Santorum: Obama to blame for Iran's influence

Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum on Sunday accused President Obama of having "tacitly supported" Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during the 2009 Iranian protests, and posited that, as a result, Iran had developed a "huge sphere of influence" that has compromised American diplomacy.

Santorum, in an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation," argued that it was Iran's influence over Iraq that played a key role in President Obama's recent decision to withdraw nearly all American troops from the country by the end of 2011.

"We have a president who is not able to set conditions and actually have the kind of influence over the Iraqi government," Santorum argued, suggesting Iran was behind a set of stringent rules Iraq outlined as conditions for continued U.S. presence there.

He added: "Now, three years the president has had to work with the Iraqi government to try to mold and shape that relationship. To be in a position where really the Iranians now have more sway over the Iraqi government than the United States just shows the weakness of our diplomatic effort, the weakness of this president, in being able to shape the battlefield, if you will."

Santorum said the reason Iraq no longer desires a U.S. presence in the country is that "we've lost the battle in Iraq with the Iraqi government. We've lost this sphere of influence that we had."

The former two-term Pennsylvania Republican contended that Mr. Obama's reluctance to involve himself in Iran's 2009 political uprisings had led to diminished U.S. power in the region.

"When the time came, it was clear he was not going to support that movement," said Santorum. "He supported the mullahs. As a result, they have this huge sphere of influence - because they know the United States is simply not going to do anything to stop them, to spread their venom."

Mr. Obama called on the Iranian government to "stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people" during the 2009 protests, but declined to call for Ahmadinejad's resignation.

"The Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government. If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect the dignity of its own people and govern through consent, not coercion," Mr. Obama said at the time, of his decision not to intervene on behalf of the anti-government forces.

Santorum accused Mr. Obama of having "sat on the sidelines" during the protests, and said his behavior "tacitly supported... Ahmadinejad and the mullahs."

Now, Santorum argues, Iran's influence supersedes America's in the region.

"Look at what's going on in Syria," he told CBS' Bob Schieffer. "Syria is a satellite puppet state of Iran. Here we have [Syrian President Bashir] Assad brutalizing his people, and what did we do? We recognized Assad for the first time with an ambassador. We have not come down and done anything to try to displace Assad ... He has been more brutal than anybody else."

Santorum stopped short of calling for U.S. troops in Syria, but argued, "We should be going after Assad in every other way, covertly or otherwise, to show the Iranians that we are going to stand up to them. There's all sorts of things we can be doing to show an active role in the region. We're not. Iran as a result grows in influence."