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Santorum defends Iraq stance

A pullout would cause terrorists to gain control, he said. GOP senator also discusses threats posed by Iran and North Korea.

U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum meets with the Times Leader editorial board on Friday. Santorum is fighting to keep his seat against state treasurer Bob Casey.

Times Leader staff photo/Don Carey

WILKES-BARRE – Sen. Rick Santorum said he knows his support for the war in Iraq has cost him votes, but he’s stood steadfast in his stance because he knows the safety of the United States, and possibly the world, is at stake.

He’s convinced the retreat so many are calling for would open the door for terrorists to gain control of that part of the world. Someone has to stand up and sound the alert, he said.

Whether you agree with him or not, his resolve to defend his beliefs shows he’s exactly the type of person Pennsylvanians need to fight for them in U.S. Senate, he said.

The war and threats posed by Iran and North Korea played heavily in Santorum’s meeting Friday with the Times Leader’s editorial board, with the Republican incumbent giving sometimes impassioned arguments in support of America’s continued presence in Iraq.

Santorum also stressed his work on domestic issues, including his role in brokering a consensus between Republicans and Democrats that allowed for passage of the Medicare drug prescription plan enacted this year. If re-elected, he vowed to continue to fight hard on other domestic issues, including reducing the federal deficit, energy conservation and immigration.

Whether he will get that chance remains in question as political polls show he continues to trail Democratic challenger Bob Casey, the state treasurer.

Santorum maintains Casey lacks the leadership skills needed to get things done in the Senate – skills he says he has honed during his 12-years there that included several important leadership roles.

Currently the third-ranking Republican, he would become the majority whip (assuming Republicans retain control of the Senate), which means every piece of legislation would come across his desk.

“I’m someone in a position to make a real difference in this country,” Santorum said. “Bob Casey is a nice enough guy, but he will never be a leader in the U.S. Senate and he will never be a leader in the Democratic Party.”

The Republican leadership has come under fire for the nation’s budget deficit, which was $247.7 billion as of the end of September. But Santorum said the deficit was caused primarily by a slowdown in the economy. Economic policies promoted by President George W. Bush have begun to have an impact.

“The deficit was not caused by spending going up it was caused by revenues that went down dramatically,” he said. “We’ve seen revenues go up in the last two years. Why? Because the economy is healthy and the markets are healthy . . . The policies we put in place are lowering the deficit, increasing revenue and creating economic growth.”

Santorum also stressed the need to continue to work on policies that would encourage energy conservation, which is critical to reducing energy costs, he said.

But it is the war in Iraq that has proven to be the most controversial issue, Santorum said.

“The war is not popular and I’m talking about the war,” he said. “I’m standing up and saying things no one else will say.”

Santorum said he supports President Bush’s overall policy, but he has been at odds with the president regarding his views toward Iran, whom Santorum believes to be a major threat.

“Iraq is not the problem. Iran is the problem,” Santorum said. “The president has done a horrible job describing that. He’s done a horrible job of confronting Iran.”

Santorum said he pushed for, and achieved, a new policy that places tougher sanctions on Iran. And he will continue to press the administration to more forcefully deal with other rebel nations that pose a danger, particularly North Korea.

“The reason I’m so passionate about this is I do believe this is the equivalent of the late 1930s,” Santorum said. “I’m not giving a doomsday scenario. These powers are still weak relative to us. They are not the great threat yet. But if we do the wrong thing in this country and the message is, ‘let’s get the hell out of there, we can’t afford it,’ we’ve given them exactly what they want.”

Despite what the polls show Santorum said he remains confident he can pull out a victory. He’s been the underdog before and prevailed. Regardless of what happens he will make no apologies for his stance on Iraq.

“Hopefully, no matter how this election goes, I’ve laid ground work necessary to have serious discussion about what we need to do,” he said. “I don’t want anyone ever looking back and saying I didn’t do everything I could. I believe this is as real a threat as we have ever faced.”

On the web

To hear an audio of clip of Sen. Rick Santorum’s interview, go to www.timesleader.com .

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