Lessons from Iowa: It's [Not Just] the Economy, Stupid

It’s nearly impossible to forget the mantra leading up to Bill Clinton’s election as president in 1992: “It’s the economy, stupid.” The endless recitation of this phrase allowed Clinton’s campaign, and the Clinton sycophants in the media, to keep attention off the former governor’s sexual infidelities, the inexplicable returns he (and his wife) received on investments in Arkansas, and myriad other skeletons that lay stacked behind his closet door.

Since then, “It’s the economy, stupid” has been used by both Democrat and Republican candidates, and it has seemed to fit the bill well each time it has been employed. But this election cycle, things are different. And although our economy is in the tank, foreign policy is crucial and equally important in the minds of Republicans as the primaries begin. In fact, the mantra we ought to be chanting this time around is: “It’s [not just] the economy, stupid.” Rather, it’s the economy and countries like Iran, Israel, Afghanistan, and North Korea, along with groups like Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, among others.

How will we handle these countries? What shall we do to defend ourselves and our interests from these groups?

When Ron Paul supporters talk, they say they support him because “he’s the only candidate serious about gutting the federal government: the only candidate serious about fiscal overhaul.” But what good is a small government and a fat wallet if both come at the price of national security and the security of our allies? Yet it seems that with Paul this would be the very trade we’d make, as his efforts to shrink government cannot be divorced from his disparaging remarks about the war in Iraq–it was “useless“–and his frightening comments about Islamist expansion in Africa and the Middle East–“Why don’t we mind our own business?” As well as his position on ending aid to Israel and ignoring the war drums Iran is pounding.

On the other hand, one of the reasons behind Rick Santorum’s meteoric rise in Iowa was not just his conservative domestic positions but a foreign policy that sounds a lot like Ronald Reagan’s “peace through strength.” For example, as Iran taunts the U.S. and continues furthering its nuclear program, Santorum says it’s time to use the U.S. military to stop them. Said Santorum: “I would be saying to the Iranians, you either open up those facilities, you begin to dismantle them and make them available to inspectors, or we will degrade those facilities through air strikes.”

That is a strong, clear contrast with the actions we’ve seen Obama take and the rhetoric we’ve heard Obama utter.

And to be clear, both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich support a more aggressive handling of Iran as well, with Romney mocking Obama’s foreign policy of “pretty please” and Gingrich supporting covert strikes not only on Iranian facilities but even on Iranian scientists.

All this to say that the Republican who wants the nomination needs to remember we live in a dangerous world: a world in which the Atlantic and Pacific oceans can no longer keep us safe. Therefore, while we must shrink the size of government and do what is required to return to fiscal solvency, we must also remember “It’s [not just] the economy, stupid.”

We must return to peace through strength.