The Buzz

Not the First Hawk to Fly

As soon as Rick Santorum announced the suspension of his presidential campaign, pundits began to wax poetic on the surprising role he played in this year’s bloody battle of a primary. The blogosphere erupted in heated debate, from those certain we haven’t seen the last of the former senator to those still bemoaning his divisive politics and popularity.

A piece by Ben Adler for The Nation aptly illustrates the ways in which Santorum’s meteoric rise transformed his personal legacy, moving him away from “national laughingstock” status and permanently changing “the first line of his obituary from having left politics as a diminished joke back to being a significant right-wing leader.” Adler also correctly notes that Santorum “gave the religious right a reason to get out of bed” and “demonstrated the ongoing political importance of evangelicals.”

But when Adler turns to foreign policy, his piece begins to fall apart. He argues Santorum’s hawkishness, his “neoconservative belligerence on the Middle East . . . showed the way forward on foreign policy for other Republicans.” According to Adler, Santorum almost single-handedly moved the entire field of Republican contenders farther to the Right. 

Adler could benefit from a thorough review of the GOP hopefuls’ foreign-policy positions. Long before Santorum’s rise, the primary had a distinctly hawkish tint. A TNI article from early October, well before Santorum’s strong showing in the Iowa caucus, demonstrates that almost every candidate (with the notable exceptions of Jon Huntsman, Gary Johnson and Ron Paul) espoused textbook neoconservative views. Who can forget the warning to Iran in Herman Cain’s doctrine of choice, “If you mess with Israel, you’re messing with the USA”? 

What Adler misconstrues as a field pandering to Santorum’s hawkish views is, in fact, a reflection of a GOP party largely dominated by neoconservative foreign policy, even in the wake of a decade of never-ending war. Santorum is evidence of this trend, not its progenitor. Missing this fundamental distinction leaves Adler with a flawed piece.