He made the comments at a debate focusing on the 2008 election.
The Pennsylvania Republican also credited the Bush administration for pursuing effective counter-terrorism measures, re-affirmed his vote in favor of the Iraq war and suggested that Iran could be on verge of inciting a major conflict.
Santorum teamed up with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and Steve Forbes, editor-in-chief of Forbes Magazine, on the campus of Regent University in Virginia Beach. The Republicans made a case for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and other Republican candidates in this year’s election, addressing the question of “Which Party is Best Suited to Lead America?”
The Democratic side was represented by Geraldine Ferraro, a former congresswoman from New York, who was the party’s vice presidential nominee in 1984; Donna Brazile, the campaign manager for the Gore-Lieberman ticket in 2000; and Alan Colmes of Fox News, all of whom spoke in favor of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) as the more desirable presidential nominee.
Although the war in Iraq has had its problems, the Republicans in power have demonstrated that they have a firm grip on the challenge presented by radical Islam and the will to pursue necessary albeit unpopular polices, Santorum argued.
“The bottom line is that the United States has been safe since 9/11,” he observed in his opening statement. “Not one person on this panel, not one person in this audience, would have predicted on September 12, 2001 that we’d be sitting here today without another terrorist incident. That is not a mistake.”
In the question and answer segment, Colmes, a liberal commentator with Fox News, challenged Santorum on the concept of religious fundamentalism. Colmes pointed out that Christian conservatives such as Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee, and President George W. Bush also have invoked their faith.
In response, Santorum said the motivations of Christians like Palin and Bush are much different than those of jihadists who are out to invade, conquer and coerce others. Unlike radical Islamists, Christians are motivated by a desire to serve and to love others, he said.
The question Colmes raised on the differences between Christian fundamentalists and Islamic fundamentalists was particularly relevant to the audience at Regent University, Charles Dunn, dean of the school of government, told CNSNews.com in an interview.
“I think he [Santorum] handled the question well on a philosophical and theological basis,” Dunn said. “Sometimes you will hear people say that fundamentalist Christians are like fundamentalist Islamists, but they are very different, the endgame is very different, and that was brought out.”
Santorum’s defense of the Bush administration’s foreign policy also was noteworthy in that it is rare to find voices, even among Republicans, who are willing to rally behind the incumbent president, Dunn observed.
Dunn drew a comparison between the momentous decisions Bush had to make after 9/11 and the challenges Harry Truman faced as president at the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War.
“George Bush is like Harry Truman,” he said. “Flash back and you will see Harry Truman made some of most significant foreign policy decisions in history. Dropping the bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan, all were his decisions. Yet when he left office, his popularity ratings were lower than Bush’s. So I think history will have much more favor to cast on George Bush than it does right now.”
The success Bush has had in preventing more attacks on the American homeland and in overthrowing terrorist regimes does not make headlines because it is not in the nature of the news media to report on success, but it will be captured in history, Dunn said.
As CNSNew.com previously reported, coverage of the war in Iraq has declined dramatically in concert with falling U.S. casualties. (See earlier story)
Ferraro, the first female nominated as a vice presidential candidate, challenged Santorum on his vote in favor of using force against Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq. She said the war had been a mistake. Although 3,000 lives were lost on 9/11 there are now over 4,000 casualties connected with the Iraq war, she pointed out.
“Would you have voted for it [the Iraq war], if you had known there were no weapons of mass destruction (WMDs)?” Ferraro asked Santorum.
Recalling the debate over Iraq in 2003, Santorum told Ferraro that the threat of WMDs was just one of many factors and was not the primary reason he voted in favor of going to war.
At the time there were Democrats in Congress who had accused the Bush administration of failing to “connect the dots” in the months leading up the 9/11 attacks, he recalled.
Moreover, it was widely acknowledged that one of key lessons derived from the attacks on American soil was the importance of taking pre-emptive action, before terrorist plans could be launched, Santorum said.
Hussein’s support for terrorist groups and his history with chemical and biological weapons showed he was danger to the U.S. and to neighboring countries, Santorum argued.
Ferraro asked if it is now necessary to take action against Iran, since it is also a terrorist state with an appetite for weaponry.
“In the next months something is going to happen in Iran,” Santorum said. “I don’t know whether it will be us or another country, but Iran cannot get a nuclear weapon, period.”
Obama is ill-suited to lead America at this critical moment in history because he is far too inclined to treat today’s enemies as mere criminals instead of as dangerous extremists bent on converting “infidels” to Islam, Santorum argued.
On the other side, Ferraro said the current Republican administration has been responsible for serious missteps in foreign policy and that new leadership is needed.
As an ardent supporter of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), Ferraro acknowledged that she did not rush in to support Obama when he emerged as the nominee.
Ferraro told audience members she was ultimately swayed when Obama began to exhibit a stronger comfort level with key issues. She also likes his selection of Joe Biden (D-Del.) as his running mate.
Huckabee spoke out forcefully on the pro-life cause in his opening statement and drew a connection with the values expressed in the Declaration of Independence.
Brazile criticized the economic polices of the Bush administration and said an Obama presidency would translate into tax relief for average Americans.
One topic that has not received a lot of attention throughout the presidential campaign has been the future direction of the U.S. Supreme Court, Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), observed in his introductory remarks before the debate.
The next president could determine the court’s direction for many years to come he suggested.