Ted Cruz explained why regime change makes us worse off John Locher/AP

In a refreshing moment, a candidate other than Rand Paul gave a great non-interventionist speech during Thursday’s GOP Debate in Las Vegas.

That candidate was Ted Cruz, who criticized the failed strategy of regime change and took a shot at Woodrow Wilson, the foreign policy father of all things high-minded yet impractical.

Wolf Blitzer asked Senator Cruz about US policies of regime change to spread democracy, questioning if he would prefer to preserve dictatorships instead. Recently, Cruz had argued that the world would have been safer with Saddam Hussein still in power.

Cruz drew upon recent history. The Obama administration toppled Gaddafi in Libya, he answered, “because they wanted to promote democracy. A number of Republicans supported them. The result of that — and we were told then that there were these moderate rebels that would take over. Well, the result is, Libya is now a terrorist war zone run by jihadists.”

Cruz argued that Egypt was similarly destabilized after the toppling of Mubarak, a “reliable ally of the United States [and] Israel.” Mubarak’s downfall created the vacuum which allowed Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood to briefly rise to power, damaging American interests in the region and encouraging Islamists elsewhere.

When looking to Syria, Cruz argued, “we need to learn from history.” The Senator deftly explained the complex but important moral calculus at hand. “Assad is a bad man. Gadhafi was a bad man. Mubarak had a terrible human rights record. But they were assisting us — at least Gadhafi and Mubarak — in fighting radical Islamic terrorists.”

More hawkish candidates like Marco Rubio have led the charge for removing Assad. Cruz laid out his concerns in no uncertain terms.

“If we topple Assad, the result will be ISIS will take over Syria, and it will worsen U.S. national security interests. And the approach, instead of being a Woodrow Wilson democracy promoter we ought to hunt down our enemies and kill ISIS rather than creating opportunities for ISIS to take control of new countries.”

Cruz’s jab at Wilson is especially telling. The 28th President was a leading pioneer of humanitarian intervention and a general belief that if the United States can use force to make the world “safe for Democracy” it should.

Wilson’s most famously articulated his world view in 1917. That’s when he entered the US into the the First World War, despite specifically campaigning for re-election a year earlier with the slogan “he kept us out of war.” By the Armistice in November 1918, America had lost over 116,000 men killed for a conflict that was never ours to begin with.

Wilson’s legacy lives on in the foreign policy hawks of both parties. They may appeal to different values when proposing interventions around the world, but both are equally guilty of disregarding America’s national security interests. Remember the Kony 2012 campaigners calling for intervention in Uganda to stop child soldiering? Substantively, they’re not much different from Bush Administration neoconservatives who envisioned expanses of democracies across the Middle East. Each supported their initiatives not because they were crucial to our national interests, but because the US could.

Cruz’s speech cogently targeted the foreign policy premises of Hillary Clinton and most of his fellow primary candidates. Wilson was a wishful thinker far too willing to sacrifice American lives for causes divorced from the national interest. Well done to Ted Cruz for exposing how neoconservatives hop on the very same intervention hamster-wheel.

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