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Michael Smerconish Headshot

Santorum and Casey: Peas in a Pod?

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Multiple choice. Tell me who said this, relative to exit strategy from Iraq:

"I think that [setting a timetable to leave Iraq] is a mistake, although you should set benchmarks that you can achieve. Set a benchmark about how many Iraqi security forces should be trained, and does that trigger some Americans going home gradually, over time. You should set a benchmark of when do we feel that not just the security forces are there, and in place, but what about the political dynamic on the ground. What about the infrastructure. If Iraqis have food and water, and electricity, and sewer, and just basic quality of life on the ground, there's probably going to be a functioning democracy. That is a benchmark. ... You have got to have achievable objectives before you can say that we should withdraw."

Was that: A) me; B) President Bush; C) Senator Rick Santorum; or D) Bob Casey, Jr.?

If you said B, the President, you were mistaken, although it's not a bad guess, given that the President has said this:

"Some are calling for a deadline for withdrawal. Many advocating an artificial timetable for withdrawing our troops are sincere -- but I believe they're sincerely wrong. Pulling our troops out before they've achieved their purpose is not a plan for victory."

If you guessed A, me, you are equally mistaken. My own view is that we need to light a fire under the Iraqi's asses to take care of their own affairs, and so I have said this:

"It is time for the Administration to set a timetable to leave Iraq."

If you thought the correct answer was C, Senator Santorum, that's another strong, but incorrect guess. Senator Santorum has told me this:

"Do I want us to be out of Iraq as soon as possible? Absolutely, but that shouldn't be the goal. The goal shouldn't be we get out of there as soon as possible, the goal should be, shall we attain a victory there and establish a stable democracy, and then get out. That is what should be the goal."

Which leaves selection D, Bob Casey, Jr., Santorum's presumptive opponent. Casey said that to me in a wide-ranging discussion about his candidacy.

My quiz is a bit of a shell game because on the surface, there seems to be little discernable difference between what the President, Santorum and Casey are saying.

And here is the irony. By all polling accounts, Casey is leading Santorum in this year's historic Senate race. Why? In part, because of Santorum's close association with the currently unpopular President. The President is currently unpopular in Pennsylvania because of the situation in Iraq. Now, it turns out, that unpopular President, who is supported by a seemingly unpopular Senate incumbent, doesn't stand too distant from the popular Senate challenger. Having questioned Casey about the subject extensively, I am hard pressed to see a difference between his views and those of Senator Santorum relative to what we do now.

When I told that this to Bob Casey, and said it was hard for me to distinguish what he said from what the Administration has been saying, he responded:

"Here is where I am in terms of holding them accountable. I think that the resolution in the Senate, for example, one aspect of that was that every 90 days Administration officials go under oath. I think they should go under oath every 30 days whether it is in both classified and de-classified settings. The only way the American people can be fully informed and make a decision, because it is not just a decision the President arrives at alone, the American people have to support it, and the only way they can do that is with accountability. I think that is, I think that is the basic difference between where I came at this, and the Administration. Let's face it, until the Congress, and in particular, Jack Murtha, started putting pressure on the Administration, it was all spin, it was all 'we've got this figured out and we're going to win', and all that, now there is some measure of accountability, but I think as a senator, it's going to be my obligation to continually to ask those tough questions and demand answers."

We knew Santorum and Casey were twins on guns and abortion. Maybe we can add Iraq to that list.

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