One of the stranger reactions to the Ames straw poll results is the growing chorus claiming that Rick Santorum’s star is rising. Politico reports on Santorum’s Ames “bump,” Quin Hillyer believes Santorum has gained momentum from his fourth-place finish, and Jennifer Rubin thinks his campaign has “new life.”

The reality is that Santorum has been living and campaigning full-time in Iowa for weeks, he ought to be rallying social conservatives to him in much larger numbers than he does, and his fourth-place finish out of a field of six direct competitors is confirmation that his campaign is going nowhere. Beating out Herman Cain and Thad McCotter on the ground does not mean much at all. His presidential bid has always seemed to be a vain effort to re-fight the battles of his failed 2006 re-election campaign. His debate exchange with Ron Paul on Iran seemed to epitomize this. The most bizarre moment was when he declared, “I don’t apologize for the Iranian people being free for a long time,” referring to the period when the Shah was in power. There is an argument for preferring the rule of the Shah to that of the current government, but it has nothing to do with Iranian freedom, and the argument for preferring the Shah (i.e., he was a reliable American ally) is one that Iranians see as one of the problems of that period of their history.

Santorum’s statements last Thursday were typical of someone hostile to Iranian national interests, but one who nonetheless insists on presenting himself as a friend of the Iranian people. He insisted that “Iran is a country that must be confronted.” The list of countries that Santorum believes “must be confronted” is quite long, and it runs from Burma to Venezuela. The direction he recommends for the United States is one that would exhaust and ruin us. The foreign policy he was advocating was unreasonable even by the standards of the Bush years, and five years later it seems even worse.

Jennifer Rubin lists Santorum’s many supposed advantages, but it is this one that has to be the hardest to take seriously:

Santorum is also extremely tough on foreign policy issues, and with the benefit of Senate experience, has some detailed knowledge at his finger tips. That, too, can pose a challenge to the other candidates less well-versed and less tough on national security.

By “extremely tough,” Rubin means that Santorum routinely exaggerates foreign threats, and then demagogues the threats he has exaggerated in the most alarmist fashion possible. It must be Santorum’s “detailed knowledge” that caused him to make flatly untrue claims during his exchange with Paul. Paul Pillar explained last week:

But Santorum also used a glaring falsehood: that “ Iran is a country that has killed more American men and women in uniform in Iraq and Afghanistan than the Iraqis and the Afghans have.”

This was hardly the only factual error uttered during the debate (and Paul didn’t get things quite right in characterizing what the U.S. intelligence community has said about the Iranian nuclear program), but it was the biggest whopper of the evening as far as foreign affairs were concerned. It also was the most dangerous falsehood. Inaccuracies such as Tim Pawlenty calling Michael Mullen a general rather than an admiral, or Jon Huntsman mistakenly characterizing the pace of U.S.-Chinese diplomacy, are unlikely to make any difference in public perceptions that could have policy consequences. But Santorum’s assertion, against the backdrop of habitual demonization of Iran, is just the sort of falsehood that is likely to stick and to contribute to mistaken public beliefs that in turn could provide support for disastrous policies.

Building up support for disastrous policies overseas has been Santorum’s business for the last five years at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he oversaw the “America’s Enemies” program, which was later renamed the “Program to Promote and Protect America’s Freedom.” The good news is that Republican voters don’t seem interested in Santorum’s sour alarmism.