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Rick Santorum Is Not An Iran Expert

By Taylor Marvin

Paul Krugman once quipped that Newt Gingrich is ‘a dumb person’s idea of a smart person’. This may just be an unintentional byproduct of Gingrich’s hyperactive intellectual bluster, but the “dumb person’s idea of an intellectual” persona is an electoral strategy that Rick Santorum carefully cultivates.

Take this exchange from the recent New Hampshire debate (via Daniel Larison):

GREGORY: “Senator Santorum, I want to ask you about Iran. It’s been a big issue in the course of this campaign so far.

I wonder why it is, if America has lived with a nuclear Soviet Union, we have come to live with a nuclear North Korea, why is it that we cannot live with a nuclear Iran?

And if we can’t, are you prepared to take the country to war to disarm that country?”

SANTORUM: “They’re a — they’re a theocracy. They’re a theocracy that has deeply embedded beliefs that — that the afterlife is better than this life. President Ahmadinejad has repeatedly said the principle virtue of the Islamic Republic of Iran is martyrdom.

So when your principle virtue is to die for your — for Allah, then it’s not a deterrent to have a nuclear threat, if they would use a nuclear weapon. It is, in fact, an encouragement for them to use their nuclear weapon. And that’s why there’s a difference between the Soviet Union and China and others and Iran.”

Photo by Gage Skidmore.

Photo by Gage Skidmore.

See what Santorum’s doing here? This argument is ridiculous on its face — just because Iran’s governed by a Shi’a theocracy doesn’t mean that a nuclear armed Iran can’t be deterred, because there’s a psychological huge leap between ideologically valuing ideals of martyrdom and mass suicide. Santorum doesn’t bother to support this assertion at all. In his argument, there’s no daylight between the Iranian leadership’s “deeply embedded beliefs” and a suicidal mass psychosis. Santorum can’t just come out and argue that because Iran is run by a Muslim theocracy its leaders are necessarily crazy; even poorly informed Republican primary voters would have a hard time accepting this logic. Instead, he cloaks his argument behind a discussion of obscure Shi’a religious values, values that the average American has only a passing familiarity with. To the uninformed, this intellectual name dropping is impressive. That doesn’t change the fact that these religious values are irrelevant to deterrence logic — after all, many cultures place an emphasis on personal sacrifice, and the Iranian leadership’s historic behavior is much more in the mold of a rational actor striving for subregional hegemony rather than an irrational fanatic — but primary voters come away with the impression that a man who claims with a straight face that Iranians were free before 1979 is a foreign policy expert.

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. How did the rise of Islam change the course of Arab history?
    How was Islam linked to other faiths?
    What do you think was the most important contribution of the Muslim Empire to the world? Why?

    February 8, 2012

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  1. Irrationality and BMD | Smoke & Stir

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