Tim Pawlenty Flops In Foreign Policy Debut

tim pawlenty

Photo: cfr.org

GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty laid out his foreign policy positions today in a speech that primarily focused on mocking President Barack Obama for his “timid, slow” response to the “Arab Spring” uprisings in the Middle East.Speaking in New York at the Council on Foreign Relations, Pawlenty staked out his place as the hawk of the 2012 Republican presidential field.

Business Insider Politix was there and has highlights from the speech:

  • The U.S. should commit “America’s strength” to remove Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, a pointed break from House Republican position that the U.S. should pull back from Libya.
  • Pawlenty called for ousting Syrian President Bashar al Assad, criticising the Obama administration’s handling of Assad’s bloody crackdown as lacking “moral clarity.”
  • U.S.-Saudi relationships are at a new low but not because of the Arab Spring uprisings. Apparently, it’s because the Obama administration is “yearning” to get closer to Iran. [This seems like a bit of a stretch.]
  • Obama has turned its back on Israel, treating it as a “problem,” rather than as our closest ally in the region. Pawlenty pledged that, as president, he would not pressure Israel to “accept borders which jeopardize security” or negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas.
  • The speech was remarkably light on mentions of Al Qaeda and the terrorism threat. Pawlenty gave just a cursory mention to the war in Afghanistan, saying only that “General Petraeus’ voice ought to carry the most weight on that question.” He also didn’t mention Yemen at all.
  • Without mentioning any of his 2012 rivals by name, Pawlenty criticised Republican isolationism, saying it was wrong for the party to “shrink from the challenges of American leadership.” Pawlenty’s hawkish foreign policy positions stand in marked contrast to some of his fellow 2012 Republican contenders, who have spoken in favour of drawing down U.S. commitments overseas.

Response from the audience — made up mostly of Wall Street managers, think-tank academics and New York media correspondents — was sceptical, to put it mildly.

During a question-and-answer session after the speech, attendees pointed out that Qaddafi and Assad have proven remarkably resilient. Pawlenty didn’t offer any specific strategies for how the U.S. could more effectively oust the autocrats. He seemed to avoid — or misunderstand — most questions, at one point pledging that the U.S. would not invade every Middle Eastern country.

It was actually a little painful to watch the former Minnesota Governor squirm under the supercilious scrutiny of people who make their living by knowing American foreign policy inside out. When someone asked about the worse possibilities that could follow Assad in Syria and Pawlenty responded with “No one ever asked who would follow Hitler,” it seemed like half the audience started snickering behind their notebooks.

As the crowd was leaving, we overheard one well-known foreign policy journalist say something to the effect of: ‘My impression is that he doesn’t know a whole lot about anything.”

That seemed to be the general consensus.

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