By Dallas Morning News
WASHINGTON — Sen. Ted Cruz ruled out supporting a U.S. strike on Syria, asserting Wednesday that the poison gas attack on civilians doesn’t demand an American response.
“It is not the responsibility of the United States military to serve as the policeman of the world,” he said after a classified Senate Armed Services Committee briefing with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “Inserting the United States in a sectarian civil war in Syria is extraordinarily perilous.”
Cruz has now squarely aligned himself with the noninterventionist camp. He maintained that the U.S. has no national security interest in Syria, where civil war has cost more than 100,000 lives and has displaced millions.
His forceful rejection of U.S. engagement in Syria puts some pressure on fellow Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the deputy GOP Senate leader.
Cornyn, who faces re-election next year, has been sharply critical of President Barack Obama. He says the administration hasn’t explained very well why U.S. involvement is justified. He hasn’t yet said whether he would oppose intervention, though.
Cruz’s stance also ensures little distance on Syria between him and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a more libertarian-style tea partier who also is eyeing a 2016 presidential race.
Chemical attacks last month outside Damascus killed more than 1,400 civilians, the administration says. Obama blames President Bashar Assad, saying his violation of a long-standing international “red line” demands a military response.
Cruz said he had “grave concerns” with Obama’s proposal. Speaking after the three-hour briefing with Hagel, whose confirmation he opposed, he rejected a limited attack as “a purely symbolic slap on the wrist” that would only embolden U.S. adversaries such as Iran.
“The U.S. military should be focused on one thing — protecting the vital national security interest of the United States of America,” Cruz said.
He also rejected any more muscular intervention. And he warned that a U.S. strike could aid al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups operating among the Syrian rebels. He made the same point more colorfully Tuesday on conservative Glenn Beck’s radio show, saying a strike would make the U.S. into “al-Qaeda’s air force.”
That earned him a stern rebuke from an Illinois lawmaker, a fellow Republican.
“That is a cheap line by some people to garner headlines and not a serious discussion about what is going on in Syria,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Air National Guard pilot and Air Force veteran, said Wednesday at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing attended by several Texans.
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, echoed Cruz’s concerns about a power void after a U.S. strike.
Most newcomers to Syria joining the rebels are jihadists, he said. Secretary of State John Kerry called that claim exaggerated.
“Anything at this point to empower jihadists concerns me,” McCaul said. “Who is going to fill the vacuum when the Assad regime falls? And we know it will.”
Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble, another committee member, said U.S. policy seems incoherent.
“My concern is specifically how we want to do something to punish the bad guy Assad, but we’re not going to shoot him because we don’t want to destabilize the war,” he said.
Freshman Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, was far more open to Obama’s plans, though not quite ready to commit.
“I’m open to military strikes, but I want to review the evidence,” he said.
But his constituents oppose military action, according to the 1,500 comments he has received through social media.
“There’s no question,” he said. “Most of them were against it.”