The Republican nomination process, presently venued in New Hampshire, comes during a perilous chapter in the nation’s foreign policy. Iraq appears poised to come apart at the sectarian seams and Iran has, in the same week, thanked the U.S. for rescuing its sailors from Somali pirates, threatened to execute an Iranian-American former U.S. Marine it suspects is a CIA spy, and threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz if the EU embargoes Iranian oil. Only three obstacles stand in the way of the world falling apart: the British, our NATO allies, and the United States.
In Washington last week for his first meeting with Defense secretary Leon Panetta, British defense minister Philip Hammond said Britain will not allow Iran to close the Strait of Hormuz, and Britain recently announced it will soon deploy its most advanced destroyer, the HMS Daring, to the region to ensure the Strait remains open for European oil shipments. The British response is encouraging, but Britain’s budgetary woes constrain and restrain its military might. Indeed, any hope for meaningful EU action on Iran is undercut by the fact that Italy, Spain, and Greece are heavily dependent upon Iranian oil. NATO’s ability to confront Iran’s saber-rattling is likewise imperiled by its own internal challenges.
NATO, which requires of its allies neither binding military commitment nor sensical rules of engagement, offers little reason for Americans to hope, or Iran to fear. In Afghanistan, a mission about which there is little fundamental disagreement, Germany’s rules of engagement prevent its soldiers from fighting, and other NATO allies have refused to honor their financial commitments to NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (“ISAF”) mission. In Libya, the NATO mission suffered from marked confusion about who would lead, who would follow, and exactly what NATO was fighting for.
The same strategic confusion witnessed in Libya is evident in President Obama’s foreign endeavors. He has failed to confront Iran, has shown no leadership on NATO’s military involvement in Afghanistan, alienated Pakistan as a result of his drone strikes, and, in direct contravention of military recommendations, failed to provide enough American troops in Iraq to safeguard the fragile peace achieved there. In view of Obama’s leadership deficit, his “leading from behind,” the upcoming NATO summit in Chicago in May promises to be more of the same – all style, no substance.
Our enemies have likely – and rightly – concluded there is no will within the Obama administration to take actions necessary to address America’s toughest foreign policy challenges. History has shown that our enemies have a keen eye for weakness; they likely see it in the Oval Office. That same conclusion would likely not be true of a Rick Santorum presidency. Based on his time in the Senate, there is every reason to believe a President Santorum would understand the threats facing America and muster the resolve to face them head on.
As a senator, Mr. Santorum was a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee for eight years, was notable for his early recognition of the Iranian nuclear threat (in 2004, he sponsored the Iran Freedom and Support Act), and was an eloquent defender of religious and political freedom. Since leaving office in 2006, he has been outspoken about the need to advance democracy in Iran and support U.S. efforts to reign in the nuclear threat. Mr. Santorum comprehends in ways Obama does not the gravest American threat, Iran, and he understands America’s proper place in the world: leading from the front.
Such leadership would be a welcome change. Betraying his fundamental misunderstanding of what makes America great, President Obama said in December, “We don't just think about what's good for us, but we're also thinking about what's good for the world.” “That's what makes us special. That's what makes us exceptional.” No American president, Republican or Democrat, has ever defined America’s greatness by its outward focus on the improvement of “the world,” whatever that implies.
America’s greatness derives from our national strength, chiefly our economic strength, which has allowed us to project our values and our beliefs outward in defense of our interests and allies. Mr. Santorum likely gets this. Where President Obama prevaricates, dawdles, and offers the legitimacy of bilateral meetings without condition, Mr. Santorum brings a Churchillian realism to the table. He understands that Iran’s confidence on the oil issue stems from its belief that President Obama will not get tough on the nuclear issue. He sees in Iran now, like Churchill saw in 1930s Germany, a gathering storm intensified by America’s and the EU’s incompetence on the oil and sanctions issues.
President Obama likes to invoke Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, and Ronald Reagan. Each exhibited an unequivocal belief in the rightness of projecting American power abroad, without apology or moral equivocation. Teddy Roosevelt advocated a big stick foreign policy, FDR waged punishing warfare across the Atlantic and Pacific, and Reagan built up the world’s greatest military to tear down the greatest threat to world peace. In total contrast, Mr. Obama offers smug moral equivalence and a naïve, emasculated foreign policy reliant upon the very international institutions whose failures have occasioned the present crises. He offers, in a word, American decline from its traditional leadership atop a unipolar world.
At this hour of great economic uncertainty at home and grave international threats abroad, America requires a big stick president. Mr. Santorum claims to be a big stick guy. If so, now is the time for him to show it.