Ted Cruz: Let's go into Syria, secure or destroy Assad's chemical weapons, then get out

Via Charles Cooke, a follow-up to Monday’s post about whether Cruz really is a “wacko bird” libertarian like his frequent ally Rand Paul. Three days ago, Cruz said that the NSA revelations were cause for concern — but cautioned that we shouldn’t rush to judgment. Meanwhile, Paul was busy putting together a class-action suit to challenge the agency. Fast-forward to today and Paul is announcing that he plans to introduce a new Senate bill that would bar the White House from giving direct or indirect support to any faction in Syria. (Humanitarian aid would be permitted.) There are three co-sponsors — two Democrats and Mike Lee, one of Paul’s usual partners in legislation. Which other usual partner is missing?

Here’s Cruz on the Senate floor this afternoon making his case on whether or not to intervene. He agrees with Paul and with most of the GOP in arguing firmly that we shouldn’t be arming the sort of people who fly planes into American skyscrapers. But then, at around 6:00 of the clip, he tosses a curveball. From his office’s press release:

“The President would be better off focusing clearly on the one thing that is in our national security interests: securing Syria’s large stockpile of chemical weapons,” Sen. Cruz said. “We know Assad has used these weapons, and there is good reason to suspect the al Qaida-affiliated rebels would use them as well if they could get their hands on them. This poses an intolerable threat not only to our friends in the region, but also to the United States. We need to be developing a clear, practical plan to go in, locate the weapons, secure or destroy them, and then get out. The United States should be firmly in the lead to make sure the job is done right.”

Is Rand Paul open to the U.S. being “firmly in the lead” on a search-and-destroy mission for Assad’s WMDs? I can’t remember seeing him address that question directly but I’m guessing he’ll have to soon after this. As for whether it’s even possible to do this, AEI’s Michael Rubin thinks maybe:

The key threat to the United States emerging from Syria is loose chemical weapons. The Pentagon won’t be able to secure these — in Libya, it took more than a week for American experts to decommission Muammar Qadhafi’s program in 2003, and that was without anyone shooting at them. Perhaps it’s time to take a page from the Israeli playbook, enforce our red line, and bomb the heck out of these depots and weaponry. It might cause some contamination — but leafleting before a strike might mitigate collateral damage. The objective has to be to keep such weapons out of the hands of both sides.

Hard for me to believe that the White House would risk the PR clusterfark of bombing a sarin depot and inadvertently releasing a poison death cloud that kills countless innocent people nearby. No sense leafletting beforehand either; if Assad hasn’t already dispersed his weapons for fear of the U.S. trying something precisely like this, that would do it. I keep thinking too that if Assad was willing to defy the “red line” already, knowing that it would humiliate Obama and risk American retaliation, he’d be willing to do it again if we took dramatic action against his known WMD depots. Bomb one depot, he (and Iran) might be thinking, and he’ll fire 50 sarin shells into some Syrian city square. Maybe the U.S. is willing to pay that price if most of the rest of his stockpile can be eliminated in the process, but it’s a scenario to prepare for. Of course, if WMDs are what you’re worried about and not which side of Syria’s fundie civil war ultimately prevails, the quickest way to get Assad’s chemical genie back in the bottle is for him to actually win. If the Sunni jihadis are routed, the chemical weapons that he’s had for years are once again safe from dispersal. Unless, of course, they’ve been dispersed already.

If you believe Time magazine, the U.S. and Israel are already coordinating on ways to target Assad’s unconventional weapons. As for Cruz, whether or not his stance is feasible militarily, it makes sense politically. Like I said a few days ago, he’s a tea partier, not a libertarian; tea partiers are, for very good reasons, highly skeptical of another intervention under Obama but I think most of them remain hawks on balance. Cruz needed to find a way to slam O for his plan while endorsing something that would distinguish him from doves like Paul. This is the middle ground — hit Assad hard, but don’t follow Obama and McCain on some quixotic neoconservative mission to find and empower the “good guys.”