Rick Santorum: ‘I Would Consider’ Air Strikes in Syria

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Jim Young / Reuters

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum speaks at a campaign rally at Dayton Christian School in Miamisburg, Ohio, March 5, 2012.

I spoke to Rick Santorum by phone for a few minutes on Monday afternoon as he rode across Ohio on the eve of tomorrow’s Super Tuesday extravaganza. The interview mostly covered ground for a piece you can read in the upcoming issue of TIME. But I did ask him about something in the news this week–namely, John McCain’s speech calling for U.S. air strikes against Syrian regime forces.

On Sunday, Mitt Romney took a more restrained line, telling an audience in Georgia that “I’m not anxious to employ military action. Syria is a far more serious military defender than was Libya.” While noting that he was not familiar with the details of McCain’s speech and therefore could only speak in the abstract, Santorum struck a more hawkish tone.

First he emphasized his view that President Obama, having called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, ought to take stronger action to make good on those words. “That’s not what Presidents do, they don’t pick sides and cheerlead,” Santorum said. ‘When the United States says, ‘This guy should go,’ then the expectation is that the United States will stand behind limited and reasonable efforts to do so.” Santorum reiterated his opinion that the U.S. should help to “arm and supply” the Syrian rebels. (Our current issue features a good point-counterpoint on how best to help the Syrian opposition.) But Santorum also did not reject the notion of bombing Assad’s army. “I would say that would certainly be one of the things I would consider,” he told me.

Is bombing Syria an issue that will tip Ohio in tomorrow’s voting? Probably not. I’m not even sure flirting with air strikes helps Santorum among conservative voters in general, who are weary of foreign adventures and were never particularly excited about the U.S. intervention in Libya. It’ll be interesting to see whether Santorum sticks to this line in the coming days, as Washington reacts to the gauntlet McCain has thrown down.

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