By Rick Santorum
My passion for protecting and preserving freedom is a gift that comes to me from my grandfather, an immigrant who brought my father to this country and whose well-weathered hands mined coal in Southwestern Pennsylvania until he was 72. He left the totalitarian regime of Mussolini's Italy to bring his family to freedom.
He worked hard and committed himself to creating a better life for his children and grandchildren. He taught me how to treasure the gift of freedom, to have faith in God's grace, to achieve what American liberty offers to those who work hard and to love and support a family. The Pennsylvania town my grandfather called home is just a few miles down the road from the field where Flight 93 crashed on that beautiful, blue-sky September day; a day when radical jihadists declared war on America, in America, on our own soil. The passengers and crew bravely stood up for freedom.
Some wonder why conservatives like me have such a problem with the oppressive Castro regime of the relatively tiny Island nation of Cuba. We do because we believe in freedom and don't like the stink of oppression next door. We believe in the God-given dignity of all human beings, and we believe, like the American founders, that religious freedom and freedom of conscience is the foundational freedom for civil and political freedom and rights. Dictatorships like the former Soviet Union and Cuba believed and continue to believe this as well. This is why they seek and sought to oppress the Church and others who believe in the inalienable rights of life and liberty.
It is no surprise that the same Cuban regime that locked hands with the Soviet Union is aligned today with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Though Iran is not secular, the Iranian Mullahcracy opposes freedom, including religious freedom. They are not radical secularists but radical Islamists and the result is the same: They oppose liberty. Tehran has already demonstrated its desire to thwart freedom with whatever tools at its disposal. The U.S. must halt them in their march toward a nuclear weapon before it's too late.
Some wonder if I can get along with the Muslim world. I understand that there are 1.3 billion Muslims in the world and that many of our allies are majority-Muslim countries. I want to work with those nations and challenge them where and when they are wrong. I also understand, unlike President Barack Obama, that radical Islamists are not going away in 2012, and that we still need to be capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time in our foreign policy. We need to defend America and her interests and values while also engaging with "Three Cups of Tea" (or as many as are necessary) around the world. Conservatives, along with most Americans, desire peace, but we know that freedom is worth defending. Standing with strength and core principles separates the pursuit of peace from appeasement.
President Obama went to Cairo early in his presidency not to stand for our values and interests, but, as his subsequent actions have shown, to just drink tea. In his speech, he sought a "new beginning" for the United States and the world's Muslims. But he also gave his first interview as president to Al Arabiya television, apologized for America's past behavior, bowed before Saudi royalty, sided with the Palestinians against our ally Israel, did next to nothing in his first two years to forestall Iran's development of nuclear arms and released a National Defense Strategy which ignores the connection between radical Islam and terrorism.
I want to work with those in the Muslim world. But unlike President Obama, I will not bow before dictators, fanatics and thugs. I will not ignore the relationship between radical Islam and terrorism. I will not give in to those who oppose freedom. To do so would threaten the safety and security of the American people and turn a blind eye on those who are oppressed and struggling for freedom in other parts of the world.
And what has changed in Egypt since the president's speech? Yes, an initial new birth of freedom, but the result has thus far been an Islamist parliament in Egypt, turning an Arab Spring into winter. Coptic Christians and other minorities are dealing with the consequences, and there is growing uncertainty and risk for neighboring Israel. This is democracy rushed and reduced to voting alone - rather than one built into the DNA of democracy with properly understood and meaningful protections for political and religious minorities. We abandoned an imperfect but longtime American ally without a better plan B.
This confusion and these outcomes impact our own security, our other allies and the nations now struggling to define the meaning of freedom in the Arab Winter and around the world. This is not what the President of the United States says or does to those who oppose fundamental freedoms like radical Islamists in Egypt or elsewhere.
Much like Ronald Reagan called out for freedom in the symbolic heart of communism, I will call upon the Muslim world to tear down the walls of oppression that oppose freedom of conscience and religion, equality of women, the security of Israel and support violence and Jihadism, which inverts the concept of martyrdom from one who dies for his or her faith to one who kills for his or her faith. I will not coddle those who want to kill and destroy. I will seek peace with those who treasure freedom for all.
Christianity struggled with these issues of freedom of conscience and violence largely hundreds of years ago; Islam is struggling with them now. We will stand with the true advocates of freedom who define freedom not just by a ballot box, but also by meaningful protections for minorities. This is the message of freedom that should be proclaimed and practiced from Cairo to Tehran. This is consistent with universal human dignity, our values and our national security interests.
Informed Americans are opposed to those who want to kill and destroy, not to those who want to make peace and treasure freedom for all. I supported America's security and freeing Muslims and others from oppression in Iraq and Afghanistan. I stood for the Green Movement in Iran when President Obama sat down. I support freedom of religion - for Muslims and other religious minorities - but believe they should provide the same.
I also understand that at this time in history many of the most influential voices in the Muslim world come from intolerant and destructive strains of Sunni and Shia leadership and theology in places such as Saudi Arabia and Iran. Days before the election in 2006, I was still challenging America to stand against radical Islam and Iran at the height of unpopularity of the Iraq war not because of polling but because I felt it was the primary threat facing America. It's no accident that the vast majority of the 9/11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia, and that the Iranian regime exports anti-American and anti-Israeli terrorism around the world while pursuing nuclear weapons capacity. Radical Islamists oppose us not because of our policies, but because of our freedom.
As President of the United States, I will stand for America's interests around the world as well as universal and American values rooted in the God-given dignity of every human being. I understand with the clarity that we saw from Ronald Reagan that these are walls that need to be torn down, not remodeled or repainted. America should unabashedly stand for freedom - this includes freedom of religion and conscience, here in the United States and around the world.
We need to stand with the real freedom fighters. We need to stand with those human rights defenders wrongfully in prison in Cuba, Iran, China and around the world. Just as we did for those who stood up to communism, including Polish activist Lech Walesa and the late Pope John Paul II, who warned of the "death of true freedom" and observed that "freedom itself needs to be set free." Both have inspired me through my time with them and through their examples.
When Lech Walesa visited our nation a couple of years ago he offered this observation:
The United States is the only superpower. Today they lead the world. Nobody has doubts about it. Militarily. They also lead economically but they're getting weak. But they don't lead morally and politically anymore. The world has no leadership. The United States was always the last resort and hope for all other nations. There was the hope, whenever something was going wrong, one could count on the United States. Today, we have lost that hope...
It is time that America stop leading from behind and stand for freedom once again. Pretending that this battle isn't raging will not protect our families and our interests, nor will it strengthen our allies; it will only diminish our nation, increase our risk and grow our security challenge.
In his farewell address to the nation, President Reagan reminded us of this when he told the story of the USS Midway that was patrolling the South China Sea in the early 1980s. A sailor on the Midway saw a tiny boat, filled with refugees from Indochina, and a rescue launch was sent to them. As the Americans came into view, one of the refugees smiled, stood up and shouted out: "Hello American Sailor. Hello Freedom Man!"
That is who we are: Freedom Men. And Women. And Children. Let us not forget that privilege nor neglect that legacy. Stand for freedom.