Get PJ Media on your Apple

Rubin Reports

Also read my article, “Response to Ron Paul: Did U.S. Policy Make Today’s Islamist Iran Hate America?

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 that Obama’s supporters could easily ridicule . 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.

Santorum also barely mentions a critical issue where Obama is vulnerable: the gains made by revolutionary Islamism during the last year in Arabic-speaking lands.

That doesn’t mean he lacks some good, sophisticated arguments:

“President Obama seems to believe that sanctions on Iran will compel the fanatical rulers in Tehran to abandon their nuclear weapons program, fearing they will lose power if our sanctions continue and intensify.  Has he considered the case of North Korea?  Fanatical rulers do not care…about their people at all….And then they laugh at us, and organize thousands of people to chant `Death to America!’”

He adds that one reason radical regimes—largely a euphemism for revolutionary Islamists, right?–are so bold is that “we have yet to make them pay a price for the slaughter.”

Santorum really shows the right stuff in saying: “Indeed, our political leaders never talk about that.  They talk about nukes and nukes alone, as if that were the only issue.  But it isn’t.”  Yes, but bringing down the Iranian regime—largely because it is developing nuclear weapons?—is also not the only issue.

Here is something especially newsworthy from Santorum:

“Some say that this means we have to launch a military attack against Iran.  I don’t believe that.  I think most Iranian people want to be free of their evil regime, and millions of them have taken to the streets, in the face of security forces all too happy to kill them, to show their contempt for their leaders.  It’s a revolutionary force, and we should support it.

“We defeated the Soviet Union without using military means.  We supported the Soviet dissidents and refuseniks, and the Soviet regime collapsed.  I believe we can do the same thing in Iran.

“Supporting those who fight for freedom in Iran is both strategically smart and morally just, and any president with moral and strategic vision would do it.”

While I agree with him about not attacking Iran militarily and the importance of supporting the Iranian opposition, Ronald Reagan could tell Santorum that the United States largely defeated the Soviet Union was by economic means, wearing it out in an arms’ race and through sanctions, too. Economic pressures certainly have an important role to play also.

Santorum ends with a six-point program for an Iran policy:

“1. First and foremost, publicly embrace the opposition, and call for regime change.  We need a president and a secretary of state with the political courage to say, `Khamenei and Ahmadinejad must go.  The Iranian people must freely choose their form of government and freely choose their leaders.’”

This makes sense because of the specific situation within Iran where there is a strong opposition. Critics would respond that Iranian patriotism and the regime’s calling the opposition foreign agents would make such a policy counterproductive. This deserves serious discussion but since the regime does that anyway there is less to lose by such a strategy than it might appear.

Of course, Iran is not Libya. The United States is not going to bring the opposition to power, certainly not by military means. In my opinion, the regime is not about to fall either. But a declaratory policy—like sanctions—signals that the regime has provoked the United States to a point endangering their survival. Iranian political culture overstates U.S. power and influence within Iran and the rulers would take such a declaration seriously.

While avoiding any direct military activity that might lead to war, U.S. interests would benefit from more regime fear and less arrogance. Of course, as with current policy, it can also be made clear that if the regime changes course the United States would take that into account.

“2. Publicly condemn the regime’s repression, the ghastly human rights violations, the systematic misogyny, the censorship of press, internet, access to international broadcasting (including VOA, Farda, etc.).”

The Obama Administration can argue that this has already been done but it has not been emphasized and the Iranian regime—with good reason–doesn’t take Obama seriously.

“3. We must publicly support freedom for Iranian workers, and then work with international trade union organizations to build a strike fund, just as we did for the Solidarity trade union in Poland in the last years of the Cold War.”

That policy seems more relevant to Poland than to Iran.

4.  “We must help members of the opposition to safely communicate with one another.  During the Cold War, we provided fax machines to Solidarity and Soviet dissidents; today the equivalent technologies include anti-filtering software built into cell phones and computers.”

“5. We have to talk to the dissident leaders.  This is tricky.  The Green Movement insists that they have no spokesmen or representatives outside the country.  We need to establish reliable channels into Iran.  It is best to do this without public attention, obviously, but it can be done.

“6. We need a campaign of public support for Iran’s political prisoners.  We must identify them individually, by name.  American diplomats attending international meetings and conferences should have a list of political prisoners, and call for their release and humane treatment.”

These last three are good ideas but what is glaringly missing here is a regional strategy of countering Iran’s efforts in Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain, and elsewhere. Saying you favor regime change and helping the opposition is fine but isn’t going to change much.

If Santorum and others want to look to U.S. Cold War strategy fine but let them comprehend what that means.  It wasn’t only about backing Soviet dissidents by any means. Even in the dissident department, it was far more about helping Eastern European dissidents. In the Middle East case this means the real democratic oppositions in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey. But we should also be aware that even this is no magic solution because these forces tend to lose elections. Supporting electoral “democracy” is not a panacea as last years’ experience (and Palestinian and Lebanese politics, too) clearly indicate.

Santorum closes with a good theme but one more problematic than it seems at first glance. Referring to an article suggesting Obama led from behind, Santorum said: “I will lead from the front, which is America’s mission.”

But he and the other Republican candidates should study the foreign policy sections of Obama’s State of the Union message. The president’s case is that he has led: I got bin Ladin; I stopped al-Qaida; I put together an international coalition to strengthen sanctions against; I won in Iraq and Afghanistan and am now withdrawing; I made America respected again.

Isn’t that at least a claim of having led from the front? Won’t a lot of Americans accept those claims?

A lot more work on the substance and message of foreign policy and national security strategy is needed if Obama is going to be defeated on that issue.

PS: Here is a good piece by an experienced Israeli analyst discussing the Israeli debate over Iran’s nuclear program. Note that he points out that Defense Minister Ehud Barak–accurately I believe–said that any decision on whether to attack Iran would not be made for some time to come, only at the point where Iran seems close to getting nuclear weapons. That will not be in 2012.

 

 

 

Click here to view the 6 legacy comments

Comments are closed.