He’s one of the few Republican presidential candidates willing to make foreign policy central to his campaign. He talks openly about launching airstrikes on Iran and compares U.S. troops to hobbits, distracting the bad guy from Lord of the Rings. And after the Iowa caucus Tuesday night, Rick Santorum has become one of the last major GOP alternatives to Mitt Romney.
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.”
But it’s not just the wars. Go down the line, as Foreign Policy did in this overview piece. In an October debate, Santorum fudged the difference between a trade war and a shooting war with the Chinese. (“I don’t want to go to a trade war, I want to beat China. I want to go to war with China and make America the most attractive place in the world to do business.”) The West Bank is “legitimately Israeli country,” he said in November, opposing Palestinian statehood.
It’s distinguished Santorum from his rivals. Few of Santorum’s Republican opponents are as hardline on so many foreign-policy issues. Romney even appears to be moving in a more dovish direction on Iran from his last presidential bid. And while the others play down security issues on the trail in favor of economic ones, Santorum’s final Iowa ad, seen above, boasted he had “more foreign policy credentials than any candidate” — and even repackaged a military term to dub him a “full-spectrum conservative.”
Still, it would be a stretch to say Santorum’s security positions rocketed him to the top of the GOP field. He split the top vote with Romney; and fewer than 4000 votes separated Santorum from Ron Paul, who holds diametrically opposite security views. Iowa is more about getting voters to the polls than than it is about policy.
But now that Santorum effectively tied with Romney, he’s one of the last viable vehicles for conservatives who don’t want the Massachusetts governor to face off with President Obama. A GOP insider says that Santorum hasn’t so far attracted many Republican foreign-policy hands to his longshot campaign; his main adviser is his old Senate chief of staff. But after Iowa, Santorum may have a stronger Fellowship to help him march through the fires of Mordor.