(Darren McCollester, Getty…)
Reporting from Washington —
Former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum delivered a harsh assessment of President Obama's foreign policy Thursday, criticizing Obama for being too lenient with foreign enemies and for not believing in America's role of promoting freedom around the world.
In an hour-long afternoon speech at the National Press Club, Santorum, who aspires to take over for Obama in 2012, held nothing back, calling Obama's handling of the 2009 upheaval in Iran a "failure" and the recent unrest in Libya a "morass." In both countries, Santorum said, the United States needed to intervene immediately on behalf of dissidents.
"Let us make no mistake about what happened [in Iran] in 2009," Santorum said. "We sided with evil because our president believes our enemies are legitimately aggrieved and thus we have no standing to intervene."
Santorum has singled out Iran for years, calling for a regime change there since his days in the Senate, and spoke of Iran's threat to America often when campaigning for re-election in 2006 at a time when the war in Iraq was terribly unpopular. Santorum lost that election by 18 percentage points.
In his view, U.S. political leaders must forgo political correctness and identify enemies not as terrorists, but by their ideology. He said "radical Islam" extends from Africa to America and won't be stopped until the theology is understood the way fascism was in World War II.
"According to this administration, our enemy's theology and ideology doesn't matter," he said. "The administration has decoupled what fuels the enemy from its behavior."
Santorum, who served on the Armed Forces Committee in the Senate, has made his staunch foreign policy beliefs a cornerstone of his presidential platform, notably the idea that America is uniquely different from all other nations, or exceptional. For months, Santorum has worked into his public speeches the idea that Obama does not believe in American exceptionalism.
"A president who doesn't understand the greatness of the American experiment cannot confidently advance her interests," Santorum said.
The United States' role in advancing freedom in other nations has been lost, Santorum said, "because our president doesn't believe in it."
After his speech, Santorum was asked by a reporter why he did not discuss strategy in Afghanistan, a country that the United States has been at war with for a decade. Santorum said he was attempting to provide a broader vision for America's foreign policy, but then took the bait and criticized Obama for a withdrawal plan that is scheduled to begin in July.
Santorum, who has been campaigning tirelessly in the early primary states for more than six months, hinted that he may file his presidential exploratory committee with the Federal Election Committee next week so that he can participate in Fox News' South Carolina debate on Thursday.
"We're moving in that direction," he said.