The Iowa Caucuses are tonight, meaning it's do-or-die time for Rick Santorum, the GOP field's latest flavor of the week. A strong third place finish from Santorum will likely provoke a new round of media attention for the former Pennsylvania senator heading into the New Hampshire primary.
Buzzfeed's newly revamped political team was on the ground in Iowa this week to ask Santorum supporters why they are enthusiastic about the once-fringe candidate. In addition to unsurprising responses like "Good Christian Man" and "Strong Family Values," a young woman named Nheylin, describes Santorum's appeal as, "He knows about Honduras."
Considering some of the other candidates who have garnered attention in this primary, it's possible that Nheylin is simply giving Santorum credit for being aware of the existence of a small country north of Nicaragua. More likely, she's referring to his surprisingly consistent emphasis on Latin America policy.
Santorum attacked the U.S. handling of the 2009 coup in Honduras right from the start:
[T]he Honduran people had had enough. They sent President Manuel Zelaya, a Chavez wannabe, packing.
for them? Not according to President Obama, who has insisted on the
reinstatement of this democratically elected president. True,
Zelaya was democratically elected to the presidency - initially, in
2005. But ever since, he's been trying to copy Chavez's power grab.
That's not quite how most Latin American governments -- including pro-American ones -- or Honduras' own truth and reconciliation commission saw it. Also, the U.S. did eventually establish diplomatic relations with Honduras' new government. But Santorum does seem to have closely followed the issue.
Santorum has also been among the Republicans in the race beating the drum on the threat of Islamist infiltration in Latin America. This also ties in to his stance on Honduras:
Well, I've spent a lot of time and concern -- and Rick mentioned this
earlier -- about what's going on in Central and South America. I'm very
concerned about the militant socialists and there -- and the radical
Islamists joining together, bonding together.
concerned about the spread of socialism and that this administration,
with -- time after time, whether it was the delay in moving forward on
Colombia's free trade agreement, whether it was turning our back to the
Hondurans and standing up for democracy and the -- and the rule of law.
And we took the side with Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro
for a corrupt President. We've sent all the wrong signals to Central
and South America.
Again, I'm not quite sure that either side in the Honduras dispute really exemplified the "rule of law," but the argument seems to be that if Chavez and Castro are against something, the United States must, by default, be for it. Santorum even brings up Honduras when he talks about Iran:
If we are in a position where Iran is close to getting a nuclear weapon, then action needs to be taken. It simply can’t be ignored. I mean, Imagine this. Imagine
if Honduras has been making noise about trying to destroy the United
States and that they were developing a nuclear weapon, and we had a
report saying they were in a few months of developing a nuclear weapon.
Would we just sit there knowing that they had made comments that they
would destroy our country and they were about to get a nuclear weapon? Would we sit there and allow them do that? I don’t think any Americans would let that happen.
I don't quite follow this, but it's fair to say that if you're the type of Iowa voter for whom a strong stance on Honduras is the top priority, Santorum may be your man.
It makes sense given Santorum's fairly Manichean worldview, which is centered around a global struggle to confront the "cancer" of radical Islam, that he would fixate on Honduras. It's a case where the overall good guys vs. bad guys narrative (a corrupt, populist, anti-American leader is overthrown) can overwhelm the inconvenient facts. (Rather than resigning in the face of a popular uprising, he was dragged out of bed by the military and put on a plane out of the country in the middle of the night.) It's similar to his views on Egypt, where he has attacked Obama for throwing U.S.-ally Hosni Mubarak "under the bus" in favor of anti-Israel extremists. Evidently "democratic" and "rule of law" for Santorum, are synonyms for pro-American and pro-Israel.
Santorum's railing against the dark side get a little sloppy sometimes, such as when he promised to "go to war with China" or called Iran's Green Revolution the "real" Arab Spring. (One that conveniently didn't involve Arabs.) But unlike Romney, his foreign policy views are unflaggingly consistent, and unlike Paul, they're in line with the GOP mainstream. It's probably not enough to win him the nomination, but it's not surprising that he's getting a second look from the party faithful.
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