During the fifth Republican candidates’ debate, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio clashed repeatedly over national security issues, with each accusing the other of having been weak on national defense in the past and following the wrong path into the future. Because American voters identify national security as their primary concern going into the 2016 election, the differences between Cruz and Rubio deserve close analysis. A good starting point for this analysis is to compare Ted Cruz’s recent address on national security to the Heritage Foundation with Bret Stephens’ Wall Street Journal hit piece attacking that speech – and, moreover, doing so using talking points that precisely reflect Marco Rubio’s national security talking points.
If you don’t have the time to watch this comprehensive speech, here’s an executive summary of the first four factors Cruz holds are necessary to achieve America’s security goals (interwoven with Bookworm commentary), all of which Stephens challenges using Rubio talking points.
First, Cruz states that our government’s top priority must be to keep us safe at home and strong abroad. Rubio would agree with this priority but, as this post develops at greater length below, he and Cruz differ on the specifics. Cruz contends that the front line of America’s national security is her own border. America must address her porous borders, visa overstays, and immigration policy.
The last factor is particularly important vis-à-vis Syria, given terrorist attempts to infiltrate America. As the Tashfeen Malik experience demonstrates, our current visa process is more concerned with political correctness than national security. Malik’s Facebook page was a neon sign advertising her allegiance to ISIS, but Homeland Security policy barred anyone from checking it before inviting her into America.
Second, Cruz emphasizes that protecting our nation does not (and should not) require us to surrender our Constitutional liberties. He specifically addresses NSA’s government bulk data collection, which many people (Rubio included) believe aids in the fight against terrorist attacks.
The reality, though, is that the government is collecting so much metadata from everybody that it is impossible to analyze the data in real time in order to head off future attacks. What happens instead is that, without any probable cause, the government collects a vast amount of information on every American, information that is then stored away for the government to cherry-pick for later use on an as-needed basis. There is nothing benign about this last fact.
This stored data means that when the government has you in its sights for whatever reason, it’s got a go-to repository that it can mine without any tiresome Fourth Amendment due process interference. For those who doubt that the government can be so malevolent, Cruz brought up the case of Lois Lerner. The long list of charges against her includes the claim that she culled confidential IRS information from Tea Party proponents and handed it over to their Progressive political opponents.
Cruz also points out that one cannot justify this constitutional overreach by claiming that metadata collection protects Americans. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. Indeed, it has proven wholly ineffective in stopping terrorist attacks on our soil, as the attacks at Fort Hood, in Boston, in Chattanooga, in Garland, and in San Bernardino have shown.
Moreover, when the government has managed to prevent an attack, as it did with Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a Somali Islamic refugee who planned to blow up a Portland, Oregon, Christmas tree lighting festival, the government did so by monitoring email communications to and from a known terrorism recruiter. That is, the FBI did not randomly stumble across Mohamud’s emails by distinguishing them from the trillions of other communications the NSA swept in.
Cruz’s dislike for sweeping NSA metadata surveillance, however, has not meant that he’s requiring America’s national security law enforcers to fumble about entirely in the dark.
As he explains during the Heritage talk, Cruz co-sponsored the USA Freedom Act, which passed into law in June. Among other provisions, the USA Freedom Act, although it bans the government from collecting bulk data, allows the government to subpoena the same data from communications providers — subject to approval from a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (“FISC”). As another bulwark to protect American’s constitutional rights, the Act also creates a special advocate to represent those interests before the FISC.
Cruz believes the Act strikes the proper balance between security, Constitutional rights, and protection against government abuse. Cruz also points out that DNI James Clapper has praised the law as an improvement and one that will function more effectively to keep us safe. Rubio disputes this conclusion. Senator Mike Lee, friends with both Rubio and Cruz, disagrees strongly with Rubio’s claim:
Look, Marco Rubio has been attacking Ted Cruz on the USA Freedom Act, for his vote in favor of the USA Freedom Act, and he’s been doing so by suggesting that this has somehow made America less safe,” Lee said. “It simply is not true, and look, I’m really good friends with both of these guys, I really like both of them, but Marco’s wrong on this.”
Lee, who was a co-sponsor of the bill alongside Cruz, added that Rubio is just “dead wrong.”
“The USA Freedom Act has not made us less safe at all, and in fact, I had a discussion last week with FBI Director James Comey,” he continued. “I asked him point blank, ‘Did this, in any way, impair our ability to follow up on the San Bernardino attack?’ And of course, the answer was no.”
“This is a law that, in many ways, enhances our ability to protect the homeland,” Lee concluded. “And it does so in a way that is respectful of the privacy interests and the Fourth Amendment interests of the American people.”
The USA Freedom Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in June, suspended the NSA’s bulk collection of phone metadata.
The other constitutional liberty at issue in the current national security debate is the Second Amendment. Undeterred by the fact that California’s gun laws (the most stringent in the nation) would have done nothing to stop the San Bernardino shooting – although they did ensure that the victims, trapped in a “gun free zone,” were appropriately helpless when the terrorists arrived — Obama is leading the charge to “prevent” ISIS attacks by disarming law-abiding Americans. Fortunately, Americans are recognizing that this argument is a non sequitur, and are arming themselves as quickly as they can.
Third, Cruz says that our government must act with moral clarity — by which, he means the government must openly identify radical Islamic fundamentalism as both the source of the terrorist attacks on our country and the wellspring of ISIS. If the government continues to refuse to identify Islam as terrorism’s source, it cannot possibly address terrorism.
Once the government finally escapes metaphor, denial, and avoidance, it can directly counter Islamic fundamentalism (for example, by supporting Dr. Zuhdi Jasser) and use military force to destroy its militant adherents. Doing so will requires a combination of air power, unconstrained by concerns over environmental damage, and boots on the ground from our Middle Eastern allies, such as the Kurds, Egypt, and Jordan.
Fourth, Cruz holds that our government must reach outside of American borders to repair relations with our allies and it must protect our interests by projecting strength. As Osama bin Laden highlighted, people – especially people kept ignorant and debased by a zero-sum totalitarian ideology – will always be drawn to or bow down before the strong horse. Defeating the ideology matters because, while ISIS and the Middle East are current Ground Zero for Islamic fanaticism, it is a worldwide problem.