Santorum: ‘It’s America’s turn to preserve the world as we know it’

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Friday, April 6, 2007

Following his lecture Thursday night, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum sat down with The Herald to discuss the conflict he sees between Islam and the West, the war in Iraq and his own controversial reputation.

The Herald: Brown’s campus has a liberal reputation. What led you to agree to speak here, and how did you feel you were received by the audience?Santorum: I jumped at the opportunity to come here because this institution has a lot of America’s future leaders here, and any time you have an opportunity to talk to a group of young people who are in a position to make a difference in the rest of the country, you don’t pass up that opportunity if you believe in the things that you say. As far as how as I was received here, it couldn’t have been better as far as I was concerned. The students were polite, attentive, asked, by and large, thoughtful questions … overwhelmingly respectful and thoughtful.

You mentioned in your speech that America is at the start of a long battle. In this battle, what do you see as the next step? For example, you were very critical of the current Iranian leadership. Do you feel the United States should take military action against that regime?Let me just say that I agree with every other politician running for president: Iran cannot get a nuclear weapon. Iran is fundamentally different than any other regime out there. … The president of that country has said he will blow Israel off the face of the Earth. You can ignore it. We’ve ignored people who have said those things in the past and we have paid a very heavy price. I don’t think we can ignore it.

He has also threatened the existence of the United States on repeated occasions. We need to use everything now, short of military action, to make sure that we change the government in Iran. I think that is the highest priority in the region. Well, the highest priority is stabilizing Iraq, but in conjunction with that – equally high priority – is to foment a change in the government of Iran.

With regards to stabilizing Iraq, what do you consider “victory” in the war in Iraq?It’s the opportunity for a stable democracy to exist. We have a democracy (in Iraq). It is stable in the sense that it is a freely elected government – we haven’t seen a coup – but it’s also got 150,000 American troops there. … You’re not going to have a completely peaceful country and you have to tolerate some level of anti-government activity, but what we have to do is better secure Baghdad and al-Anbar province …

Gosh, I’ve talked to friends of mine who have been up in the Kurdish area – you think you’re in Turkey. There’s no violence. There’s cranes all over the place, there’s building, people are safe, they’re out in the streets all hours of the day and night. It’s in Iraq, but you would never know it’s Iraq.

It’s possible for people to live together and to do these things. We just need to get to the point where we’ve damaged the insurgency, we’ve hit their infrastructure hard enough, we’ve taken away their bomb-making capability, we’ve sealed up the borders better, we’ve got cooperation.

You’ve been noted for your outspoken views on social issues and foreign policy, leading some critics to call you a “polarizing” figure. Do you agree with that assessment, and do you think that adopting more conciliatory rhetoric might make you a more effective politician?I’ve never considered myself a polarizing figure. I consider myself someone who has beliefs in certain things and says them.

People say that I have polarizing viewpoints because of a handful of social issues thaat the media finds offensive. I stand up for traditional marriage, I stand up for the right to life, I stand up against embryonic stem cell research, I don’t believe in assisted suicide.

Most politicians don’t talk about those issues. Most politicians just, they vote that way, they vote the way I vote, but they don’t say anything. So when you say something, then you’re considered polarizing.

If you’re on the other side, and you stand up and you fight for gay marriage, and you fight for the right to choose, and you fight for all those things, you’re not polarizing. You’re only polarizing if you stand up and fight on the other side. It’s a rather unfair double standard. (Calif. Democratic Sen.) Dianne Feinstein gets up in these debates … and says rhetoric twice as inflammatory as mine. She’s never considered a polarizing figure because the media agrees with her.

You’re only a polarizing figure if the media doesn’t agree with you. … The double standard in the media is ridiculous, but it is what it is, so you just have to deal with it.

… I went out of my way to argue passionately for what I believed in, making it very clear that I was not attacking any one person or that person’s beliefs, but attacking the ideas. That’s what discourse is supposed to be.

Back to the Middle East. Do you see the Western and Islamic worlds you talked about in your speech co-existing in the future, and if so on what terms?I think it has to. Look, one of three things is going to happen. Either we will defeat and oppress and suppress the Islamic world – the radical Islamic world, moderate and reformist Islam will win out in an internal struggle within Islam and control the radical elements within its faith, or the radical elements within its faith will conquer the West. … I think the best is the middle one.

Through our efforts to secure our country and the world against the radical elements of Islam, we give the opportunity for reformers within that faith, and moderates within the faith, to regain control – particularly in the Arab world, which is where it’s most virulent. I think we need to try. … I think democracy is the best opportunity for a long-term solution.

I think undemocratic gets you Egypt and other countries where it just foments underneath the surface – gets you Iran, gets you a lot of places where the radicals can appeal to populist elements in the country to eventually overthrow the dictatorship. Right now I’m not saying we should argue – being in a war in Afghanistan and Iraq and other fronts – that we should try to open another front in Egypt. (Egyptian President Hosni) Mubarak is not a great actor in my opinion, the house of Saud is not a great group of leaders in Saudi Arabia. They’re a huge problem on the international scene. But I’m not suggesting that we need to tackle that right now.

In the 2008 presidential race, do you see any candidates who come close to sharing your understanding of the problems that America faces? If not, do you think any candidate will step in to fill that void? Would you consider being that candidate?The answer to that last question is no. The answer to the other two is: So far there’s no one there that I’m completely comfortable with. That’s why I haven’t endorsed anybody. There may be someone who gets in. We’ll have to see who does. At this point I’m perfectly content to be a Fox News contributor and comment on these things.

Do you see yourself running for office again in the future?I’m 48 years old. I know I look younger. But I’ve got six kids at home, I’ve got a lot of work to do, I’m happy doing what I’m doing. At some point I may run for office again, but no current plans.