Santorum and Foreign Policy
Image Credit: Gage Skidmore

Santorum and Foreign Policy

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In light of Rick Santorum’s surprise hat trick of wins last night in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado, I said I’d take a look at the former Pennsylvania senator’s foreign policy positions. But first I wanted to share some reaction from the Mitt Romney camp.

I spoke with Robert O’Brien, a senior Romney foreign policy advisor, for his take on last night’s results and what it means going forward. He told me that Gov. Romney had congratulated Santorum on his caucus and “beauty contest” wins last night (Missouri’s primary was non-binding), but added that “given the number of primaries ahead, and geographic diversity, the Romney campaign is the only one with the resources and the organization capable of maximizing delegate totals and competing in simultaneous elections across the country.”

“Gov. Romney is the only candidate to have won delegates in every state where a contest has been held and delegates have been up for grabs,” O’Brien told me. “He won resounding victories in New Hampshire, Florida, and Nevada, while also picking up delegates in South Carolina.  He maintains a significant delegate lead over Santorum and Gingrich.  As a result, I’m confident that the governor will enter the Republican National Convention in Tampa with sufficient delegates to win the nomination.”

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He also touched on a point I made last night about the future of the slash-and-burn former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, whose campaign has faltered since his resounding win in South Carolina.

“Of course, Speaker Gingrich had the worse night of all the candidates with poor finishes across the board. He’s now one for seven in primaries and caucuses and he’s unlikely to win either the Arizona or Michigan primaries on February 28.  With only one debate this month, it will be a tough stretch for the Gingrich campaign.”

It’s certainly looking grim for Gingrich, but while I’ve looked at his foreign policy in light of his one-time status as the main Romney challenger, I’ve only touched very briefly on what a Santorum presidency would bring.

One place to start is who Santorum has surrounded himself with for advice. While Romney has assembled an extensive foreign policy team that includes a number of moderate-conservative former senior government officials, including O’ Brien, who has served as alternate U.S. representative to the U.N. General Assembly, former CIA Director Michael Hayden and former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, Santorum’s team appears much smaller. Indeed, as Foreign Policy has noted, Santorum relies heavily for foreign policy advice on former Chief of Staff Mike Rogers (an interesting aside – despite Santorum being seen as the uber-conservative of the race, Rogers has worked closely with Bono on poverty relief).

On the specific issues, Santorum has staked out some hawkish positions, notably on Iran and China. He has described, for example, how the United States is “facing a global alliance that includes Russia, North Korea, China, Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador and of course Cuba.”

We should perhaps forgive a little hyperbole on the campaign trail in the search of votes, but this laundry list of the usual bogeymen is far from an alliance. Multiple thorns in the U.S. side, yes, but the idea that there’s some kind of co-ordination is fanciful, to put it kindly.

Santorum was on firmer ground before his campaign kicked off, noting in one of a series of “Gathering Storm” articles  that China  had a case to answer for not doing enough to pressure North Korea over its nuclear program. There is, of course, debate over how much influence China actually has over North Korea, but the fact that Kim Jong-il made a number of visits to China not long before his death last year suggested that he was seeking Chinese support for his son, Kim Jong-un, as his successor.

“It remains unclear whether China will choose to continue to enable this hostile behavior, or whether it will meet its international obligations by pressuring North Korea to cooperate,” Santorum wrote back in November 2010.

China, it seems, took the former course, and there was little in the op-ed to suggest what Santorum would have the Obama administration do differently to bring North Korea in line. That said, he’s far from alone in struggling to find an effective formula for a regime that has given new meaning to damned if you do, damned if you don’t diplomacy.

On China specifically, Santorum has taken a leaf out of the Donald Trump play book, saying, “I want to go to war with China and make America the most attractive place in the world to do business.” Of course the war he’s referring to isn’t a military one (not yet, at least) but one of economics – and values. He has, for example, said it is the United States’ duty to battle a country of what he described as “godless socialism,” and Santorum policies, domestic or foreign, would undoubtedly be strongly influenced by his strong Christian beliefs.

As hawkish as all this sounds, there’s another side to Santorum’s foreign policy positions perhaps informed by his faith, namely his views on foreign aid.

In a primary debate last November, Santorum was virtually alone in arguing against cutting foreign aid to Pakistan, saying that his rivals were pandering to “anti-foreign aid elements.” He added that lawmakers are leaving the public with an inaccurate view of the amount of money the United States actually spends on foreign aid, saying: “When I tell them it’s less than a half a percent [of the budget]  people are shocked.”  

Still, despite such welcome nuance, it’s hard not to be troubled by his blanket dismissal of an international issue that’s likely to be of growing importance to future administrations, namely global warming. There is, of course, plenty of scope for disagreement on how to respond to climate change, and where the balance should be between economic growth and cutting emissions. But Santorum has staked out an indefensible position. Going after Romney on the issue, Politico reports Santorum told voters ahead of the Colorado race:

“Let's go to cap and trade. Governor Romney proudly announced that they were the first state, Massachusetts, to put a cap on CO2 emissions in the state of Massachusetts…Speaker Gingrich has supported cap and trade for more than a dozen years. Now, he wants business incentives to go along with cap and trade, but he supported cap and trade…Who is he or who's Governor Romney to be able to go after President Obama? I've never supported even the hoax of global warming."

It’s not clear who he believes perpetrated this hoax. Perhaps it was the pesky China-Russia-Bolivia-Nicaragua alliance…

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