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Right Turn
Posted at 02:26 PM ET, 09/16/2011

Santorum attacks rivals on national security

I asked presidential candidate Rick Santorum what he thought of the kerfuffle yesterday in which Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s campaign walked back his debate remarks on Afghanistan, only to be bashed for flip-flopping by both rivals Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney.

Santorum told me that he didn’t think lack of experience in national security matters was necessarily a disqualifying factor. “I don’t believe it’s solely a question of experience. It is also question of conviction, philosophy, and intellectual curiosity. Ronald Reagan was a great foreign policy president, not because he came into office with foreign policy experience, but because he balanced a governing philosophy with the situations he was dealt — whether it was with Russia or a third-world nation. I agree with Reagan’s method, and that sets me apart from the other candidates, most notably Governor Perry and Ambassador Huntsman, one of who has foreign policy experience and one who does not.”

What, in particular, gives Santorum cause for concern? He says, “I listened to Governor Perry and Ambassador Huntsman answer a question about Iraq, and I couldn’t believe that neither person mentioned the word ‘victory.’ To stand for anything less is a disservice to our troops, their families and our nation.” He cautioned that he “hates war — and every day I pray for our troops safe and speedy return. In fact, I believe our troops should come home as soon as the job is done. But the problem is, Barack Obama has never outlined a mission for victory. We cannot leave the region when there is still a good chance the Taliban can take control. To leave leadership in the hands of a radical terrorist group, known for its horrific treatment of women and for carrying out unprovoked terrorist attacks on this country — with promises for more — is something I am unwilling to do.” He claims that Perry was trying “to skirt this complicated issue for an applause line,” which “shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the region and a level of inexperience only topped by our current president.”

Santorum makes the case for his own foreign policy credentials. “During my time on the Senate Armed Services Committee, I chaired a subcommittee that worked on all military procurement issues, helped transform the military and our intelligence system as well as delved into the issues facing our nation in the Middle East. That is how I came to authoring legislation to protect Israel from the threat posed by Syria and to assist pro-democracy movements in Iran. I worked with my advisers, but I also dove into the issues, learned about them, weighed the advice of divergent viewpoints and then came to my policy decisions. This is the combination of experience and intangibles that our next president needs, and it’s what I alone bring to the table.”

Now we should not sell Ronald Reagan short when it comes to his foreign policy knowledge as a candidate for president. While he hadn’t held a federal office and didn’t have military experience (aside from movie roles), he had studied, thought about and opined on the Cold War, the central foreign policy challenge of the time, for decades. We shouldn’t reject governors without national security experience out of hand, but neither should we minimize the challenges for someone who has spent virtually no time thinking about the issues nor speaking nor writing about them. This was a liability for Romney in 2008 when facing Sen. John McCain. But to his credit, he’s spent some years now writing, speaking and educating himself to the point where he has developed ideas and convictions on foreign policy issues.

Santorum’s making the case that he’s both the most knowledgable and most ideologically conservative of the candidates. If the debate moderators would give him more than a few minutes, the voters could assess whether that is true.

By  |  02:26 PM ET, 09/16/2011

Categories:  2012 campaign, National Security

 
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