During the 1988 presidential race, columnist George Will praised former Delaware Gov. Pete DuPont for exhibiting “the highest substance-to-blather ratio” of any of the candidates in the field. That same observation may be made in this presidential cycle about Pennsylvania’s former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, who last Thursday gave yet another in what is turning into a series of major addresses both thoughtful and philosophically right on target.
DuPont was squeezed out from the start in that race, with Jack Kemp already occupying the first rung in the supply-side sweepstakes while the elder George Bush, as vice president, enjoyed pre-eminence among the set of hereditary elites and business leaders on the East Coast. Santorum, despite his apparent long-shot status in the 2012 campaign, enjoys a far better chance for his substance to be rewarded because this field is devoid of true political heavyweights.
Although the media continue to try to paint Santorum as a social-issues one-trick pony, the truth is that he dedicated even more time in office to matters of defense and foreign policy, and that since leaving office he has focused heavily on “The Gathering Storm” of dangerous international challenges. His speech at the National Press Club last week, entitled Americans and the World: Resetting Our Course, amply demonstrated the efficacy of that focus — and, amazingly enough, received decent coverage from major media.
One of the most impressive things about Santorum’s remarks was how he integrated foreign policy into an overall worldview rooted in American domestic political traditions, rather than speaking of the subject as if it is a separate and distinct, even rarified, realm of concerns. The very reason the United States is pre-eminent on the world stage, he said, is “because we were great from our birth.” Consider this: “Unlike President Obama, I believe we were a great country even before the Great Society programs of the 1960s.… Americans were not born to be servants of the state; the state existed to keep men free. What does this have to do with foreign policy? Everything…. By establishing ourselves as a nation on this basis, we have inspired and actively aided those around the world who aspire to our ideal — and, unfortunately, at times we’ve had to confront those who not only reject those fundamental rights and freedoms, but threaten ours.”
Santorum clearly advocates muscular foreign and defense policies, especially against Muslim jihadists. “We should have no illusions about the extent of this threat. Radical Islam is extending its tentacles from Africa to America. And at the heart of the threat is Iran, which is aggressively pursuing a nuclear weapon while at the same time it continues to fund Jihadist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas. In the past two years, has ignoring or appeasing this threat been successful? Have offers of talks and negotiations deterred the threat? Did our willful abandonment of the terms relating Sharia doctrine to violence produce a less virulent and less aggressive enemy? No. No. And absolutely not.”
Yet he is no Wilsonian adventurer. He understands that liberty requires the rule of law, institutions to nurture it, and a culture that will value it. Tacitly rebuking part of the G.W. Bush approach, he said: “Too often we have erred in thinking that liberty’s first order of business is a vote. Elections should be a consummation and not a commencement to democratic processes. We have reaped nightmares when we get that backwards, from 1930s Germany to Hamas in the Gaza Strip to what looks to be the case in Egypt.” For instance, he considers Libya “a morass.” Egypt is “a power vacuum being filled by the Muslim brotherhood.” If, and only if, our intelligence is good enough to assure us that the rebels are trustworthy, then we should have acted decisively “by recognizing and arming the rebels and immediately enforcing a no-fly zone. Decisive action against Kaddafi would have been the end of him. [Instead,] because we have abdicated our leadership, NATO has been put in disarray.”
He didn’t say it expressly, but it sounded to me as if Santorum agrees with a version of the Weinberger Doctrine, with Santorum possibly being slightly more willing to use force than old Cap was, but still insisting on clarity of objectives and on a hard-nosed assessment of U.S. security interests. The key Weinberger point: “U.S. troops should only be committed wholeheartedly and with the clear intention of winning.”
In a word, Santorum’s foreign-policy approach comes across as Reaganesque. Reagan himself was a useful melding of idealist with cold-eyed realist, semi-Manichean (good-vs.-evil worldview) with nuanced negotiator. Above all, it seems, Santorum is insistent on strength and clarity. Blasting Barack Obama repeatedly, he said: “Now we have caused two very dangerous things on the world stage: confusion and doubt. We now have a confused foreign policy in the hottest spots in the world, especially in the Middle East. And we have allies and freedom fighters all over the world who doubt our time-tested and time-honored commitments to them.”
About our traditional alliances, Santorum asked (while taking post-speech questions), “Are any of them better today [than before Obama took office]? Pick one. You can’t.” Meanwhile, we fail to nurture potential new friendships that could be valuable, such as those of the Iranian protesters in 2010 who truly did seem pro-Western and who sought to undermine the Iranian mullahs who have sworn themselves enemies of the United States. “Let us make no mistake about what happened there,” he said. “We sided with evil, because our president believes our enemies are legitimately aggrieved and thus we have no standing to intervene.”
Again, though, please read the whole speech for yourself, via this link. It’s solid stuff. Pro-Israel. For missile defense. For a realistic humanitarianism. For promotion of free markets. For domestic fossil-fuels production. For insisting on good teaching of American history in schools — a history that portrays the truth of American decency and well-merited patriotism.
Against Sharia law. Against international socialists. Against deep cuts in our military. Against moral equivalence. Against apologies to the world for imagined American failures or misdeeds.
“We have an obligation to speak for what makes America exceptional,” Santorum said in answer to a question. And in his speech: “America is truly a moral enterprise.”
Yes, it is. Santorum strikes a conservative listener as a man who understands what makes us moral, why that morality is a light to the world, and when — and, importantly, when not — to use force to safeguard that light of freedom. Nobody else in the race so far has even come close to putting forth such a comprehensive, well-integrated template for how to restore America’s place in a dangerous world.