Rick Santorum’s Disturbing Foreign Policy Vision

Rick Santorum's foreign policy positions are troubling in many respects.

Spencer Ackerman takes a look at the foreign policy positions taken over the course of the campaign by the GOP’s newest “Not Romney,” and finds much to be concerned about:

Although he’s most famous for his conservative views on cultural issues, during the campaign, Santorum has played up his time on the Senate Armed Services Committee and warned of the persistent dangers of terrorism. Santorum has called fighting “tyrannical and fanatical Islamic regimes” — Iran and Syria were his examples — “my purpose, and our national calling.” In the Senate, he sponsored a bill providing cash to dissidents looking to overthrow the Iranian regime.

That would carry over into his presidency, he says. “Degrading [nuclear] facilities through airstrikes” would just be the beginning. “I will say to any foreign scientist that’s going into Iran to help on their [nuclear] program, you will be treated like an enemy combatant, like an al-Qaida member,” Santorum said on Meet the Press this week.

He’s also taken unconventional paths to his positions. An unflinching supporter of the invasion of Iraq, he once defended the war by comparing it to Lord Of The Rings. The U.S. wasn’t attacked domestically during the Iraq war because “as the hobbits are going up Mount Doom, the Eye of Mordor is being drawn somewhere else,” he told a Pennsylvania editorial board in 2006. (That is, the Eye of bin Laden was trained on U.S. troops in Iraq.)

Santorum is against the Afghanistan troop drawdown. He criticized his GOP rivals for not demanding “victory” in Afghanistan, saying, “To stand for anything less is a disservice to our troops, their families and our nation.”

Foreign Policy did a piece on Santorum’s foreign policy positions back in November when nobody was paying attention to him, and at least a few of the things he’s said are, shall we say, interesting:

Military spending: Santorum’s budget-cutting zeal does not extend to military spending. He describes Obama’s defense cuts as “wrong signal, wrong effort, and wrong time.” He has accused the Obama administration of “intentionally trying to degrade our military” and has defended robust U.S. military spending on the ground that it creates U.S. jobs.

Immigration/borders: Santorum has been vocal on the threat of illegal immigration since his time in the Senate. In this race, he has described illegal immigration as a major national security issue and criticized Texas Gov. Rick Perry for being “soft” on the issue due to his opposition to building a fence along the entirety of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Israel/Palestine: Santorum believes “it is the duty of each and every American citizen who abhors terrorism and supports freedom to stand up and say, ‘I support Israel.'” He has attacked Obama for putting “Israel’s very existence in more peril” and says Palestine’s statehood bid at the United Nations is a sign that the Palestinians “feel weakness — they feel it, they see it, they know it — and they’re going to exploit it.”

Also, as I noted earlier today, Santorum takes the bizarre view that the Palestinians don’t exist at all, that all the territory acquired in the 1967 war properly belongs to Israel, and that all the people living their are Israelis. Santorum’s positions on military spending and immigration, meanwhile aren’t all that different than those taken by most of the other Republican candidates with the exception, in differing respects, of  Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul. His position on China, however, is rather unique:

China: It’s not quite the new axis of evil, but Santorum says that China, along with Iran and Venezuela, is part of a “gathering storm” of threats facing the United States. During Oct. 11’s debate, Santorum raised eyebrows by declaring, “I don’t want to go to a trade war; I want to beat China!” He also said, “I want to go to war with China and make America the most attractive place in the world to do business.”

While there’s no doubt that the relationship between China and the United States is adversarial in some respects and will likely continue to be for some time, characterizing that relationship in the terms of “war” seems inordinately aggressive. Especially in the economic realm, the United States and China would seem to have far more in common than someone like Santorum would be willing to admit, and the Chinese have as much interest in the stability of world markets, shipping, and commerce as the United States does, perhaps even more so considering the extent to which their economy relies on exports. Much like Mitt Romney, Santorum wants to characterize the U.S.-Sino relationship in the same kind of terms as the Cold War, which is both an incorrect interpretation of the situation and needlessly aggressive. Not surprisingly, the only Republican who seems to have a decent understanding of our relationship with the Middle Kingdom is Jon Huntsman, but it’s Santorum who’s at the top of the field right now for some strange reason.

More than the details of foreign policy, though, the real concern about Santorum comes when you examine the rhetoric he uses when talking about it and the simplistic manner he allows his view of the world outside the United States to be guided not by reason but by what he thinks his religion tells him about the world. For example, consider this line from a speech earlier this week while Santorum was wrapping his Iowa swing:

“If you look at every European country that has had world domination, a world presence, from the French to the British — 100 years ago, the sun didn’t set on the British Empire,” Santorum said at an appearance in Sioux City, Iowa. “If you look at that empire today — why? Because they lost heart and faith in their heart in themselves and in their mission, who they were and what values they wanted to spread around the world. Not just for the betterment of the world, but safety and security and the benefit of their country.” “We have taken up that cause,” Santorum added. But now, he said, “We have a president who doesn’t believe in America.”

Daniel Larison comments:

Yes, it couldn’t have had anything to do with two exhausting global conflicts that cost the lives of millions of British subjects, or the financial ruin of Britain that followed these conflicts. The British just “lost heart and faith in their heart in themselves and in their mission.” Obviously, the only thing needed to maintain “world domination” is self-confidence and resolve.

As does Conor Friedersdorf:

It’s getting wearisome to take seriously someone who claims to venerate America’s founding values, bristles at the notion that foreign occupations in places like Iraq and Afghanistan suggest an imperial mindset, and yet asserts that Great Britain failed the world when it stopped trying to rule a fifth of its inhabitants. One wonders how long he thinks the British should’ve asserted their will in India, Ireland, and its North African colonies, among other places, and why he thinks maintenance of these colonies always enhanced rather than detracted from the safety and prosperity of the home islands.

“Believing in America” should entail an embrace of the values on which it was founded: the idea that all humans are endowed with self-evident, inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But in Santorum’s twisted formulation, belief in America requires an embrace of its military footprint in multiple foreign nations, something he apparently regards as our “cause.” In other words, the problem isn’t just that Santorum has a naive, simplistic and woefully inadequate understanding of how empires rise and fall, it’s that he regards global domination as this nation’s proper object — as if we’re called to be a hegemon on a hill rather than a city.

If you want a real example of Santorum’s dangerous, bizarre rhetoric, though, just look at what he says about Iran:

Iran’s mullahcracy has been at war with us for over 30 years. And in 2009 there was a chance to end that. There was a chance for freedom in Iran. I have been a believer and an advocate for that possibility since my service in the Senate. I authored the Iran Freedom Support Act which, among other things, provided millions of dollars for the pro-democracy movement in Iran. At first my bill was opposed by both President Bush and Senator Obama. Both eventually relented, but neither implemented that provision while president.

As a result we were not ready when the spark struck. So, rather than supporting the dissidents there-dissidents asking for our help-the president continued his policy of engaging (and effectively supporting) the mullahcracy. The result? The dissidents were brutally crushed. Now, instead of being able to face a leadership in Iran that would be grateful to us today, we still have the same leadership in Iran that wants to destroy us and our allies in the region.

Let us make no mistake about what happened there: We sided with evil because our president believes our enemies are legitimately aggrieved and thus we have no standing to intervene.

Of course, Santorum’s romantic vision of the Green Revolution, which is shared by many on the right, was an early version of the Arab Spring that would have led to the downfall of the mullahs if one the United States had done something. What that something was that we should have done and how we could have done it are never stated, of course, but that’s really not necessarily in an argument like this. It’s also not necessary to acknowledge the facts, especially when the contradict your vision. The Iranian protests were not a rejection of the regime, they were a protest over election results. At no point did the protesters, or the men who led them, reject the fundamental ideas of the Islamic Republic. In fact, on more than one occasion, the protests were entreaties to Ayatollah Khameni himself to intervene in the disputed elections on behalf of Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.  Mousavi participated in the Islamic Revolution, served as Prime Minister in the 80s, and supported the Iranian nuclear program. The idea that there was some group of “Iranian moderates” out there that President Obama failed to support is quite simply false. Moreover, Santorum’s charge that the American government was somehow complicit in the government crackdown that brought the protests to the end is simply absurd. Even if the election protests had succeeded, it’s not at all clear that anything would have changed in Iran internally, or that our relationship with them would have improved in an significant respect. Much like the belief that war is the answer to Iran’s nuclear program, though, Santorum is representative of those on the right that all we needed to do was that mysterious something and everything would’ve changed.

This is the kind of rhetoric we get from Santorum and, as I said, it betrays a rather simplistic black-and-white view of the world. Perhaps it will play well in a GOP primary, but it has no business in the Oval Office.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, National Security, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. In the Senate, he sponsored a bill providing cash to dissidents looking to overthrow the Iranian regime.

    That would carry over into his presidency, he says. “Degrading [nuclear] facilities through airstrikes” would just be the beginning. “I will say to any foreign scientist that’s going into Iran to help on their [nuclear] program, you will be treated like an enemy combatant, like an al-Qaida member,” Santorum said on Meet the Press this week.

    Isn’t this essentially advocating that the US become a state sponsor of terrorism?

  2. mattb says:

    Again, the most disturbing thing post-Iowa is seeing all the RWM pundits who continually suggest that not only is Santorum qualified to be president but he’d be as good, if not better, president than Romney and far better than Obama.

  3. Septimius says:

    What exactly is so “disturbing” and “bizarre” about any of Santorum’s foreign policy views? That he believes Iran and Syria are tyrannical and fanatical Islamic regimes? That he supports Israel? That he doesn’t want to cut military spending or withdraw from Afghanistan prematurely? That he favors a fence on the Mexican border? Not only are all of these views well within the mainstream of Republican thought, they are supported by the majority of Americans.

    63% of Americans view Iran as the top national security threat

    59% of Americans view Israeli people favorably compared to 29% for Palestinians

    52% of Americans oppose cutting defense spending

    Support for Mexican border fence up to 68%

  4. Moosebreath says:

    Doug,

    “This is the kind of rhetoric we get from Santorum and, as I said, it betrays a rather simplistic black-and-white view of the world. Perhaps it will play well in a GOP primary, but it has no business in the Oval Office.”

    Please point me to the non-Huntsman Republican candidate whose name cannot be substituted for Santorum in this sentence.

  5. MM says:

    @Septimius: Not all ideas are good ideas, polls indicate opinion, not reality and people often want conflicting things.

    The extent that Iran is or is not a threat has nothing to do with how Joe Sixpack sees them. Also, it stands to reason that many people see Iran as a threat precisely because we hear Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum telling us that they are a threat!

    People want thousands of miles of border fence, SS, Medicare, a large well-funded military and they want to see deficit spending go away. These things can’t all really happen.

    Polls are a a great way to tap into what people care about, but they are not a good way to get at the truth or to solve problems.

  6. Ron Beasley says:

    This just goes to show that Ricky is not the sharpest knife in the kitchen. Now I don’t know if this is because of a lack of gray matter or simply because he has turned over all of his critical thinking to an imagined higher power.

  7. mantis says:

    What exactly is so “disturbing” and “bizarre” about any of Santorum’s foreign policy views? That he believes Iran and Syria are tyrannical and fanatical Islamic regimes?

    No, that he thinks war with them is “our national calling.”

    That he supports Israel?

    No, that he asserts that Palestinians don’t exist.

    That he doesn’t want to cut military spending or withdraw from Afghanistan prematurely?

    No, that he demands an undefined (and likely impossible) “victory,” and cannot recognize that at some point, we can’t do anymore good there, and end up making things worse.

    That he favors a fence on the Mexican border?

    Well, yes, frankly. A fence through every inch of the border, as Santorum demands, is an extraordinarily expensive that won’t actually have any effect on illegal immigration or national security.

    Plus, you know, all the other reasons Doug mentioned.

  8. @Septimius:

    There is a bit of distance from “view favorably” to .. heck, a view that is hard right by Israeli standards.

  9. steve says:

    Another Israeli firster. Plays well with the evangelicals.

    Steve

  10. Septimius says:

    @MM, @mantis, @john personna: Everyone is entitled to their opinions. You may not agree with Santorum on these issues, but his views are more in line with the majority of Americans than yours. Therefore, they are not “bizarre” or “disturbing.”

    Personally, I’m kind of split. I agree with Santorum on some and disagree on others. But, I’m getting a little bit tired of the lazy name calling. If Santorum said it was cold outside, I swear that Doug would write a column attacking Santorum for his “bizarre and dangerous” views on climate change.

  11. mantis says:

    You may not agree with Santorum on these issues, but his views are more in line with the majority of Americans than yours.

    No, they very much aren’t. Your distortions of Santorum’s stances may be, in some cases, but that’s not the same thing. Most Americans don’t consider war with Iran and Syria our national calling, don’t deny the existence of Palestinians, and don’t want us to stay in Afghanistan. Santorum does. Because his views are disturbing and/or bizarre. And those aren’t even the really crazy ones!

    But, I’m getting a little bit tired of the lazy name calling.

    You’re an idiot. Okay, that was really lazy. Sorry about that.

  12. Septimius says:

    @mantis: Read the link.

    I have said time and time again across Pennsylvania these past weeks that the fight against Islamic fascism is the great test of our generation. Leaders are obliged to articulate this threat and to propose what is necessary to defeat it. That is my purpose, and our national calling.

    Santorum never said war with Iran and Syria is our national calling, he said defeating Islamic fascism is our national calling, and he said it in 2006. If you were at all serious and not just a troll, you would acknowledge that the fight against Islamic fascism was a pretty big deal in 2006.

    If you knew anything about the Middle East, you’d know that there is no country called Palestine. There wasn’t a Palestine when Israel was established in 1948 and there wasn’t a Palestine when Israel acquired the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. Furthermore, Israel didn’t take these lands from the “Palestinians.” The West Bank was part of Jordan and Gaza was part of Egypt. There is no sovereign Palestinian state that is recognized by the United States. Legally, they are considered permanent residents of Israel. Santorum never denied that “Palestinians” exist, he factually stated that there is no Palestinian state. Watch the video.

    I didn’t distort anything. I corrected the distortions in the Doug’s article. I backed up my facts with links to the polls to demonstrate that Santorum’s views are shared by the majority of Americans.

    What do you do? Read the articles and accept them as fact? See, I understand people like you. Thinking too hard makes your head hurt, right?

  13. @Septimius:

    I know that my view is sadly outside the mainstream. It should be easy to say that “peace in the middle east” is our goal. The mainstream does edge toward “support Israel” over “peace,” which frankly is a moral failing on their part.

    That said, Santorum is way beyond that. Many “support Israel” folk, who again are not the same exactly as “view favorably” folk, back negotiated settlement. Not American Evangelical Triumphalism.

    God, it would be sad if Santorum proved the harbinger for an Evangelical turn to American Catholicism. I mean, in terms of evolution and such he brings new meaning to “more Catholic than the Pope.”

  14. Septimius says:

    @john personna: You assume that both sides are interested in peace. The “Palestinians” have never acknowledged that living in peace or a that a two-state solution was their goal. Hamas refuses to recognize that Israel has a right to exist.

    All of these summits and accords are a dog and pony show.

  15. john personna says:

    @Septimius:

    You present a false dichotomy.

    The truth is that both Palestinians (no scare quotes) and Israelis are diverse populations. Some on both sides have acknowledged the nationality of the other, and some (violent f_cks) on both sides are always ready to up the ante.

    Which are you?

  16. Septimius says:

    @john personna: That’s completely irrelevant. The diverse population of Israel elects a Parliament that reflects the national will. The national will of Israel has been to honor treaties and live at peace with (once hostile) neighbors Egypt and Jordan. Israel has proven to the world that it is capable of peaceful coexistence with Arab countries.

    The diverse population of the Palestinians in Gaza elected Hamas to run the Palestinian Authority. The Hamas-led Parliament reflects the will of the Palestinians. Hamas refuses to recognize the right of Israel to exist and calls for its destruction.

    While some Palestinians may recognize Israel’s right to exist and some (even many) Israelis may favor an independent Palestinian state, it’s the official position of their governments that matters. Based upon the respective track records, it’s really a matter of the Palestinians getting their act together.

  17. john personna says:

    @Septimius:

    My point is that if we stand for peace first, we will engage and encourage people in both populations who can also support peace.

    We can always do the opposite, and identify people within each population who encourage conflict (and who seek to delegitimize and dehumanize the other side), but that isn’t the peaceful path. That’s playing the ratchet-up game.

    BTW, I think you’ve gone from scare-quoting “Palestinians” as a people, to saying that you have conflict with their government’s position.

    Good progress!

  18. mantis says:

    Read the link.

    I did. Did you? Here’s the key part you are ignoring:

    I said I believe we are at war with Islamic fascists and I singled out Iran and Syria as examples of Islamic fascist regimes.

    Santorum never said war with Iran and Syria is our national calling, he said defeating Islamic fascism is our national calling, and he said it in 2006.

    No, he said we are at war with Islamic fascist regimes, namely Iran and Syria, and that fighting them is our national calling. It’s quite clear.

    If you were at all serious and not just a troll, you would acknowledge that the fight against Islamic fascism was a pretty big deal in 2006.

    I’m quite serious, which is why I don’t use idiotic terms like “Islamic fascism,” which makes no sense at all and does not exist. If you want to pretend that Santorum does not quite clearly state that we are at war with two particular nations, and it is our national calling to defeat them, go right ahead, but he still said it. It’s disturbing.

    If you knew anything about the Middle East, you’d know that there is no country called Palestine.

    That doesn’t mean the Palestinian people don’t exist, as Santorum would like to pretend.

    Santorum never denied that “Palestinians” exist, he factually stated that there is no Palestinian state.

    Yes, he did exactly that:

    “There are no Palestinians,” he told a questioner at a campaign event in Iowa.

    …..

    “All the people who live in the West Bank are Israelis. There are no Palestinians. This is Israeli land,” the former Pennsylvania senator said.

    Answer this, if you agree with Santorum that there are no Palestinians. Are there also no Kurds in Iraq? After all, it’s Iraq, not Kurdestan, right? So they must not exist.

    Oh, and please, tell me more about how I don’t know anything about the Middle East. Because you have proven yourself such an expert.

    I didn’t distort anything. I corrected the distortions in the Doug’s article

    No, you distorted Santorum’s views, quite clearly.

    /I backed up my facts with links to the polls to demonstrate that Santorum’s views are shared by the majority of Americans.

    You linked to some polls that show support for your distorted version of Santorum’s views, not his actual views. He thinks Palestinians don’t exist, so you “disprove” that by pointing to a poll that says Americans view Israelis positively. That’s called defeating a strawman. No one is disputing that the majority of Americans view Israelis positively. We are disputing Santorum’s crazy ass views on Israel. You don’t show support among Americans for those, because you are pretending they don’t exist. They do.

    What do you do? Read the articles and accept them as fact? See, I understand people like you. Thinking too hard makes your head hurt, right?

    I doubt you even understand yourself, let alone me.

  19. Septimius says:

    @mantis:

    In 2006, we were at war with Islamic fascists. We were fighting them in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can call it whatever you want, but Islamic fascism is an ideology. You can look it up in the dictionary. Were we dropping bombs on Tehran and Damascus? No. Do we have trade embargo against Iran? Yes. Were we giving money to groups in Iran opposed to the Iranian government? Yes. Did President Bush authorize the CIA to try and destablize the Iranian government? Yes. Was Iran supplying insurgents in Iraq with guns and bombs? Yes. Was Iran supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan? On a limited basis. More recently, was the U.S. government involved in disrupting Iran’s nuclear weapons program via computer virus? Almost certainly.

    All of these actions can be considered “acts of war.”

    If you really think that Santorum was saying that there are no Arabs living in the West Bank then you’re just being willfully stupid. Anyone with any common sense knows he was explaining that the Palestinians do not exist as citizens of a sovereign nation. Neither the U.S. nor the U.N. recognizes a sovereign nation of Palestine. And, no, as a matter of international law or recognition, the Kurds in northern Iraq do not exist either. They are a particular ethnic group of Iraqi citizens.

    And, if you actually looked at the CNN poll that I linked to, you’ll see that the very first question asks: Do you favor or oppose the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip? 40% favor, 41% oppose, and 19% are undecided. So, even taking a position opposing a Palestinian state is not a “crazy ass” view. It is well within the mainstream of American thought.

  20. Septimius says:

    @john personna:

    I’m all for peace in the middle east. Since Israel signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, there have been no hostilities between those countries. Israel has proven that it can live peacefully with Arab neighbors, regardless of who is in control of the Israeli government.

    In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza. In the very next election, the Palestinians in Gaza threw out Fattah and elected Hamas. The majority of Palestinians in Gaza preferred the more radical political party that refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist and openly calls for its destruction. We can’t just pick certain Palestinians to negotiate with. We can only negotiate with those who represent the Palestinian people. The Palestinians in Gaza, at least, have chosen representation that has no interest in peace. At some point, you have to accept the reality of the situation.

  21. An Interested Party says:

    At some point, you have to accept the reality of the situation.

    As do you and your Likudnik fellow travelers…the current policy of gobbling up the West Bank and not agreeing to a two-state solution will cause Israel to have a bleak future…

  22. Septimius says:

    @an interested party: In 2000, President Clinton hosted a summit at Camp David. Ehud Barak offered 95% of the West Bank, all of Gaza and part of East Jerusalem for a Palestinian capital. Arafat rejected it. Barak was a Labor Prime Minister, not Likud.