The List

Iran Man

Rick Santorum says he's been studying Iran for a decade. But does he know what he's talking about?

Rick Santorum, who wrested some momentum from Mitt Romney this week by winning primary contests in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri, likes to cast himself as something of an expert on Iran, which has arguably become the top foreign-policy issue in the campaign. From making clear that he'd take care of Iran's nuclear problem if Tehran refuses to do so to warning of jihadists lurking in the Gulf of Mexico -- he's not shy about his obsession with the Iranian threat, or his hawkish stance.

In a November radio ad, for example, the Republican presidential contender asserted that he was the only GOP candidate discussing the Iranian threat. "Even Newt Gingrich said 'no one has done more than Santorum to alert America to the dangers posed by Iran,'" the narrator crowed. Santorum's campaign website boasts that he "has recognized the looming threat of Iran's nuclear ambitions for nearly a decade -- standing tall against both Republicans and Democrats who have discounted and dismissed the reality that this radical theocracy is intent on destroying Israel and Western civilization." Forget "nearly a decade" -- in Iowa, he told voters, "I spent ten years focused like a laser beam when I was in the Senate on the country of Iran."

There may be no better window into Santorum's views on Iran than his writings as a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC) -- a position he held between losing his Pennsylvania Senate seat in 2006 and entering the presidential race in June 2011. He joined the Washington, D.C.-based think tank, which aims to apply the "Judeo-Christian moral tradition to critical issues of public policy," back in 2007 to establish and direct the "America's Enemies" program -- an initiative that, unlike America's adversaries, folded after Santorum's departure, according to the EPPC. And, for Santorum, Iran was Public Enemy No. 1. "I know that I'm not the foremost scholar in the world, but I can offer a lot of ideas," he told National Review as he settled in at the think tank.

So, just what were those ideas, and how do they compare to Santorum's rhetoric on the campaign trail today? Under the disquieting rubric "The Gathering Storm," Santorum penned roughly 40 articles on Iran during his EPPC stint, scrupulously aggregating news and commentary to paint a picture of the multidimensional Iranian threat facing the United States. Here's a look at some of what Santorum had to say on the subject, in between posts on Latin American Regression, Extradition, and Alligators and Religious Freedom: A Pluralist Street with No Address in Saudi Arabia.


Expressing no doubts about Iran's determination to build nuclear weapons, Santorum described Iran as an existential threat to America's ally, Israel -- an enemy "well on its way to achieving nuclear capability as it also straddles a long track record of supporting Hamas and Hezbollah."

But early last year, Santorum warned that the United States itself could be vulnerable to an Iranian electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack -- a scenario in which a nuclear weapon is detonated above the United States, knocking out electricity and communication technologies across the country (the New York Times has noted, however, that many nuclear experts dismiss the threat). "An EMP attack would require only one nuclear missile detonation to bring our nation to its knees," Santorum warned, citing similar concerns voiced by former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ). "Whether by using EMP or other [weapons of mass destruction], Americans are still constantly under the threat of terrorism."

If anything, Santorum has adopted even more of a doomsday approach on the campaign trail, telling voters in Florida, Missouri, and South Carolina that they would not be safe in their states if Iran obtained a nuclear weapon. He says a Santorum administration would authorize more research on EMP threats and develop a plan to prevent "severe terrestrial and space emergencies that would take down our information systems or electrical grids" (Newt Gingrich has issued dire warnings about an EMP attack as well).

During his time at the EPPC, Santorum also worried that an emboldened Iran could tamper with the global energy supply in the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, or Suez Canal. "It is becoming increasingly clear that Iran's nuclear program is not merely a bargaining chip but a core component of the regime's stability," he observed in 2007 when discussing a threat by Iranian leaders to use oil as a weapon. Iran, he added, wants to "dominate the region and to challenge the West without fear of retribution."

Whitney Curtis/Getty Images 


Santorum didn't give Obama much of a honeymoon on Iran, noting in the spring of 2009 that Iran's advances toward a nuclear weapon made it "no time for an audacity of hope to reign supreme" in the White House. A hard line, he argued, was necessary right off the bat.

In June 2010, he reacted angrily to a new round of U.S. sanctions against Iran:

The Obama Administration's inept support of the opposition Green Movement in Iran, its complicity in the weak sanctions and their even weaker implementation through the U.N., and its lack of a Plan B despite nearly 16 months of diplomatic action that have yielded no significant results, is setting us on a path where Iran will likely become a top regional power with the additional leverage of nuclear weapons, which will accelerate Iran's ability to sponsor terrorism and Islamic extremism around the world.

Several months later, he lamented what two years of U.S. engagement with Iran had wrought. Iran, he noted, was courting Afghan President Hamid Karzai with sacks of cash ("and President Obama is worried about the influence of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on the U.S. election?" he marveled), paying the Taliban to kill American soldiers, supporting the Shiite militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon, deepening commercial ties with Venezuela, and beginning to fuel its Bushehr nuclear power plant. Since, Santorum only has stepped up his rhetoric as a candidate, calling Obama's Iran policy a "colossal failure."

Roger L. Wollenberg-Pool/Getty Images


In 2004, while serving on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Santorum authored legislation to support democracy movements in Iran and impose sanctions on the regime. During a reelection campaign in 2006 -- the year the bill passed -- Santorum declared that America was at war not with terrorism, which he labeled a "tactic," but rather with an "Islamic fascist movement" led by Iran. He stopped short of threatening a military strike on Iran, however, advocating the measures in his bill instead.

Yet while Santorum's EPPC posts reflect a continued fixation on human rights in Iran (he writes about Iran's persecution of religion minorities and arrests of women's rights activists, and compares Iran to the Taliban for stoning adulterers), they also reveal skepticism about the power of sanctions to stall Iran's nuclear program.

When protests, pictured above, erupted in Iran in June 2009 following a disputed presidential election, Santorum was positively giddy. "What is now indisputable on either side [of the Iran debate] is the state to which the 'structural underpinnings of the entire Islamic approach to modern political self-rule' are crumbling," he declared, quoting a New York Times op-ed. Santorum made it clear that he sided "with those who would help the courageous Iranian people overturn a nasty government that has denied them their rights, betrayed their confidence, and humiliated them in almost every conceivable way since June 12." (A year earlier, Santorum had criticized the media for referring to Iranian hard-liners as "conservatives" -- "as if conservatism is about imposing theocracy and depriving people of freedom.")

Later that year, Santorum praised a Washington Post column by Anne Applebaum arguing that the United States should confront Iran not with sanctions or military force but rather with a human rights campaign that involved funding dissident exile groups, flooding Iranian airwaves with anti-regime programming, and publicizing the Iranian government's crimes. But he sounded a note of caution. "My fear is that we're too late. Precipice point is an unpleasant place, and it's dangerously too bad that we waited until now to think hard about human rights, regime change, and velvet revolutions in Iran."

Santorum seems to have come around to this view as a candidate. While he still wants to fund pro-democracy groups and impose tough sanctions on Iran, he's now much more amenable to a military response. He thinks an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities may be inevitable and has pledged his support, even threatening that, if president, he'll authorize the destruction of Iran's nuclear program himself if Tehran refuses to dismantle it. He also wants to treat scientists working for Iran's nuclear program as enemy combatants who could be targeted for assassination.

Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images


When Santorum isn't talking about Iran, he's typically discussing Latin America. And often he's holding forth on both (the picture above shows Santorum with the son of Iran's ousted Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi during a 2006 news conference about Tehran's increasing ties with Latin America).

In his EPPC posts, Santorum repeatedly raises concerns about Iran's creeping influence among leftist, anti-American Latin American leaders. He's got a long list of worries: that Iran is receiving gasoline and uranium from Venezuela and dispatching its elite Qods Force to work with Venezuelan authorities; making investments in Nicaragua; partnering with Bolivia to launch a Spanish-language television station; and helping Islamic extremists and Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia groups gain a foothold in Latin America for recruitment and narcotics smuggling (analysts and U.S. officials disagree about how serious a threat Iranian-supported militant groups pose in the region).

Washington "lacks a creative vision to isolate and weaken the 'anti-imperialist alliances' between those independent Latin American countries and the boiling Islamic Republic," Santorum wrote in 2008. He's sounded similar alarms on the campaign, noting during a debate in Florida that "there is a growing network of folks [in Latin America] now working with the jihadists, the Iranians, who are very excited about the opportunity of having platforms 90 miles off our coast, just like the Soviets were." (In a column last fall, Santorum said the critical difference between Iran and the Soviet Union is that "Russia was an atheistic enemy who didn't believe in an afterlife" while the "Islamists ruling Iran view dying for its cause will be rewarded in the afterlife," thus rendering the concept of mutually assured destruction meaningless.)

Mark Wilson/Getty Images 


Shortly before launching his presidential campaign, Santorum viewed Iran's decision to rhetorically support many of the Arab Spring uprisings and cast them as Islamic revolutions with trepidation:

As always, America needs to keep a watchful eye on Iran -- especially the growing alliances between key Muslim countries. While democracy is generally good, these "democratic revolutions" could easily turn sour and ultimately lead to the caliphate; so "beware the revolutions." The administration must wake up to who the enemy is -- recognizing the Muslim Brotherhood as such, for instance -- and that the U.S. cannot continue with fickle friendships. That is how gathering storms precipitate.

While campaigning, Santorum attacked Obama for not supporting "a real Arab Spring starting in 2009 with the protests in Iran," though the media was quick to point out that Iran is not an Arab country.

Santorum may be the most vocal and hard-line critic of Iran in the Republican field, but Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are giving him a run for his money, during an election season in which candidates on both sides of the aisle have ratcheted up their rhetoric against Iran. In his State of the Union address, President Obama declared that the United States would "take no options off the table" in preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon -- diplomatic code for not ruling out military force. The true test, of course, comes the day after the election, when the victor decides whether to make good on his campaign promises.

Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The List

The Fallen

The 12 European leaders taken down by the financial crisis.



Lost power: Feb. 1, 2009

Circumstances: Iceland's banking crisis was something of a preview of things to come for the rest of the continent, and its government was the first to fall as a direct result of the economic crisis. Haarde, who had been in office since 2006, announced his coalition's resignation following weeks of street protests after Iceland's overleveraged banking sector collapsed.

Current state of play: Haarde was succeeded by Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir, the country's first female prime minister and the world's first openly gay elected head of government. After a dismal couple of years -- gross domestic product (GDP) contracted 9.6 percent in 2009 -- the bleeding now appears to have stopped, with growth projected at 2.5 percent for this year. A fierce debate over whether to join the European Union is likely in the coming year.



Lost power: March 12, 2009

Circumstances: Godmanis, who had been in office for just a little over a year, submitted his resignation to Latvia's president amid violent street protests, 50 percent unemployement, and a GDP contraction of 10.5 percent in the last quarter of 2008. President Valdis Zatlers nominated former Finance Minister Valdis Dombrovskis to succeed him. 

Current state of play: The financial crisis has decreased Latvians' real incomes by about 19 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The government has been forced to pass spending cuts and tax increases equal to about 15 percent of the country's economic output as a condition of IMF assistance. Growth is projected to return this year, but unemployment remains high and there's a major question mark over whether Latvia will be able to join the eurozone.



Lost power: April 14, 2009

Circumstances: Gyurcsany became Hungary's only post-communist prime minister to be reelected in 2006, but riots erupted shortly after when he admitted on a leaked tape that he had lied about the country's finances to get reelected. Unable to push through economic reforms, the Socialist leader Gyurcsany resigned, calling himself an "obstacle" to the country's efforts to recover from the credit crisis.

Current state of play: The Hungarian economy remains in a fragile state, with unemployment rising, business confidence dropping, and talks on badly needed European Union and IMF aid breaking down last month. Additionally, there are concerns about the future of Hungarian democracy following current Prime Minister Viktor Orban's crackdowns on the free press and controversial amendments to the constitution.  



Lost power: Feb. 25, 2010

Circumstances: In 2005, Yushchenko was a global democratic darling thanks to the "Orange Revolution" that brought him to power, overturning the results of a fraud-ridden election. By 2009, thanks to a worsening economic climate and political dysfunction, Yushchenko had the unenviable distinction of leading the world's least popular democratic government, with an approval rating of just 4 percent. In the 2010 election, Yuschchenko finished fifth, with just 5.5 percent of the vote. His former Orange Revolution rival Viktor Yanukovych took back the presidency.

Current state of play: Ukraine's economic outlook continues to be grim, with growth slowing toward the end of last year, unemployment at about 8.5 percent, and growing rates of homelessness. Additionally, NGOs say Yanukovych has nearly wiped out Ukraine's recent democratic gains with attacks on the free press, civil society, and the prosecution and arrest of Yushchenko's former prime minister and revolutionary ally Yulia Tymoshenko, widely believed to be politically motivated



Lost power: March 9, 2011

Circumstances: With historically low approval rates over his handling of Ireland's banking collapse, Cowen stepped down as head of his Fianna Fail party in January 2011, but stayed on until elections in March. But it couldn't save the party that had ruled Ireland for 60 of its 80 years of independence -- Fianna suffered the worst political collapse in Irish history. 

Current state of play: Following harsh austerity measures pushed through by current Prime Minister Enda Kenny's government and a $113 billion EU/IMF bailout in 2010, things seemed to be looking up for Ireland in 2011, with growth rates exceeding those of France and Germany. Unfortunately, the Irish economy is now projected to grow by only 1.3 percent in 2012, well below the government's previous predictions. Unemployment remains at 14.2 percent -- and that's artificially low, given the record numbers of young Irish who are seeking work abroad.   



Lost power: May 11, 2010

Circumstances: Brown arrived at 10 Downing Street in 2007 after 10 years as Tony Blair's chancellor of the exchequer. But his premiership was quickly derailed by Britain's spiraling credit crisis -- with debt reaching 12 percent of GDP -- the same level as Greece, at the time -- and unemployment doubling by the time the 2010 election rolled around. Labour lost 91 seats in the election and after 5 days of backroom negotiations, David Cameron formed a coalition government with Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.

Current state of play: The British economy has continued to shrink under Cameron, forcing the prime minister to defend the harsh austerity measures he has pushed through, though the Tories still enjoy an edge in popularity over Labour. The Bank of England is expected to announce within days that it is pumping billions more pounds into its quantitative easing program.



Lost power: June 21, 2011

Circumstances: With a similar debt crisis to Greece and Ireland, Sócrates first resigned in March 2011 after five opposition parties in Parliament rejected his austerity program, which included spending cuts and tax increases. It was the fourth round of austerity cuts that Sócrates had tried to push through that year and followed the approval of a $111 billion EU/IMF bailout deal for the country. Sócrates stayed on to lead a caretaker government until June, when his Socialist Party was defeated by Pedro Passos Coelho's Social Democratic Party.

Current state of play: Portugal continues to be mired in one of the world's deepest recessions, with its economy projected to contract 3 percent this year and unemployment at 13.6 percent. Despite a debt-to-GDP ratio of around 105 percent, Coelho says Portugal's debt load is sustainable. "We will not allow what happened in Greece to happen here," he said this week. 



Lost power: Nov. 10, 2011

Circumstances: Papandreou took power in 2009, promising to help right Greece's struggling economy and clean house after a series of corruption scandals. But after two years marked by painful austerity cuts, violent public demonstrations, and humiliating bailouts, Papandreou bowed out. The last straw was Papandreou's plan to hold a referendum on a bailout deal, which infuriated Greece's European creditors. Papandreou was replaced by Lucas Papademos, a former European Central Bank official with strong backing from Brussels. 

Current state of play: Despite his international credentials, Papademos has found it equally difficult to push austerity and bailout bills through an increasingly hostile Greek government and electorate. This week, Papademos and the leaders of the three parties supporting his government appeared to reach a deal which includes a controversial 22 percent reduction in the minimum wage in exchange for a new 130 billion euro bailout.



Lost power: Nov. 16, 2011

Circumstances: The three-time prime minister had survived a series of criminal and sexual scandals that would have brought down most politicians years earlier, but he finally announced his resignation last year after his failure to implement much-needed economic reforms prompted a revolt within his own party and a rift with his main coalition ally. President Giorgio Napolitano invited economist and former European Commission official Mario Monti to form a government following Berlusconi's resignation.

Current state of play: Since taking power, Monti has unveiled a sweeping austerity package which includes severe tax increases. Reaction from global markets has been positive. And European leaders likely breathed a sigh of relief over Monti's no-nonsense style after Italian borrowing costs had approached Greek levels under Berlusconi. However, the goodwill from the continent may not last long, with the former eurocrat repeatedly taking public shots at Germany, calling it the "ringleader of global intolerance."



Lost power: Dec. 21, 2011

Circumstances: Zapatero, who came to power in 2004, had only planned to sit for two four-year terms. But with Spain mired in its worst recession in 60 years, the prime minister stepped down early to give his Socialist Party a better chance of retaining power. Nonetheless, the party suffered its worst defeat since Spain's return to democracy. Conservative politician Mariano Rajoy took power promising sweeping economic reforms.

Current state of play: Rajoy inherited and unemployment rate of 22.8 percent and a budget deficit of 8 percent. His government passed a $20 billion austerity plan in January and plans to introduce a new labor plan next month.



Lost power: Feb. 6, 2011

Circumstances: Romania's economy actually grew last year, but not enough to save Boc, in power since 2008, who resigned this week amid large street protests. Boc had passed a 25 percent cut in public sector wages and new sales taxes in Europe's second-poorest country in order to continue to qualify for IMF loans. Romania's president named intelligence chief Mihai Razvan Ungureanu as Boc's successor.

Current state of play: Ungureanu has unveiled his new caretaker government, which is awaiting approval by Parliament. National elections are scheduled for next November, but those are likely to be moved up to the summer. The left-wing USL party is currently leading in the polls over the center-right coalition that includes both Boc and Ungureanu's parties. The economy is expected to grow at between 1.5 and 2 percent this year, but has a long way to go to catch up to pre-crisis levels.



Lost power: Will step down following election on March 10, 2012

Circumstances: The world's eyes briefly turned to Slovakia in October 2011, when the country's Parliament voted on approving the expansion of the eurozone's bailout fund, putting economic rescue plans for Greece and Italy in jeopardy. Radicova had threatened to resign if the motion was defeated, which it was -- by 21 votes. There was little appetite for bailing out Greece in one of the eurozone's poorest countries, which is itself facing high unemployment and sluggish growth. Parliament eventually approved the motion, under heavy E.U. pressure, two days later, but Radicova's government had already fallen.

Current state of play: New parliamentary elections are scheduled for March -- but without Radicova, whose short tenure as Slovakia's first female prime minister will come to an end. The leftist Smer Party, led by Radicova's predecessor as prime minister, Robert Fico, seems likely to win by a large margin.