Ted Cruz, Iran hawk: This Geneva deal on the Iranian nuclear program is a disaster

I wanted to write something contrasting his views on the deal with Rand Paul’s to explore how “tea party” foreign policy, such as it is, differs from libertarian foreign policy. But unless I missed it, Paul hasn’t uttered a word about Geneva since the terms were announced Saturday night. Nothing on his Twitter feed as of this writing, nothing from his Senate press shop. He’s been conspicuously silent while Cruz, just as conspicuously, has rushed to get out in front on it. Which, come to think of it, is a meaningful contrast.

Here’s Cruz in Foreign Policy sounding about as hawkish as Rubio, likening the Iran deal to the deal Clinton reached with North Korea in the early 90s that ultimately led to a NorK bomb:

We should have demanded preconditions from the Iranians before any direct meetings took place, and we can at least do so now before additional negotiations begin. We can start by reclaiming the moral high ground and demand the Iranian regime immediately and unconditionally release the three Americans they are unjustly detaining, Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati, and Robert Levinson. American citizens are not bargaining chips, and there should be no further discussion while they are languishing in prison.

In addition, Iran should affirm Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. The noxious rhetoric in which Israel is referred to as a “rabid dog” that is “doomed to failure and annihilation” should be utterly unacceptable to the United States. Tolerating such verbiage on the eve of the Geneva negotiations sent a dangerous signal to Iran that the Obama administration was more eager to get a deal than to stand with Israel.

Finally, the United States should be crystal clear that to gain any further sanctions relief, Iran must take concrete steps not just to pause the nuclear program but to dramatically scale it back by, for example, ceasing the enrichment of uranium, exporting any remaining stockpiles of enriched uranium, and permitting full and unconditional inspections of the Arak nuclear facility. The burden should be on Iran, not the United States, to demonstrate it is a good-faith negotiating partner.

Below you’ll find video of him (recorded before the deal was reached, I think) arguing that Congress should impose more sanctions on Iran to make them cooperate, not relax the ones already in place, and celebrating a prospective Israeli attack on Iran’s nuke facilities as something that would improve U.S. national security. That’s as hawkish as it gets short of calling for the U.S. itself to start bombing — which is not to say that Cruz wouldn’t support that too. Remember, back in June as the debate over Assad’s chemical weapons began to warm up, he called on Obama to send the military into Syria (“The United States should be firmly in the lead”) to secure or destroy Assad’s WMD and then to get out. All of that’s consistent with tea-party foreign-policy principles — strongly pro-Israel and contemptuous of O’s perceived weakness in dithering on red lines and reaching out to Islamist regimes like Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood. Libertarian foreign-policy principles are different, of course — supportive of diplomacy with hostile regimes as an alternative to war and basically indifferent (at best) towards Israel. They think O’s big problem on foreign policy and counterterrorism is that he’s too aggressive, not that he’s not aggressive enough. Cruz, by scrambling to bash the Geneva deal, is not only burnishing his tea-party brand before the 2016 primaries, he’s aiming to look prescient if/when the deal falls apart and Obama’s left looking like a stooge. Which, in fairness, seems a safe bet:

[An] Iranian foreign ministry official on Tuesday rejected the White House’s version of the deal as “invalid” and accused Washington of releasing a factually inaccurate primer that misleads the American public.

“What has been released by the website of the White House as a fact sheet is a one-sided interpretation of the agreed text in Geneva and some of the explanations and words in the sheet contradict the text of the Joint Plan of Action, and this fact sheet has unfortunately been translated and released in the name of the Geneva agreement by certain media, which is not true,” Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham told the Iranian press on Tuesday.

Afkham and officials said that the White House has “modified” key details of the deal and released their own version of the agreement.

A little more from Twitter this afternoon:

The reason Paul’s been quiet since Saturday, I assume, is because all of this puts him in a tough spot and he needs to get his response just right. He probably wants to back the deal as an example of the “jaw jaw, not war war” approach the U.S. should try more often, and under normal circumstances I think he would. But these aren’t normal circumstances: This bears directly on Israel’s national security, and if Paul is perceived as weak on that — however consistent it may be with his overall approach to foreign policy — he’s in trouble in 2016, especially with evangelical-heavy electorates like Iowa’s. If you believe the NYT, Cruz has already started whispering to Republican donors that Paul’s unelectable because of his father’s views. If Paul sides with Obama on the Iran deal and then it goes south, Cruz will point to it as “proof” that Paul’s as blinkered and naive as his old man and can’t be trusted to make the hard choices needed to protect the U.S. or to help Israel protect itself. Paul needs to find a way to show conservatives that he won’t abandon Israel as president while somehow reassuring libertarians that he won’t turn into a “neocon” if he wins.

One thing he could do is sign on to the idea that Congress should pass tougher sanctions that’ll take effect if the new six-month negotiation period ends without a final deal. Let the two sides keep talking; if it doesn’t work out, there’ll be time for action then. Kick the can for now. (He could even argue that the deal is better for hawks than it is for doves.) The problem with that is that if the deal does fall through, Israel might seize the opening to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities before a new deal is put in place. Cruz is already on record as supporting that. Would Paul? I think he might, reluctantly: Remember, one of the ways he likes to sell U.S. disengagement to righties is by arguing that it could give Israel more leeway to act militarily, not less. When he visited the country, in fact, he told his audience, “I don’t think you need to call me on the phone and get permission to stop missiles raining down from Gaza.” The IAF bombing Iran over U.S. objections would be the ultimate test of his sincerity. But there’s a problem there too: If he supported or even stayed agnostic about an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuke facilities, I think it’d spook his libertarian base. He’d have met the threshold litmus test of opposing U.S. involvement in foreign wars, but merely condoning foreign wars waged by key U.S. allies — especially when that ally is Israel — would be too close to “warmongering” for comfort. Anyway, he’ll speak up about all of this soon. Stay tuned.