At the end of Saturday night’s debate for the Republican presidential candidates, the field was asked to offer an example of something they’d learned from one of their GOP rivals. Newt Gingrich pointed to the former senator from Pennsylvania.

“Rick Santorum’s consistency and courage on Iran has been a hallmark of why, if we do survive, it will be in part because of people like Rick who’ve had the courage to tell the truth about the Iranians for a long time.”

If we survive? Seriously?

As Andrew Sullivan asked, “Does Gingrich really believe that the US faces an existential threat from Iran? Or is he running for the Likud party?”

Dan Drezner, who’s generally pretty level-headed despite a center-right worldview, went much further when responding to Gingrich’s remark.

Now, this was practically a throwaway clause, but still, how can I put this clearly … this is f***ing insane. Totally, completely, utterly f***ing insane.

Even a nuclear-armed Iran led by the current regime of nutball theocrats cannot threaten America’s survival. I get why the United States is concerned about Iran going nuclear, and I get why Israel is really concerned about Iran going nuclear. The only way that developments in Iran could threaten America’s survival, however, would be if the US policy response was so hyperbolic that it ignited a general Middle East war that dragged in Russia and China. Which … come to think of it, wouldn’t be entirely out of the question under a President Gingrich.

It would appear the disgraced former House Speaker was serious about this, by the way. Gingrich actually seems to believe that a nuclear-armed Iran isn’t just a threat, but an existential threat to the United States. No one in the West believe Iran going nuclear is inconsequential, and certainly no one welcomes such a development, but if Gingrich actually believes his own rhetoric on this, his approach to foreign policy is deeply silly.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.