Others have already remarked on former Senator Rick Santorum’s surprising expression of support for Iranian gay rights in last night’s GOP presidential primary debate in Iowa, support which evidently applies only to countries whose regimes he wants to topple. The Cable’s Josh Rogin also has a good rundown of the debate’s foreign policy misstatements.
I want to focus on another part of the exchange between Rep. Ron Paul and Santorum, in which Paul responded to Santorum’s assertion that “Iran is a country that has been at war with us since 1979″ by saying that Santorum “is wrong on his history. We’ve been at war in Iran for a lot longer than ’79.”
PAUL: We started it in 1953 when we sent in a coup, installed the shah, and the reaction — the blowback came in 1979. It’s been going on and on because we just plain don’t mind our own business. That’s our problem.
A bit later, Santorum had a chance to respond:
SANTORUM: Well, anyone that suggests that Iran is not a threat to this country or is not a threat to stability in the Middle East is obviously not seeing the world very clearly. He sees it exactly the way that Barack Obama sees it, that he has to go — we have to go around and apologize for the fact that we’ve gone out and exerted our influence to create freedom around the world.
I don’t apologize for that. I don’t apologize for the Iranian people being free for a long time and now they’re under a mullacracy that tramples the rights of women, tramples the rights of gays, tramples the rights of people all — all throughout their society and it’s the greatest supporter of terrorism in the Middle East and around the world.
While Paul is right to point out that Iranian hostility to the U.S. didn’t simply spring out of nowhere in 1979, his characterization of the U.S. role in the 1953 coup that removed Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh as “war” is pretty strange, and his “because we just plain don’t mind our own business” explanation of America’s foreign policy problems simplistic.
On the other hand, Santorum’s claim that the toppling of Mosadegh and the installation of Mohammad-Reza Shah Pahlavi was an example of the U.S. going out “to create freedom around the world” is simply ridiculous, as is his claim that the Iranian people were “free for a long time” under the Shah, a dictator so corrupt and brutal that the Iranian people eventually overthrew him in a revolution. The fact that that revolution was quickly co-opted by forces as brutal as the Shah is a tragedy, but not an argument in his favor.
Santorum’s rosy view of a corrupt, dictatorial regime like the Shah’s is, however, not particularly surprising. Back in February he criticized President Obama for siding with Egyptian protesters and accused him of “throwing [Egyptian president] Mubarak under the bus.” But I suppose Santorum would say that the Egyptian people were “free for a long time” under Mubarak, too.
Cross-posted from Middle East Progress.