The Buzz

The Powerful Nightmares of Rick Santorum

Rick Santorum would like you to be afraid. Very, very afraid.

Writing on RealClearWorld, the Republican hopeful blasts Obama for a litany of sins, most of them related to his defense strategy and his “philosophy of leading from behind,” which Santorum repeatedly evokes but neglects to explain. He focuses on the impending defense cuts which, he claims, will so deplete U.S. military forces as to endanger Americans and force Washington to relinquish its place of power in the world.

At first blush, Santorum’s piece appears a well-crafted bit of campaign propaganda. It expresses patriotism and pride in American exceptionalism. It lambastes the incumbent’s unpopular decisions. It invokes the wisdom of presidents past, in this case Reagan, and draws upon events laden with emotion in the national consciousness, in this case 9/11. It “talks tough” on China, Iran and North Korea. It promises to protect American interests at all costs.

But a closer examination reveals canyon-sized holes in Santorum’s reasoning. In bemoaning the perils of a reduced U.S. military, he mentions 9/11, human-rights abuses in China, the spread of radical Islam—all things that have little to do with American military might. Indeed, he seems confused as to what he’d like the armed forces to accomplish. He claims to be primarily concerned with national security, repeatedly declaring the principal responsibility of the federal government as keeping the country safe. But influence, not security, is Santorum’s real concern; in the next breath, he asks whether China’s one-child policy represents values that will “promote our interests, save us money and strengthen the resolve of our allies?”

For all his rhetoric about American security, Santorum’s argument is about values, not interests. He warns ominously that “the absence of American military and global political leadership will only result in . . . ‘might makes right,’” but he suggests that a robust military can and should ensure American hegemony. So might does indeed make right for Santorum—as long as the might in question is America’s. As campaign propaganda, his piece is not without value. As a statement of foreign-policy doctrine, it is deeply flawed.