By: Justin Raimondo

I was hoping never to have to write about the Santorum surge, yet I knew, in my hearts of hearts, it was meant to be. After all, the more Newt Gingrich talked – and talked, and talked – the more likely even Republican primary voters were to be repulsed by the vastness of his self-regard. It was inevitable that the Gingrich bubble would burst, and the next logical place for the thoroughly neoconized – that is, lobotomized — conservative “mainstream” to go is certainly not Ron Paul.

Santorum inherited those voters by default. For these people, the Iraq war never happened, or, if it did, it occurred in an alternate universe where the Iraqis pelted us with rose petals upon our arrival, instead of a hail of bullets, just like Richard Perle and the gang said they would. They have learned nothing since the Bush era: frozen in time, they are the party’s zombies, cheering the slogans of a long discredited cause. Santorum and Romney are competing for the Republican undead vote, with the latter doing his best to prove his pro-war credentials. The military option in Iran, said Romney during what was billed as the final debate, is not just “on the table – it’s in our hand.” Well, not quite yet, Mitt: you haven’t got your finger on the trigger just yet. And god willing you never will.

Yet Santorum manages to out-warmonger even this, boasting that he went up against George W. Bush in pushing “crippling sanctions” on Iran, and pointing to his campaign to fund Iranian exile groups – money he claims has been cut by the evil Obamaites, who are more than glad to fund the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Libya. Santorum scores extra points for implicitly pandering to the Obama-is-a-secret-Muslim meme: although we probably won’t see him signing on to the theory that Obama is the love child of Malcolm X, that part of Santorum’s debate performance was a dog whistle aimed in the direction of outright loons.

Like Michele Bachmann, whose penchant for making up “facts” may have had something to do with her campaign’s early demise, Santorum just doesn’t know what he’s talking about:

“When I was born, less than 10 percent of the federal budget was entitlement spending. It's now 60 percent of the budget. 

”Some people have suggested that defense spending is the problem. When I was born, defense spending was 60 percent of the budget. It's now 17 percent. If you think defense spending is the problem, then you need a remedial math class to go back to.”

In 1958, when Santorum was born, defense spending was 38 percent of the total budget: it’s now 58 percent if you count the interest on the military spending portion of total federal outlays and the costs of past wars, including veterans’ benefits and medical care. The “official” figure is 20 percent, so the Senator doesn’t even get that right. I understand what launching a presidential campaign on a shoestring entails, but if he’s going to make this one of his talking points, couldn’t he at least do a few minutes of pre-debate Googling?

It was amateur hour on the debate stage in Arizona on Wednesday night, and Santorum was far from alone is playing loose with the facts. Both Romney and Santorum have taken up this Hezbollah-in-Latin-America theme, a campaign talking point that stands right up there with the most far out of Laurie Mylroie’s fantasies and the Niger uranium forgeries in terms of credibility.  Yet that hasn’t stopped the neoconservatives from pushing this idea for years, with little or no real evidence to back it up: indeed, the lack of evidence provides plenty of space for pure speculation, which is what they’re best at.  You can be sure that when some right-wing “anti-terrorist” expert pontificates before a congressional committee, they’re bound to bring up the alleged “Hezbollah training camp” that supposedly exists on Margarita Island, a small, balmy island off Venezuela’s north coast. With it’s low-growing vegetation, small size, and paths well-worn by the inhabitants, Margarita Island is as unlikely a place for a terrorist training camp as, say, Fire Island. It would be discovered five minutes after being set up: the sound of shots would echo through the inlets and coves like thunderclaps. As Michele Salcedo put it in the Florida Sun-Sentinel:

“Recently, Gen. James T. Hill, the commander of the U.S. Southern Command, told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that ‘radical Islamic groups associated with Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Gamaat and others’ are ‘operating out of ..... locales, like Margarita Island off Venezuela.’

“Hill has never visited the island.

“The net fishermen, small-business owners, bank presidents and government officials who call Margarita Island home say Hill is all wrong. They would like him to take a drive around the island and through the peninsula to see what they already know.

“Strangers would have a hard time hiding here. The rough, low-growing vegetation offers no cover. Munitions explosions would echo off the mountains and amplify off the water. The coves and inlets are as familiar to the people who live here as the creases in their weather-worn faces. A dozen flights wing to and from Caracas each day, giving passengers on board a birds-eye view of the peninsula.”

The Romney-Santorum theme of a looming Latin American jihadist threat is a narrative that defies refutation for the simple reason that there is zero evidence to support it. When one boils down these reports, such as one issued by the American Enterprise Institute, the most one can say is that Hezbollah’s fundraising activities are international in scope and include contributions from some sources in Latin America. This is a very far cry from setting up operational centers and “terrorist training camps,” but that doesn’t deter the authors of this particular narrative, who aren’t interested in evidence, only in scaremongering. In short, the whole thing is a complete fabrication, on the same level as the Obama-is-a-secret-Muslim meme. All of which makes it hard to take the two leading Republican candidates seriously.

The complete lack of any thoughtfulness should be worrying to those few Republicans left who care about such things. “The world is more dangerous,” says Romney. “It is not safer.” Yes, after a decade of constant warfare, after invading and occupying two Muslim countries and striking from Somalia to Pakistan, we are definitely much less safe – but whose fault is that? Romney would escalate the very policies responsible for increasing the danger to all Americans.

On the question of regime change in Syria, Romney and Santorum are in total agreement, declaring we ought to arm the rebels, along with Turkey and the Saudis. Why this wouldn’t turn into another Libya, neither bothered to say, although I wouldn’t want to be the one who started the Santorum-is-a-secret-Muslim meme, now would I?

The foreign policy portion of this debate underscored the fundamental unseriousness of the leading Republican candidates. Their fundamental dishonesty – are we really going to abjure any cuts in the military even if it means bankruptcy? – imbues these debates with an air of childishness: one feels as if one has been teleported back in time, to one’s high school election for class president. As the only adult onstage, Ron Paul shone in comparison.

The problem is that we’ve become a nation of babies: total narcissists who believe the world not only revolves around us, but that the laws of economics and of common sense itself are subject to our whims. In such a world, one can indeed have an empire and a welfare state and never have to worry when the bills come due – because, after all, babies don’t pay bills, do they?

This was Paul’s lament Wednesday night, when he said, in a tired voice: well I’ve tried the moral argument, and all the other arguments, and I haven’t gotten anywhere, so maybe the economic argument will work. I’m paraphrasing Paul, but in essence he said: “We’re broke, and we can’t afford all these wars.”

I’m afraid not even the economic argument will work on these “free market” Republicans. The reason it won’t work is because the Republican party is committed to permanent warfare as a matter of high principle, one that trumps economics, and everything else, including the laws of morality. Paul invokes the spirit of Robert A. Taft, but that strain of Republicanism is long since dissipated into political insignificance – although the Paul campaign may be a harbinger of its revival, Paul’s showing in the primaries hasn’t yet demonstrated that.

Polls show a good part of Paul’s support – which we can translate, for our purposes, into support for anti-interventionism – comes from independents, young people, and swing voters leaning Democrat. In short, it comes from precisely those voters who will be deciding the next election – not from Republican base voters, whose foreign policy views are frozen in time and impervious to rational argument.

Speaking of being impervious to rational argument, I see the Santorum camp is floating the rumor that Romney is offering Paul the vice presidential slot in return for an “alliance.” This is much like the Obama-is-a-secret-Muslim rumor in that it cannot be refuted – because there’s nothing to refute. As I’ve pointed out before, Paul has attacked Romney often and hard: there’s nothing to this “alliance” other than the overworked imagination of one Washington Post reporter and, now, Team Santorum. We’re even hearing it may be Rand Paul, Ron’s son and the freshly-elected Senator from Kentucky, who’s up for the vice presidency. Since this possibility is contingent on Ron and/or Rand actually, you know, endorsing Romney, such a scenario seems highly unlikely, to put it mildly.

What’s funny is that the Santorum camp – and the political reporters pushing this non-story so strenuously – are utterly clueless about what drives the Paul campaign. It’s been so long since they’ve seen an honest politician at the head of a principled movement that they can’t even understand the concept. Ideologically, the Paulians are light years removed from all the other candidates, and no amount of cajoling – or bribes – will bring them into the fold. No, not even the prospect of Rand Paul a heartbeat away from the presidency, which isn’t going to happen in any event.

"Published originally at EtherZone.com : republication allowed with this notice and hyperlink intact."

Justin Raimondo is Editorial Director of AntiWar.Com. He is a regular columnist for Ether Zone.

Justin Raimondo may be contacted at egarris@antiwar.com     

Published in the February 27, 2012 issue of  Ether Zone.
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