He said:
It was a terrible sight. A terrible sight. And the only reason we got them back is because we owed them with a stupid deal, $150 billion. If I’m president, there won’t be stupid deals anymore.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) agreed with Cruz, saying:
[W]e have to talk to our adversaries, and we have to make sure they understand the limits of our patience. And this president, given what Ted said right at the beginning, he’s absolutely right. It’s a — it’s absolutely disgraceful that Secretary Kerry and others said in their response to what’s going on in Iran that this was a good thing; it showed how the relationship was getting better.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (R) and Rubio took broader swipes at Obama’s Iran diplomacy.
Bush said, “we need to confront [Iran’s] ambitions across the board. We should reimpose sanctions, they’ve already violated sanctions after this agreement was signed by testing medium-range missiles,” a series of action that, if actually undertaken, would probably lead to an unraveling of the nuclear agreement reached with Iran.
Rubio also rejected the idea that the U.S. should “cut deals,” presumably a reference to the nuclear agreement and/or the diplomacy that secured the sailors’ release, saying:
On the issue of Barack Obama, Barack Obama does not believe that America is a great global power. Barack Obama believes that America is an arrogant global power that needs to be cut down to size. And that’s how you get a foreign policy where we cut deals with our enemies like Iran and we betray our allies like Israel and we gut our military and we go around the world like he has done on 10 separate occasions and apologized for America.
Although the debate, which went nearly 30 minutes over time, was dominated by infighting between the candidates, the field appeared unified in rejecting the nuclear agreement with Iran and striking a more aggressive posture on the world stage. But in the contest over who could stake out the most hawkish position, Cruz won the night.