Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Rick Santorum Shows Us the Strong and Weak Points of Republican Foreign Policy Thinking

By Barry Rubin

As Republican candidates begin to define a foreign policy alternative to President Barack Obama, it’s useful to analyze an international affairs’ speech given by presidential candidate Rick Santorum.

I am not writing to praise or criticize him as an individual—I’m not backing any candidate—but to show where strategic ideas are going and where they should be going. Everything said regarding Santorum also applies to Newt Gingrich and Mitch Romney.

Santorum is the most conservative. Note that this speech was given to an Orthodox Jewish synagogue audience in all-important Florida before the primary there. Thus, Santorum might be expected to pander by proving that he’s the most extreme and militant candidate supporting Israel and on the Iran issue. In fact, he doesn’t do so but rather proposes a policy that Democrats and real liberals should also support.

Note well that he explicitly rejects a military attack on Iran There has been much foolish talk either about how an attack is a great idea or that it is a terrible notion that those crazy, warmongering Republicans eagerly embrace. That’ wrong on both counts.

Actually, Santorum proposes the kind of policy that Democrats and real liberals should support, too. At the same time, though, it shows how conservatives and Republicans are often careless when talking about foreign policy.

Santorum begins:

“The president says `the threat of war is receding’ but he’s wrong.  The war is on, and its front lines are advancing towards us and our allies, above all toward Israel.”

But that’s not what Obama said but rather the “tide of war is receding” at the Pentagon recently, referring to direct U.S. engagement in Iran and Afghanistan. Santorum’s basic concept is right but the quote is taken out of context. He could have found a better one. That might not seem important to you but later in a campaign the mass media would have a field day ridiculing Santorum.

He continues:

“We're facing a global alliance that includes Russia, North Korea, China, Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador and of course Cuba.  They are outspoken in their desire to weaken us and drive us out of their regions.  Some of them-- Iran, and the radical Islamists whose rise to power has been facilitated by this president--speak eagerly of destroying us, and our allies, especially Israel.”

Again, this is the kind of carelessness could be easily ridiculed by Obama’s supporters. Are these countries in a ‘global alliance”? Of course not. Is there evidence of a Chinese attempt to drive America out of Asia? No. Does the United States want to treat both Russia and China as enemies despite some real problems with conflicting policies? Dangerous adventurism.

On substance, though, Santorum is correct: there are powerful radical forces attacking U.S. interests and subverting its allies. This is the number one issue to which the United States must respond.  Santorum says it perfectly when he continues: “We have no strategy to deal with this gathering storm.  Indeed, our leaders act as if things are getting better every day.”

Unfortunately, Santorum doesn’t evince any broad counter-strategy that would be better but it isn’t hard to articulate one in clear terms the public can understand:

Recognize and define the threat; form a broad international coalition under U.S. leadership to combat it; back U.S. allies; wage appropriate struggles everywhere to stop the radicals’ advance and if possible push them back....



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