After his failed re-election bid, Rick Santorum joined the Ethics and Public Policy Center as the head of what they originally called the “America’s Enemies” program (later renamed the Program to Protect America’s Freedom), which was Santorum’s new platform for alarmist warnings about exaggerated or non-existent threats. In April 2011, Santorum delivered a speech called “Americans and the World,” in which he laid out what was supposed to be a foreign policy vision. It’s worth reviewing it here to understand just how mistaken Santorum tends to be on these issues.
For example, here is his criticism of the U.S. response to the 2009 Iranian protests:
Iran’s mullahcracy has been at war with us for over 30 years. And in 2009 there was a chance to end that. There was a chance for freedom in Iran. I have been a believer and an advocate for that possibility since my service in the Senate. I authored the Iran Freedom Support Act which, among other things, provided millions of dollars for the pro-democracy movement in Iran. At first my bill was opposed by both President Bush and Senator Obama. Both eventually relented, but neither implemented that provision while president.
As a result we were not ready when the spark struck. So, rather than supporting the dissidents there-dissidents asking for our help-the president continued his policy of engaging (and effectively supporting) the mullahcracy. The result? The dissidents were brutally crushed. Now, instead of being able to face a leadership in Iran that would be grateful to us today, we still have the same leadership in Iran that wants to destroy us and our allies in the region.
Let us make no mistake about what happened there: We sided with evil because our president believes our enemies are legitimately aggrieved and thus we have no standing to intervene.
Let’s count up the false and misleading statements. Contrary to what Santorum said, the Green movement did not represent an opportunity to overthrow the regime. That was not the Green movement’s purpose or its goal. There was nothing that the U.S. could have constructively done that would have aided them, so the charge of being unprepared is rather silly. It is a matter of record that Iranian NGOs found U.S. funding to be more of a detriment than an advantage, and it is also the case that the Green movement generally did not want U.S. or other foreign assistance. So it has nothing to do with believing that enemies are “legitimately aggrieved,” and a lot to do with the recognition that the Iranian opposition didn’t want and couldn’t use our help.
Oddly enough, one reason that the Green movement didn’t want U.S. assistance was exactly the reason Santorum gave for why the U.S. should have provided it: to make a new Iranian leadership indebted to us. The second half of their slogan, which was “na menat’e Amrika,” meant that the Green movement did not want to owe anyone outside their country. As Hooman Majd explained in The Ayatollahs’ Democracy:
Menat is a Farsi word that is actually impossible to translate, and “indebtedness” is hardly the most accurate indication of its meaning. It can be a state of indebtedness or of begging a favor, of being in an uncomfortable state of owing. As far as most Iranians who did hear the message were concerned, though, Mousavi couldn’t have been clearer in his sentiments. Iranians may have wanted sympathy from the West, but they did not want help, and they wanted to owe no one, in their quest for their own form of democracy.
Of course, it doesn’t follow that a new leadership in Iran would feel any gratitude towards the U.S. The Iranian public views the U.S. as a threat to their country, and is not inclined to feel much gratitude towards the government that has been imposing sanctions on Iran for years. Gratitude is what interventionists such as Santorum always expect from other countries when “we” do them the “favor” of interfering in their political affairs, but this fails to acknowledge the resentment that such interference naturally causes. It is telling that this is what Santorum expected from Iranians if the U.S. meddled in their politics, but then he thinks that the era of the Shah’s rule in Iran was one of freedom. He doesn’t understand Iranian history very well at all, so it’s not surprising that he would so completely misunderstand modern Iranians.
The charge that the U.S. “sided with evil” because it did not interfere in Iran’s internal affairs is an outrageous one. It goes without saying that if a critic made a similar claim about the morality of a U.S. policy (i.e., something that the U.S. actually did), he would be accused of anti-Americanism. It would be an unfair charge, but it would be an example of how “hostile” to America that critic supposedly is. Here Santorum can claim that the United States government was complicit in a government crackdown in which it actually had no part, and he is claiming that the refusal to meddle in Iranian affairs, which was a decision in line with what the Iranian opposition wanted, amounts to siding with evil. According to Santorum’s warped understanding of the U.S. role in the world, the U.S. is on the side of evil unless it is actively interfering in the affairs of other nations to overthrow their governments. This is the language of a fanatic. This is not how most Republicans or most Americans understand the proper U.S. role in the world. Unfortunately, it is only too typical of Santorum and the foreign policy that he would conduct if he were elected.