Herman Cain can’t remember much about Libya. Newt Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry want to cut Pakistan loose from U.S. aid and have Israel start the bargaining for aid at zero. It doesn’t inspire confidence, does it?
But it’s not all bang-the-head-on-the-desk time in the Republican primary with regard to foreign policy. Mitt Romney rolled out a comprehensive and well-thought out agenda on national security. Now Rick Santorum is out with a concrete plan on Iran. It includes:
•Reinstate full funding authorized under the Iran Freedom and Support Act to assist pro-democracy groups within Iran,
•Bring greater attention to human rights violations of the Iranian regime against democracy protestors and minority religious groups,
•Work with Israel to eliminate the Iranian nuclear threat immediately, and develop a potential plan for military action if needed,
•Work with Israel to determine the proper military response needed to stabilize the region, protect our allies and protect this country – including the authorization of targeted airstrikes on Iranian nuclear facilities,
•Treat as an enemy combatant any nuclear scientist proven to be working for Iran’s nuclear program,
•Help create Strike Funds to help organizers on the ground publicly protest and overthrow the regime,
•Economically target Iran by sanctioning Iran’s central bank and open all forms of energy production in the U.S, effectively devastating Iran’s only economy,
•Ensure Iranian officials cannot access any of their funds by freezing bank accounts and significantly limit their travel by revoking visas,
•Refuse to negotiate on any level with the terrorist state of Iran,
•Neutralize Iran’s relationships with its primary allies in the Middle East by increasing pressure on Hezbollah and Syria,
•Eliminate the post of U.S. ambassador to Syria,
•Stand with Israel as an ally and in any efforts Israel may take to defend itself from Iranian aggression,
•Push for, fully fund and build a comprehensive missile defense system, and reevaluate the ramifications of the START Treaty,
•Authorize more research on the Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Threat,
•Develop a National Prevention Plan to prevent severe terrestrial and space emergencies that would take down information systems or electrical grids.
You can quibble with some of the specifics. (Ambassador Robert Ford, for example, is home from Syria, and we likely will want a new ambassador for a new regime.) But it is a serious plan that reflects the failure of our existing sanctions policy. It also places heavy emphasis on regime change (a positive addition would be to declare regime change to be official U.S. policy). It is the sort of specific policy that was lacking in much of the first foreign policy debate.
Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a longtime proponent of sanctions, wouldn’t comment off the cuff on Santorum’s proposals. But he did say, “I recommend oil sanctions and central bank sanctions as this administration’s last chance.” He notes that “if we don’t target Iran’s oil sales, which are the lifeblood of the regime, sanctions will definitely fail to stop the [nuclear program].”
A prominent conservative hawk who has not endorsed any candidate told me, “The plan is fine, and it clearly expresses a willingness to support the use of military force.” However he warned, “ Since none of the candidates will be President for over a year, however, the issue now is what we should do if Israel attacks before next Inauguration day. I think we should be as encouraging as possible, including offers to help out with intelligence and support, diplomatic efforts, and an express pledge to resupply any and all airplane and ordnance losses as a result of Israeli attacks.” He adds that we should also “promise whatever it takes to assist Israel in defense against any Iranian retaliatory attacks, whether directly or through surrogates like Hezbollah.”
There will be another foreign policy debate next week. Santorum has experience that other contenders lack, and he can claim co-authorship of the Iran Freedom and Support Act and the Syria Accountability Act, and eight years on the Senate Armed Services. His challenge is to demonstrate his expertise while making crystal clear how unprepared or under-prepared most of his rivals are.
It’s not like there isn’t plenty of material to work with. Does Herman Cain not know about China’s nuclear capability? Does anyone have a thought-out approach to the Arab Spring?
In particular, Gingrich talks a good game, but he has a number of liabilities in an area in which he fancies himself an expert. Was Gingrich in favor of action in Libya before he was against it? He wants to “rethink” Afghanistan, but is he in favor of winning the war?
Santorum has an opportunity to move up in the pack, as Perry and now Cain have faltered. To do it he needs to go straight for a glaring weakness of many his opponents, the almost-comical lack of knowledge of the most critical aspect of the job.