But former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum — who used the threat posed by the Iranian regime, as well as the analogy of Europe in the 1930s, as a centerpiece of his failed re-election campaign — thinks that, five years beyond the Sept. 11 attacks, Americans underestimate the threat posed by radical Islam in general and Iran in particular. He blames that partly on the Bush administration.
"I think the president understands the nature of the problem. But I think he's been unwilling to articulate it on a consistent basis in a way that will motivate the public," said Santorum in interview on Monday.
Santorum's first post-Senate gig will be at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C., which, according to its Web site, is dedicated to "applying the Judeo-Christian moral tradition to critical issues."
Among other things, the center sponsors programs focusing on Jewish issues, and the intersection of Islam and Democracy.
Santorum is going to head up a new program called "America's Enemies" that will focus on the security threats posed by radical Islamic regimes and groups, as well as other American antagonists.
"It's a provocative title. I've focused on radical Islam but also radical Islam's marriage of convenience to the radical left, Marxists," especially Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, he explained.
Santorum is also hopeful that some of his ideas will help filter into popular culture, movies and television, and help create an atmosphere where Americans will be more willing to support the notion of a protracted conflict similar to the Cold War.
The 48-year-old — first elected to the House in 1990 and to the Senate four years later — said he plans to focus on writing think pieces and taking to the airwaves about foreign-policy issues. For the time being, he said he'll steer clear of domestic social issues, for which he became something of a lightening rod during the past six years.
"Until we have the kind of discussion and dialogue with Islam — that democracy and freedom of religion, along with religious pluralism, are essential for the stability of the world and our ability to cohabit in this world," said Santorum. "Unless Islam is willing to make that conscious decision, then we are going to be at war for a long time."
In addition to his new think-tank job, the father of six said he's not averse to reaping some financial rewards, and as such plans to hit the lecture circuit, do some political commentary for network television and join a Pennsylvania-based law firm — perhaps an indication that he has not ruled out running for office in the future.
And, in fact, the successful political fundraiser isn't quite through asking for checks. He'll be expected to do plenty of it at the public-policy center.
"I never had trouble asking people for money because I felt like I was out there working on things they cared about," he said. "I was making sacrifices they weren't willing to make, so the least they could do is sacrifice some of the rewards of the America that I was trying to craft."
Addressing his lopsided loss to Democrat Bob Casey Jr., Santorum explained that his defeat did not stem from the re-election campaign he ran, but was, in fact, probably sealed when he ascended to a leadership position in the Senate at the start of his second term. That move brought him more power, influence and visibility, but also helped shift his image from one of a moderate working to bring home earmarks for Pennsylvania to that of a conservative ideologue.
"If I wanted to win the next election … I would never have gotten elected to the leadership of the Senate," he said. "Once I did that, all of the radar screens of the left just lit. They were like — wait a minute, there is a young, conservative, articulate guy from a state like Pennsylvania. [The Republicans] are going to try and make him president, and we've got to destroy this guy."