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Santorum’s Fear of Diplomacy

Rick Santorum makes [1] a hawkish argument against a possible Obama-Rouhani meeting in an odd way:

There’s “no way” President Barack Obama should meet with newly-elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the United National General Assembly this week, former Sen. Rick Santorum said Tuesday.

“The president of the United States should never meet with someone who’s not the president of their country,” Santorum said on CNN’s “New Day,” arguing that the Ayatollah is the person who leads Iran.

It’s an odd position, since Rouhani is, in fact, the Iranian president, and our president meets with officials of various ranks from other countries as necessary. Santorum wants to say that Rouhani is not the ultimate authority in the Iranian government, which is true enough. This is a distinction that is extremely important to hawks when so-called “moderates” or reformers hold the office, and absolutely irrelevant to them when it is occupied by a more demagogic and obnoxious figure. Then again, if Rouhani is just a “puppet” and a “mouthpiece” as he says, that tells us that his conciliatory gestures have been authorized and have Khamenei’s support for the time being. If that’s so, meeting with Rouhani would be an opportunity to establish contact with someone who has Khamenei’s backing to pursue a negotiated deal. Since Santorum has no interest in a negotiated agreement with Iran, presumably it doesn’t matter to him what Rouhani’s official position happens to be. If it were possible, Santorum wouldn’t want Obama and Khamenei to meet, either, because he is adamantly against anything that might result in reduced tensions with Iran.

It is remarkable how much importance has been attached to the mere possibility that Obama and Rouhani might briefly meet this week. If we were talking about bilateral relations between almost any other pair of governments, such meetings would be commonplace. The question wouldn’t be whether such a meeting would take place, but rather how productive it would prove to be. The U.S. and Iran can’t even begin to find out what kind of deal is possible so long as holding meetings between top officials is itself treated as making a concession to the other side. All of this should remind us how abnormal and counterproductive it is to have no formal diplomatic ties with Iran. There are hardly any other states where the U.S. has gone this far out of its way for so long to avoid high-level contacts with a foreign government, and it severely limits our government’s ability to conduct effective diplomacy.

As Stephen Walt put it [2] earlier today:

My main point is that Americans attach too much significance to these sorts of meetings — mostly because we are too fond of not talking to countries we dislike — and this reticence cripples our diplomacy. Refusing to talk to people or countries with whom we differ is really just a childish form of spite and one the United States indulges in mostly because we can get away with it. But it also makes it more difficult to resolve differences in ways that would advance U.S. interests. In short, it’s dumb.

20 Comments (Open | Close)

20 Comments To "Santorum’s Fear of Diplomacy"

#1 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On September 24, 2013 @ 5:35 pm

We seem to think diplomatic relations with us are a badge of moral approval. This attitude has been a problem at least since the Russian Revolution.

We should talk to anyone who observes the niceties of diplomacy (protection of diplomats, und so weiter).

#2 Comment By EarlyBird On September 24, 2013 @ 5:54 pm

Santorum’s ridiculous position on even speaking to Rouhani illustrates why the GOP’s recent crop of White House seekers have been unfit for office: you can’t have both government thrift and individual liberty at home, with a hyper-agressive foreign policy and its attendant wars abroad.

#3 Comment By Ken Hoop On September 24, 2013 @ 6:15 pm


In Aipac’s pocket.

#4 Comment By Myron Hudson On September 24, 2013 @ 6:29 pm

“…you can’t have both government thrift and individual liberty at home, with a hyper-agressive foreign policy and its attendant wars abroad.”

Welcome to Wonderland, EarlyBird, where it is possible to believe two impossible things before breakfast.

Great analysis once again, Mr. Larison. With all the gasping and clutching of chests going on, one might think that Nixon was going to China all over again, or that Reagan was engaging in détente.

#5 Comment By Ron Beasley On September 24, 2013 @ 6:54 pm

My only question is why does anyone even listen to him?

#6 Comment By agorabum On September 24, 2013 @ 7:53 pm

Yeah, not really fair going after Santorum. You’re not supposed to point out that the developmentally disabled kid is eating the paste again.
Although I guess some on the right still do (he did win some states in the primary) – but jeez, that is a dumb argument he’s making. I’m sure there are plenty of quotes from him about Ahmadinejad running the show too (just to show the lack of consistency).

#7 Comment By dcs On September 24, 2013 @ 7:55 pm

The odd thing is that Santorum refers to former Iranian President Ahmadinejad as a “tyrannical dictator” on his web site.

#8 Comment By JonF On September 24, 2013 @ 8:03 pm

Re:” The president of the United States should never meet with someone who’s not the president of their country

Who should he meet with in the UK? The Queen or the Prime Minister?

#9 Comment By ElitCommInc. On September 24, 2013 @ 10:04 pm

Here I generall agree with you sentiments. Though I woud have hoped thet Republicans had taken this plunge ages ago.

You can always bomb later if you have to —

Huge emphasis on have to

#10 Comment By William Dalton On September 25, 2013 @ 1:38 am

Meanwhile, today’s news reports were that Rouhani declined Obama’s invitation to meet and shake hands. It seems a photograph of such an amicable meeting would cause more of a firestorm in Iran than it would even on Capitol Hill. But then it is Iran and its people who are suffering under decades of U.S. dictated sanctions, not vice versa.

#11 Comment By Puller58 On September 25, 2013 @ 7:21 am

The same thing was done by the Israelis who would jump from puppet to master in order to avoid negotiations with Iran’s Presidents. As poor Rick Santorum was unable to hook up with a lobbyist group despite his slavish devotion to them while in office, (Their reasoning was his incredibly frosty relationship with his fellow Senators would have crippled his ability to “lobby.”)ended up with a think tank devoted to neocon hallucinations. So he sings for his supper by parroting the neocon line.

#12 Comment By Rob in CT On September 25, 2013 @ 8:54 am

The more time goes on, the more it is revealed that the nation with irrational people in power is not Iran. (this doesn’t really illustrate it, because Santorum isn’t in power at the moment, but there are plenty of other examples)

#13 Comment By icarusr On September 25, 2013 @ 10:32 am

Neocons apparently have never cracked open Morgenthau. Projection of Force, he said, is necessary when Power is at an ebb; a superpower should, at all times, insist on diplomacy as a first line, because it is in the diplomatic context that its true authority as a superpower is demonstrated: what is says, has weight, and it does not need the costly deployment of the sixth and seventh fleets to back it up.

Refusal to parley, then, is a bigger manifestation of the small d*ck syndrome.

#14 Comment By R. Kevin Hill On September 25, 2013 @ 11:49 am

It is no doubt “abnormal and counterproductive … to have no formal diplomatic ties with Iran” but then again, it was abnormal and counterproductive to violate our embassy and perpetrate violence against *diplomatic* personnel. There are various reasons why a state goes as far as to refuse to even have diplomatic relations with another state, but that seems like an unusually good one.

#15 Comment By Daniel Larison On September 25, 2013 @ 11:57 am

And that happened over 30 years ago. We have normal relations with several other governments responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of American soldiers, and no one even thinks twice about it now. At some point, cutting off ties ceases to make sense. I submit we passed that point with Iran quite some time ago.

#16 Comment By SDS On September 25, 2013 @ 12:43 pm

Commenters may recall other earlier episodes of Iran/US relations…..back at least to 1953; if not a bit further…. and the events leading up to the embassy violation….
We’re not clean and pure in the slightest; Iran being one of many places….

#17 Comment By Dennis J. Tuchler On September 25, 2013 @ 1:06 pm

Former Senator Santorum keeps his armor in his closet just in case Richard I (“lionhearted”) returns to continue the great quest.

#18 Comment By James Canning On September 25, 2013 @ 2:03 pm

Rick Santorum is an idiot. Of course Obama should meet with Rouhani.

#19 Comment By James Canning On September 25, 2013 @ 2:05 pm

@William Dalton – – Genuine “complexities” prevented Rouhani from meeting Obama. Alcohol factor.

#20 Comment By jamie On September 25, 2013 @ 5:15 pm

I don’t get it.

In the first instance, most countries don’t have nominal “presidents,” but that’s fine, maybe he means “heads of state.” Khamenei is a head of state.

Okay, but Prime Ministers generally aren’t heads of state, either, and the heads of state in these cases are royalty or apolitical dignitaries. Under these circumstances the peace conferences ending both world wars would have been illegitimate, so this can’t be what he means.

Maybe he means chief policymaker. Okay. So that means that the POTUS can’t meet with, oh, an ambassador, or delegation, or military attaché. Also would POTUS be able to receive individual members of Swiss Executive, or do they all have to be there? If the French government is in a state of cohabitation, does he meet with the Prime Minister, President or both? I’m confused