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Santorum lays out foreign policy

Rick Santorum answers a question about how he would handle the unrest in the Middle East.

From NBC's Jason Seher
Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, sandwiched between trips to early presidential primary states New Hampshire and Iowa, delivered a foreign policy address that did little to distinguish his position from other declared GOP candidates.

The former Pennsylvania senator rehashed many conservative critiques of President Obama's handling of American foreign policy -- acting too slowly in Libya, allowing the Muslim brotherhood the opportunity to take hold in Egypt, cutting the defense budget -- and charged the president "does not understand the greatness of the American experiment and cannot confidently advance her interests." Santorum also outlined a 10-point foreign-policy plan that he contends would reverse course and reclaim America's "legacy of liberty" across the world.

“Sometimes the soft power example and charity is simply not enough -- not against hardened dictators who threaten to blow out all the moral lights around us,” Santorum said.

But demanding the United States “stand up” in solidarity with those fighting for peace, Santorum kept his policy address framed in purely ideological terms. Outside of enhancing the intelligence apparatus in the Middle East and continuing to provide anti-viral drugs to AIDS-plagued African nations, Santorum did not say how he would advance the goals of freedom on the international stage or even hint what that future would look like.

“We should be pushing for freedom,” he said, “but freedom does not mean right away. It may not mean democracy for a long, long time.”

Santorum argued the United States should not use military force unless there is a “clear path to victory” and it advances American national interests. Using this criteria, Santorum said President Obama erred by launching coordinated air strikes in Libya, even though he went on to argue the president has an obligation to stand up for principles of democracy “whether its Russia or China or Iran or Libya. When asked if he would have intervened in Libya, Santorum responded he “would have to have a lot more intel” before he answered that question.

On Syria, Santorum again deployed strong rhetoric but hesitated when asked if he would intervene there. While he said, “Syria does not deserve an ambassador; its protestors deserve support,” Santorum did not say what tact he would take in dealing with the nation -- although he did indicate removing that country’s leader, Bashar al-Assad, would be in the interest of national security.

Four years after he told Tim Russert Iran was at the center of an "Islamic Fascist" threat propelling the war in Iraq, Santorum reiterated many of his concerns about Iran. He painted the Ahmadinejad government as the chief advocate of an antithetical "worldview that opposes freedom of conscience" and fosters terrorism around the globe. Discussing the summer 2009 protests in Iran, Santorum accused the Obama administration of not being "ready when the spark struck." By not acting, according to Santorum, the president both missed an opportunity to end Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khomeini's rule and squandered the strong private support for the United States among Iran’s citizens.

Santorum's railing against Iran fed into his fundamental call for change in American rhetoric abroad. He argued the Obama administration's failure to identify Iran as "murderous thugs and theocrats" evidences its larger struggle to label nations that present problems for American foreign policy as enemies.

"We need to begin by seeing the world the way it truly is,” Santorum said. “We need to see evil for what it is and confront it; and we need to see decency for what it is and nurture it."

On proposed cuts to defense spending, Santorum said the president was sending the "wrong signal" at the "wrong time" to our troops spread across three fronts. Santorum argued cutting spending on defense programs was symptomatic of the Obama administration “leading from behind.”

“This is the one exclusive mission which no state, no group of individuals can do,” Santorum said. “This is the only area the president can do. [Cutting defense] shows that is a man who has his priorities upside down.”