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Ted Cruz's temper tantrum pays off. But for whom?

The GOP senator has swapped his hold on Biden's ambassadors for a vote on more sanctions for Russia over Nord Stream 2.

Analysis | Europe

Both Senator Ted Cruz’s bill to sanction the Russia-Germany Nord Stream 2 pipeline and the process by which it has been introduced are poster-children for the dysfunctionality of America’s present system of government when it comes to the formulation of foreign policy.

Senator Cruz’s bill, which is to be introduced to the Senate in early January and is considered likely to pass with bipartisan support, would place sanctions on Russia and on companies involved in the construction and management of the pipeline, which is designed to carry gas under the North Sea from Russia to Germany and Western Europe. 

This pipeline would partly replace existing pipelines from Russia to Germany and the European Union across Ukraine. In the past, Russian attempts to pressure Ukraine either to pay its unpaid gas debts or to ally with Russia by cutting off Ukrainian gas led to Ukraine taking gas bound for the EU for itself, thereby disrupting supplies to Western Europe. 

The Nord Stream pipeline would end this possibility, thereby securing German and West European supplies but also reducing Ukraine’s leverage over Russia. Hence this bill, which Senator Cruz and his supporters say is necessary to deter a possible Russian attack on Ukraine. Senator Cruz has also made a ridiculous charge that President Biden’s suspension of sanctions on Nord Stream last summer was an act of “weakness” that “enabled” new Russian pressure on Ukraine, and this charge has been taken up by a long row of Republican commentators. 

Let us be charitable to Senator Cruz however and assume that his move reflects personal ignorance rather than cynical, unpatriotic, partisan opportunism, since the new German government has already temporarily suspended its approval of Nord Stream 2. Officially, this is because of problems with its technical certification. Unofficially, Germany has made clear that this is a deterrent to a Russian invasion of Ukraine, and that if Russia does invade, Nord Stream will be over.

In other words, by imposing sanctions now that would try permanently to block Nord Stream whatever Russia does, Senator Cruz is undermining the very deterrent that he claims to want to strengthen. Moreover, the new German government is very much on America’s side against Russia, and President Biden’s suspension of sanctions on Nord Stream last summer was intended to gain stronger German support for U.S. strategy against China. By gratuitously bullying Germany and attacking leading German companies involved in Nord Stream, Senator Cruz’s bill would spoil the U.S.-German relationship and risk reawakening the hostility to America that is never far below the surface of German public opinion.

But why, a German or Russian unacquainted with the U.S. Constitution might ask, is this bill possible at all? How can just one opposition senator play a critical role in the conduct of a critical and very dangerous area of foreign policy? And why does the governing party, that holds a majority in the Senate, allow this? 

The Democrats have been forced to allow the introduction of the bill because Senator Cruz — just one Senator, remember — has been holding up the Senate’s confirmation of the Biden administration’s entire list of ambassadorships.

But why, your German might ask, are new ambassadors nominated by every new administration? Surely America, the global superpower, must do what every other democracy does and promote its ambassadors from the ranks of America’s professional diplomatic service? Surely no serious country would allow this to be a matter of political pork flavored with ideological fanaticism, leading to embarrassments like Richard Grenell (Trump’s ambassador to Germany) or Mike McFaul (Obama’s ambassador to Russia)? 

Maybe the Founders assumed that both ambassadors and senators would be drawn from individuals of high education, with a strong sense of duty, patriotism and personal responsibility; and thank Heaven, the United States still does indeed produce some public servants and elected officials of this caliber. Anyone who thinks however that this is a general rule that can be relied on should take a good look at some recent ambassadorial appointments, and at Senator Ted Cruz.

Senator Ted Cruz (Texas)(Shutterstock/Crush Rush)
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