- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2006

Sen. Rick Santorum has been stepping up his public appearances and rhetoric recently, most notably on the foreign policy front. This might be due to Democrat Bob Casey’s conservative leanings on some of the issues voters identify as strictly Santorum pillars: abortion, embryonic stem-cell research and gun control. Mr. Santorum, however, remains a stalwart conservative voice in the Senate, the absence of which would constitute a significant loss.

As a frequent target of the secular left, Mr. Santorum has brought a refreshing conviction to the Senate throughout his career. This week, for instance, Mr. Santorum will be involved in debates concerning religious freedom and democracy promotion abroad. In a forum yesterday on “Religious Freedom, Democracy and the Middle East” in Pennsylvania, he joined Israeli parliament member Natan Sharansky, the renowned former Soviet dissident and democracy activist. Today, Mr. Santorum will be hosting “Religious Freedom Day on the Hill,” a half-day event at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, featuring speakers such as U.N. Ambassador John Bolton and Middle East scholar Walid Phares.

Mr. Santorum’s consistent advocacy on these issues is nothing new. But in matters of politics, forcing his opponent to ratchet up his own rhetoric on advancing freedom and democracy in the Middle East would put Mr. Casey in the position of disagreeing with the Democrats’ current cut-and-run agenda. It’s a smart tactic that plays well to Mr. Santorum’s strengths.

Mr. Santorum also hasn’t been afraid of confronting the Bush administration over its policy toward Iran. On Thursday, Mr. Santorum introduced an amendment to the Pentagon budget authorization bill that would have taken a harder line against Iran’s mullahs. In particular, the amendment called for strengthening restrictions on American-controlled businesses investing in Iran’s energy sector and authorizing $100 million for pro-democracy groups. A similar bill passed the House early this year in an overwhelming 397-21 vote, while Mr. Santorum’s amendment had garnered 61 co-sponsors.

In a 54-45 vote, the amendment was defeated at the last minute when the State Department sent a letter to various senators opposing Mr. Santorum’s amendment. At the same time, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice personally asked Sen. Joseph Biden, ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, to lead the charge against the amendment. As Mr. Santorum pointed out, the State Department’s opposition to the amendment is nothing new and perhaps understandable in light of the ongoing negotiations with Iran. But by providing political cover to otherwise hawkish Democrats and moderate Republicans, all State did was further Iran’s growing suspicions of America’s resolve.

Were Mr. Santorum less of a conservative, the Democratic plan to run the moderate Mr. Casey might have tempered the senator’s resolve when it comes to Iran and the Middle East. Fortunately, Mr. Santorum is not that kind of Republican.

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