Politics & Policy

The L Word

A clear Keystone leadership choice.

We need to go out there and continue to fight this war on Islamic fascism. Not just, as my opponent likes to focus on, just the war in Iraq. That’s a front of a multi-front war in which we’re fighting against an enemy that’s a very dangerous enemy.

As you know, Tim, I’ve been giving speeches not just in Pennsylvania, but here in Washington, talking about the importance of focusing the American public on the terrific potency of the enemy that we face. This is an enemy that uses a tactic that is a very effective tactic against us, called terror, because they don’t care about life, and we do. And so when you have — when you match up those forces, people who don’t put on uniforms, people who are willing to die for their cause, and want to die for their cause, makes it a very difficult enemy to fight, one that we have not successfully fought in the past — or I shouldn’t say successfully, one that we haven’t fought in the past.

So we have a very difficult enemy. We have an enemy that now is trying to get nuclear weapons in, in, in the form of Iran, and one that — you know, we can ask all these questions about process and procedure, most of which I would argue have been answered already. The real tough questions is how do you win this war? How do you go out and, and, and prosecute a war that — successfully?  And I’ve laid out a very clear vision on that, and my opponent has not.

In the political fight of his life, in an environment that is tiring of war, Santorum insisted on talking even more about Iran. In fact, when moderator Tim Russert insisted Santorum “stay on Iraq,” the senator refused. He said:

[W]e can’t — you can’t ignore the fact that we are, we are fighting this war on multi-fronts, and Iraq is simply a front. And Iran, which is, which is the principal stoker of this, this Shia/Sunni sectarian violence, would love nothing more to see than the Iraqi democracy fail because of that. This is a tactic of Iran to disrupt the — our, our efforts in Iraq by, in fact, trying to defeat the Sunnis. So there’s, there’s no question, this is a very complex war.

But understand, at the, at the heart of this war is Iran. Iran is the, is, is the problem here. Iran is the one that’s causing most of the problems in, in Iraq. It is causing most of the problems, obviously, with Israel today. It is, it is the one funding these organizations. And is the, is the country that we need to focus on in this war against Islamic fascism.

In defending our going into Iraq in the first place, Santorum would also say:

It is important that we are in the, the Middle East right now and, and confronting this broad war that we are involved in against Islamic fascism.

The bottom line is that we are now five years, almost, from September 11th. No one gives anybody credit for the fact that we have not had a serious — any kind of terrorist attack in this country. The reason we haven’t is because we’ve taken it to them where they are. We’ve taken it to them. We’ve disrupted their networks, not just in Afghanistan, but we have — remember, the president’s speech on the, on the night several weeks after 9/11 talked about we were going to go after terrorist organizations and sponsors, state sponsors of terrorists. There is no question Iraq was a state sponsor of terror, and we went after them. We had legitimate reason. The United Nations said that they weren’t complying. We thought at the time that they had weapons programs. We had bad intelligence. But you know what? I’m not — I don’t play Monday morning quarterback. That’s not, that’s not what you do here in Washington, D.C. You take all the information you have, you make the best decision you possibly can. And based on the information we had, there is no question that Iraq should, that the Iraq war should’ve commenced.

Casey deserves credit for not jumping on the “deadline” bandwagon. But not much more can be said for his position, other than it feeds into general voter frustration about how things are going in Iraq.

I don’t agree with a lot of what Pennsylvania radio talk-show host Michael Smerconish has to say about Santorum on the issues — because Smerconish and I (and Santorum) disagree on a bunch of issues, including Plan B and even Iran. But Smerconish is right on when he says that Casey exhibits “no evidence of having studied and comprehended the issues.” (Smerconish, meanwhile, praises Santorum as “a man of rare substance and conviction.”)

Even among the “draw” commentators, two Philadelphia Daily News writers conceded that Casey “blew his first impression” when it came to Iraq. But it’s more than that.

Santorum speaks naturally and clearly about the war against Islamofascism — explaining the war better than most members of the Bush administration do — including the president of the United States himself. You saw that in the debate Sunday, you saw that when he spoke at the National Press Club this summer, you’ll see it if you catch him on the campaign trail or in the Senate. And he does so despite the fact that it’s a downer on the campaign trail. Who wants to hear about the threat of Iran? Or how we can’t pull troops out of Iraq? Or about there being no quick and easy solutions? Well, serious voters in a country under attack should be able to take it. And serious voters can recognize leadership, even in an electoral environment where “change” seems to be the most favored word.

Conservatives may grumble about (what really need to be) bygones by now — Arlen Specter and Pat Toomey, another race, another time. Libertarians may think only of gay marriage and write him off. (And, yes, if Rick Santorum loses it will be seen as a major loss for social conservatives.) But if you are a Pennsylvania voter, and if you remember that the plane headed toward Washington, D.C,. that went down in a Keystone State field five years ago wasn’t an isolated incident but part of a larger war being waged against us, Santorum’s a guy you want back in the Capitol — and in the Senate leadership — come January. That Meet the Press debate may not have been an oratorical event to be remembered, but it did its job of clarifying the issues at stake; it was an opportunity to see that Pennsylvania voters face a crucial choice in November, one that will affect us all.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.

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