CPAC2014: Ted Cruz and the Nightmare of Iranian EMP Attacks

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 6 2014 2:09 PM

CPAC2014: Ted Cruz and the Nightmare of Iranian EMP Attacks

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Ted Cruz's most interesting remarks came after his official CPAC speech.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.—It's a short but frigid walk from CPAC to a less scripted and more intense all-day event. This year, as they've done since at least 2010, a group of foreign policy hawks and critics of "creeping Sharia" have put on an alternative program, inviting conservatives who either aren't at the main event or being given only a little time there.

In the past, this event's usually amounted to the Center for Security Policy's Frank Gaffney reairing charges that Grover Norquist is a simp for the Muslim Brotherhood. It's more fascinating this year—Breitbart (which sponsored 2013's event) has teamed up with EMPact, a group that raises awareness of the danger of possible electromagnetic pulse attacks, to put on nine hours of national security speeches. Sen. Ted Cruz had given a pretty agreeable but rote speech at CPAC. He saved his best material for a 39-minute address at the alternative event.

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"Speaking the truth speaks courage," Cruz said at the start, "and that's one thing that Frank Gaffney has an abundance of."

Cruz told a cynic's history of the Obama years, reading through the jargon the White House had used to describe various outrages. Kinetic action. Leading from behind. "These are the words of fools," said Cruz. Contrast them with the words of Ronald Reagan, which would be passed between prisoners of the Soviet state, asking each other, "Did you see what Reagan said?"

Not that Cruz was calling for interventionism.

"Are we war-weary?" asked Cruz. "As a consequence to that, does that mean we are no longer willing to defend ourselves? I think that is a profound misreading of the American people. The Republican Party—you can point to two points on the spectrum, where Republicans lie. On one side you have the views of John McCain. The other end of the spectrum, you have the views of Rand Paul. Now, with respect, my views are very much the views of Ronald Reagan, which I would suggest is a third point on the triangle."

He gave some examples. "I agree with Rand Paul that we should not engage with military conflict in Syria," Cruz said. The Obama administration had lost him when it described a strike not to achieve a long-term goal but to punish the state for contravening international law. "Tut tut, you violated international law, you're no longer welcome in our faculty lounge," snarked Cruz.

But he agreed with John McCain on Iran. "When Iran describes Israel as the Little Satan, and America as the Great Satan, we have every interest to make sure they don't acquire the weaponry to kill millions of Americans." Cruz imagined a nightmare scenario in which Iran detonated a bomb over "Tel Aviv or New York or Los Angeles." Detonated here, the effects of an EMP attack could kill "tens of millions of Americans."

Tens of millions? This was an incredibly effective line in the room, which contained about 100 people, to CPAC's 11,000. 

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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