The president says "the threat of war is receding" but he’s wrong. The war is on, and its front lines are advancing towards us and our allies, above all toward Israel.
We're facing a global alliance that includes Russia, North Korea, China, Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador and of course Cuba. They are outspoken in their desire to weaken us and drive us out of their regions. Some of them--Iran, and the radical Islamists whose rise to power has been facilitated by this president--speak eagerly of destroying us, and our allies, especially Israel.
We have no strategy to deal with this gathering storm. Indeed, our leaders act as if things are getting better every day.
President Obama seems to believe that sanctions on Iran will compel the fanatical rulers in Tehran to abandon their nuclear weapons program, fearing they will lose power if our sanctions continue and intensify. Has he considered the case of North Korea? Fanatical rulers do not care if their people go hungry. Indeed they do not care about their people at all. If their people complain, they go to prison or to the torturer or the hangman. And then they laugh at us, and organize thousands of people to chant "Death to America!"
What does President Obama think they mean? It certainly doesn't mean "yes, America, you are right, let's reason together."
It means, we're going to keep killing your men and women wherever we can, from Iraq to Afghanistan. And why not? We have yet to make them pay a price for the slaughter.
Indeed, our political leaders never talk about that. They talk about nukes, and nukes alone, as if that were the only issue. But it isn't.
The Iranians and their creatures throughout the Middle East and deep into our hemisphere are killing and wounding Americans every day. And even as the president preens himself for sanctions that he reluctantly accepted when Congress demanded them, and which he delays whenever he can, Hezbollah is training and indoctrinating terrorists to our south, Iran and its allies are assembling weapons--including drones and missiles--in Venezuela, and a steady flow of Iranian military and intelligence personnel flows into hostile Latin nations on direct flights from Tehran.
A couple of weeks ago Univision presented an excellent documentary on “The Iranian Threat,” which told one frightening story after another about Iranian-Venezuelan-Cuban plans to attack the United States. The most famous of these was the plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to Washington, but another one—a two-step operation for a cyber attack, and then a physical assault, against American targets—precipitated the expulsion of Venezuela's consul general in Miami.
That’s a rare event, and it shows the gravity of the crisis we face. That global network weakens us in many ways, and threatens our security very directly. That network enables Iran and Syria to mitigate many of our sanctions. Money flows east, to Chinese banks, as the Europeans join us in blocking transactions with the Iranian Central Bank. Money gets laundered through Russia and Latin America. Weapons move from Russia to Venezuela, and then to Iran and Syria, enabling the Russians to pretend they are not arming the Middle Eastern fanatics.
And yet the president says the tide of war is receding.
Any concerned American looking at the facts must conclude that the tide of war is swelling. Iran has been at war with us since 1979, and is planning to escalate. That is why the global anti-American alliance was created. Shi'ite mosques in Venezuela are not the reflection of the religious convictions of the Venezuelan people; they are there so that Iranian agents can plan attacks against America.
When President Ahmadinejad recently toured the capitals of Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Ecuador, it was not a form of cultural diplomacy; it was primarily to increase the tempo of preparations for the war against America.
It is long past time for us to respond, but instead our president declares imminent victory.
We must respond, and even the Washington Post knows what is at stake: if you want an end to the Iranian nuclear weapons program, the Post's editorialists recently wrote, you have to bring down the regime in Tehran. This regime is not going to give up the dream of becoming a nuclear power. And everyone here knows what the Iranian leaders intend to do with the atomic bombs: they intend to remove Israel from the map, and then bring their jihad to the United States.
Some say that this means we have to launch a military attack against Iran. I don't believe that. I think most Iranian people want to be free of their evil regime, and millions of them have taken to the streets, in the face of security forces all too happy to kill them, to show their contempt for their leaders. It's a revolutionary force, and we should support it.
We defeated the Soviet Union without using military means. We supported the Soviet dissidents and refuseniks, and the Soviet regime collapsed. I believe we can do the same thing in Iran.
Supporting those who fight for freedom in Iran is both strategically smart and morally just, and any president with moral and strategic vision would do it.
But we don't. On the contrary, at the crucial moment a couple of years ago, President Obama reached out to the regime, not to the Iranian people. That was a shameful moment, and the shame continues. Neither the president nor the secretary of state, indeed not a single Administration official, has said "the regime must go." That language was reserved for long-time American friends like Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. Even in Syria, an enemy, the president reluctantly called for a new government only after the slaughter had reached such a level that even the Arab League said change seemed necessary.
Paradoxically, President Obama’s constant call for open negotiations with Iran only convinces them that they can do anything they wish—even kill Americans, or take them hostage, or frame them for espionage, as they have just done with a young Marine, and we will do nothing to threaten their rule. So our failure to move against the regime itself actually makes military conflict more likely.
What would a serious president do about Iran? What would I do?
I would do six things right away:
1. First and foremost, publicly embrace the opposition, and call for regime change. We need a president and a secretary of state with the political courage to say, "Khamenei and Ahmadinejad must go. The Iranian people must freely choose their form of government and freely choose their leaders."
2. Publicly condemn the regime's repression, the ghastly human rights violations, the systematic misogyny, the censorship of press, internet, access to international broadcasting (including VOA, Farda, etc.).
We need a president who will deliver the contemporary equivalent of President Reagan’s “Evil Empire” speech, which inspired a generation of Soviet dissidents and freedom fighters. And we need a president with the political courage to take action against the Iranian regime.
For example, we should take action to end the jamming of our (and other free countries') broadcasts. Meanwhile, we should deny Iran the ability to broadcast to the United States. A president who really understood the gravity of the crisis would shut down Press TV on the basis of reciprocity, just as the British Government has.
3. We must publicly support freedom for Iranian workers, and then work with international trade union organizations to build a strike fund, just as we did for the Solidarity trade union in Poland in the last years of the Cold War.
4. We must help members of the opposition to safely communicate with one another. During the Cold War, we provided fax machines to Solidarity and Soviet dissidents; today the equivalent technologies include anti-filtering software built into cell phones and computers. They may also include safe portals for Iranians to enter...these technologies will change constantly; we need to work with the smartest techies to stay ahead of the Iranian/Chinese censors and listeners.
5. We have to talk to the dissident leaders. This is tricky. The Green Movement insists that they have NO spokesmen or representatives outside the country. We need to establish reliable channels into Iran. It is best to do this without public attention, obviously, but it can be done.
6. We need a campaign of public support for Iran’s political prisoners. We must identify them individually, by name. American diplomats attending international meetings and conferences should have a list of political prisoners, and call for their release and humane treatment.
Even the Nazis found it more difficult to kill prisoners who were publicly named. It's easier to kill those who are anonymous, who don't receive mail, who aren't publicly supported. Once again, our strategic and moral imperatives coincide. We only lack a president with the courage to do what is right and necessary.
I want to close with a reiteration of what I said at the debate; not only does our President not have the courage to do what is right and necessary, in his efforts to appease our enemies he actually has sided with them against our allies.
Our policy in Central and South America under this administration has been abysmal. Take Honduras as an example. When the country’s legislature and judiciary exercised their constitutional right to protect the integrity of their democracy, President Obama said that their efforts were “not legal and that President Zelaya remains the president of Honduras.” This is after Zelaya, an ally of Chavez and outspoken critic of America, tried to abrogate its constitution and change it to seek re-election beyond his four-year term.
Instead of standing behind the parliament we sided with the despots in region who have been aligned with Iran. This administration has had a consistent policy of siding with the leftists and appeasing those who threaten our security. We haven’t stood up for our friends like Colombia, we haven’t undertaken the effort necessary to build the relational capital and trust necessary to develop a regional economic alignment to compete with the European Union. The EU understands in a global economy the only way to compete is to build economic alliances, why has this escaped our leadership?
I am committed to one of my first trips abroad as President to be to Central and South America, and I am committed to visiting it repeatedly. With the threat of radical Islam growing in the region, the parallels with the Cold War are even clearer. And with this radical ideology comes a new virulent strain of anti-Semitism that is taking hold in our hemisphere. We need a President who understands this threat and takes it seriously.
In closing, instead of leading the forces of democracy, this president lags behind the course of events. "Leading from behind"; waiting for others to make the hard choices and take the hard actions, and then jumping on board. We see this in the Middle East. We see this in Central and South America.
I reject this. I don't think we should wait until Israel is attacked, or until Israel, out of desperation and despair that the United States will not act, moves against Iran. We can’t wait until a missile is placed in Venezuela that can reach our soil and then cry foul.
We can’t wait for our friends to do the hard things, when we are better placed, have greater power, and have better options.
I will lead from the front, which is America's mission.
Rick Santorum, a former representative and senator from Pennsylvania, is a candidate for the Republican nomination for president. This piece was originally written to be delivered as a speech at the Orthodox Union Presidential Forum at the Boca Raton Synagogue in Boca Raton, Florida, on January 30, 2012. Rick and his wife Karen admitted their daughter Isabella "Bella" Santorum to a hospital for immediate care. Due to the circumstances, the campaign cancelled some of Senator Santorum's Florida campaign schedule.