Rick Santorum on ISIS: ‘Bomb Them Back to the Seventh Century’

The former senator touted his national security credentials at CPAC on Friday.

National Journal
Nora Kelly
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Nora Kelly
Feb. 27, 2015, 8:43 a.m.

The na­tion­al se­cur­ity is­sues fa­cing the United States today are old hat for Rick San­tor­um.

Speak­ing at the Con­ser­vat­ive Polit­ic­al Ac­tion Con­fer­ence on Fri­day, the former Pennsylvania sen­at­or em­phas­ized his eight-year ten­ure on the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee. He said that he “worked to re­tool our mil­it­ary” to com­bat ter­ror­ists in the days be­fore and after Septem­ber 11—and that an­oth­er re­tool­ing is in or­der today from the next com­mand­er in chief.

“We need someone with real ex­per­i­ence to be able to re­build our mil­it­ary,” San­tor­um said. “The like­li­hood that we’re go­ing to face a former sec­ret­ary of State means that we need someone who has a long and deep un­der­stand­ing of the threats that con­front us, par­tic­u­larly the threat of rad­ic­al Is­lam.”

The threat of the Is­lam­ic State, he said, should be countered with a more ag­gress­ive U.S. mis­sion. “If IS­IS wants to es­tab­lish a sev­enth-cen­tury ca­liphate, let’s ob­lige them by bomb­ing them back to the sev­enth cen­tury.”

San­tor­um said the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s for­eign policy strategy has hurt Amer­ic­an cred­ib­il­ity world­wide.

“In fact, the pres­id­ent’s pop­ular­ity is so bad around the world today that I heard this re­port from a source that the Kenyan gov­ern­ment is ac­tu­ally de­vel­op­ing proof that Barack Obama was ac­tu­ally born in Amer­ica,” he joked.

In re­cent months, San­tor­um—a former sen­at­or froom Pennsylvania who edged out Mitt Rom­ney for a sur­prise first-place fin­ish in the 2012 Iowa caucuses—has played up his ex­per­i­ence on na­tion­al se­cur­ity, deem­phas­iz­ing the strict so­cial con­ser­vat­ism he built his brand on.At Fri­day’s ap­pear­ance, San­tor­um said he long ago pre­dicted the threat cur­rently posed by ter­ror­ists abroad, giv­ing his farewell ad­dress in the Sen­ate about rad­ic­al Is­lam, which he called “the gath­er­ing storm of the 21st cen­tury.” He said his ter­ror­ism-re­lated ex­per­i­ence goes back even fur­ther, when after 9/ 11 he stud­ied al-Qaida, find­ing that “this is an en­emy that has been at­tack­ing the West for over a thou­sand years.”

In a CBS af­fil­i­ate in­ter­view on Thursday to pre­view his CPAC ap­pear­ance, San­tor­um said his for­eign policy-fo­cused speech is de­signed to show­case the “mes­sage that the Re­pub­lic­an Party has to ar­tic­u­late in or­der to be suc­cess­ful, who­ever the can­did­ate is.”

San­tor­um clearly sees him­self as that can­did­ate already. He has been slowly build­ing his 2016 cam­paign since at least early 2014, as­sem­bling fun­draisers, grow­ing his Pat­ri­ot Voices su­per PAC, and meet­ing with ad­visers to talk strategy (in­clud­ing wheth­er he should ditch his sig­na­ture sweat­er-vests). He’s surely hop­ing the slow build pays off—San­tor­um was largely un­der­es­tim­ated in the 2012 primary un­til his Iowa vic­tory, and he’ll likely be writ­ten off this time around, too.

In the years since he last held of­fice in 2007, San­tor­um has softened a bit on pro­claim­ing con­ser­vat­ive so­cial val­ues, rightly ex­pect­ing that the Re­pub­lic­an base knows where he stands and try­ing to ap­peal bey­ond the fam­ily-val­ues crowd. His vo­cal an­ti­abor­tion, anti-gay-mar­riage stances led to a whop­ping de­feat in the 2006 midterm elec­tion against Demo­crat­ic Sen. Bob Ca­sey, in what one poll­ster called “a ref­er­en­dum on Rick San­tor­um” whose “con­front­a­tion­al style … po­lar­izes the elect­or­ate.”

In 2012, San­tor­um began switch­ing gears, pro­mot­ing his blue-col­lar roots and pop­u­lism in an ef­fort to con­trast him­self with blue-blooded Rom­ney. This time around, his pitch is sim­il­ar, centered on build­ing a “pro-work­er” Re­pub­lic­an Party.

On Fri­day, he cred­ited his Iowa vic­tory to that very idea. “I won be­cause I stood for someone: the little guy, the Amer­ic­an work­er. And if we’re go­ing to win in 2016, we need to stand for the little guy, too.”

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