Santorum Puts a Scare Into an Ex-Pat

Rick Santorum and friend.

Rick Santorum and friend.

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum has been in the headlines recently, courtesy of a late Tiger Woods-esque charge in the Iowa caucuses which saw his campaign team declaring “victory”. In point of fact, he placed a narrow second to Mitt Romney, but hey, when you lose by just eight votes, that’s a victory, right? Even here in the UK, Santorum has gone from being a virtual unknown to “the name on everyone’s lips.”

Santorum’s views on the issues are not yet well known on my side of the Atlantic, but I suspect if people did know, their jaws might hit the ground. I’ll just stick to his comments on foreign policy, which can be summed up as follows: scary, ignorant and, occasionally, just plain weird.

Let’s start with the scary part. Santorum is a super-hawk when it comes to Iran, and has accused President Obama of appeasing the regime in Tehran. His solution to the quandary of what to do about Iran’s controversial nuclear program is very simple: bomb them! As he stated on NBC’s Meet the Press on January 1st, if he were president he “would be saying to the Iranians you either open up those [nuclear] facilities, you begin to dismantle them and make them available to inspectors or we will degrade those facilities through airstrikes and make it very public that we were doing that.”

Santorum is a fervent supporter of Israel, which goes a long way to explaining his rampant hostility towards Iran. One Israeli he might want to listen to is Meir Dagan, the former chief of Israel’s foreign intelligence service, Mossad, who in May last year described the idea of launching airstrikes on Iran as “the stupidest thing I have ever heard.” He observed that not only would airstrikes be illegal, but the pilots might fail to destroy all the facilities and, furthermore, the sequel would be a regional war. Altogether, this is a very disturbing and credible assessment of the dangers inherent in such an operation.

The former senator has also shown an ignorance of the facts when it comes to foreign affairs. In the aforementioned interview with Meet the Press Santorum declared that he would use covert means to put an end to Iran’s nuclear dabbling, prompting the interviewer, David Gregory, to correctly point out that such operations were “already being done.” While acknowledging that the Israelis were involved in covert action against Iran, Santorum declared that “there’s no evidence the United States is at all complicit in working at that.”

In light of these comments, we must assume that Santorum was so focused on his campaign in December that he didn’t hear about the American Sentinel spy drone, operated by the CIA, that went down over Iran. And he was presumably daydreaming during a debate he attended in Sioux City, Iowa on December 15th when fellow presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney and Rick Perry lambasted President Obama for showing “weakness” and saying “pretty please” to Iran once the drone had been lost.

Likewise, Santorum must be unaware of the 2010 Stuxnet cyber attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities, which is widely assumed to have been carried out by the US and Israel.

Historical accuracy has also eluded Santorum on occasion. For instance, speaking to the media before a campaign event with the Republican Jewish Coalition in Sioux City in June, he criticized President Obama for putting Israel “in a vulnerable position.” How exactly? Because “he supports Israel going back to the borders [of June 4th, 1967]…prior to when they were attacked and were able to take some ground as a result of being attacked.”

Santorum is by no means the sole public figure to have provided such a version of the events of June 1967. The reality, however, is different: it was Israel that launched a pre-emptive air strike on Egypt to begin the Six Day War.

That Santorum has his facts wrong about who attacked whom in 1967 is not in the least surprising, given his ardent backing of Israel. Indeed, he even goes so far as to deny that the West Bank is occupied, and has stated that “all the people that live in the West Bank are Israelis, they’re not Palestinians.” Indeed, according to Santorum, “there is no Palestinian.”

Finally, consider this truly bizarre remark. In Palm Beach, Florida in November the former senator was asked whether he would support a pre-emptive Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear program. Answering in the affirmative, Santorum came up with one of the most unlikely comparisons you’ll ever hear. “Imagine,” he said, “if Honduras has been making noise about, you know, trying to destroy the United States, and that they were developing a nuclear weapon, and we had a report saying that they were within a few months of having a nuclear weapon…. Would we sit there and allow them to do that?”

So this is how we decide if Israel has the right to bomb Iran, by considering what would happen if a small Central American nation declared it wished to destroy the USA? OK….

To conclude, it’s too early to say with confidence who will win the Republican nomination. I doubt that Santorum can pull it off, but if he does, you’ll find me in the US volunteering for the Obama campaign.

Michael Walker has a Ph.D. in International Relations from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland.