Special Report

Rick Santorum’s Foreign Policy Profile

Former senator from Pennsylvania

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Foreign-policy credentials: Santorum served for eight years on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Overview: Although best known for his conservative views on domestic social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, Santorum has emerged in this race as the unlikely defender of a neoconservative foreign policy, standing up for the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, robust military spending, and democracy promotion. In debates, this has often made him a foil for the more isolationist rhetoric of Herman Cain and Jon Huntsman.

Advisors: Santorum’s primary foreign-policy advisor is his former chief of staff, Mark Rogers.

On the issues:

Afghanistan/Pakistan: Santorum opposes Barack Obama’s withdrawal plan for Afghanistan, saying, "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, … is something I am unwilling to do." He has criticized his opponents for failing to emphasize the necessity of victory and trying to "to skirt this complicated issue for an applause line."

He has been relatively measured on Pakistan policy, maintaining in one debate that the United States needs to continue foreign aid to Pakistan and maintain good relations with the nuclear-armed country.

Military spending: Santorum’s budget-cutting zeal does not extend to military spending. He describes Obama’s defense cuts as "wrong signal, wrong effort, and wrong time." He has accused the Obama administration of "intentionally trying to degrade our military" and has defended robust U.S. military spending on the ground that it creates U.S. jobs.

Immigration/borders: Santorum has been vocal on the threat of illegal immigration since his time in the Senate. In this race, he has described illegal immigration as a major national security issue and criticized Texas Gov. Rick Perry for being "soft" on the issue due to his opposition to building a fence along the entirety of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Israel/Palestine: Santorum believes "it is the duty of each and every American citizen who abhors terrorism and supports freedom to stand up and say, ‘I support Israel.’" He has attacked Obama for putting "Israel’s very existence in more peril" and says Palestine’s statehood bid at the United Nations is a sign that the Palestinians "feel weakness — they feel it, they see it, they know it — and they’re going to exploit it."

China: It’s not quite the new axis of evil, but Santorum says that China, along with Iran and Venezuela, is part of a "gathering storm" of threats facing the United States. During Oct. 11’s debate, Santorum raised eyebrows by declaring, "I don’t want to go to a trade war; I want to beat China!" He also said, "I want to go to war with China and make America the most attractive place in the world to do business."

Foreign aid: Following Nov. 12’s debate, during which Santorum differed from most other candidates by defending U.S. aid to Pakistan, the candidate accused his opponents of "pandering to an anti-foreign aid element out there." He feels that politicians have contributed to skewing voters’ view of how much money actually goes to foreign aid. "When I tell them it’s less than a half a percent [of the federal budget], people are shocked," he said.

Iran/nukes: Santorum has stated that an Israeli military strike on Iran is inevitable and that the United States should support it when it comes. He has made the case for years that Iran poses the greatest threat to U.S. national security — a threat on par with that posed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. In 2004, he authored legislation to support democracy movements in Iran. He blames the Obama administration’s failure to support the Green Revolution opposition movement for its ability to overthrow the Iranian regime.

Trade: Santorum did not support North American Free Trade Agreement while in Congress but believes that "most of the free trade agreements we’ve entered into have not contributed greatly to [American unemployment]." Nevertheless, he supports free trade agreements in principle, not just on economic grounds, because they "build relationships that are important from a national security point of view."

War on terror/detainees: Santorum has written that the "fight against Islamic fascism is the great test of our generation." He supports keeping Guantánamo open and using "enhanced interrogation" techniques like waterboarding. In a May radio interview, he argued that the information that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden would never have been acquired "if it had not been gotten … from people who were subject to enhanced interrogation" and that Sen. John McCain — an opponent of waterboarding and himself a victim of torture — "doesn’t understand how enhanced interrogation works."

Environment: Santorum describes climate change as "junk science" and a "beautifully concocted scheme" for the left to "regulate your life." The Pennsylvanian is also a staunch supporter of coal power.

Russia/reset: Santorum hasn’t spoken much about Russia policy on the campaign trail. As senator, he supported NATO enlargement into Eastern Europe.

Arab Spring: The staunchly pro-Israel Santorum is strikingly pessimistic on this year’s revolutions in the Arab world, predicting that "recent dislocation of the old order in the Middle East will usher in a new one, and anti-Israel elements are working overtime all across the world to take advantage of this opportunity."

Other issues: Santorum’s Christian faith often factors heavily into his foreign-policy rhetoric. For instance, while discussing Europe’s current problems in July he said, "You go to Europe; church attendance rates in the single digits — secular society. Why? Because the government co-opted faith, because faith and the government are intertwined."

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