Former Minnesota Governor and GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty took aim at both President Obama and fellow Republicans on Tuesday in a foreign policy speech delivered at the Council on Foreign Relations.
At a time when the other GOP candidates are establishing themselves to the left of Obama on military involvement in the Middle East, Pawlenty's speech will likely solidify his position as the most hawkish of the GOP candidates. Pawlenty warned that, “now is not the time to retreat from freedom's rise.”
“Parts of the Republican Party now seem to be trying to outbid the Democrats in appealing to isolationist sentiments. This is no time for uncertain leadership in either party. The stakes are too high,” said Pawlenty.
The U.S. needs to be more involved in the Middle East, argued Pawlenty. “If we are clear about our interests, and guided by our principles, we can help steer events in the right direction.”
Pawlenty also criticized Obama for failing “to put forward and carry out an effective strategy in response to these events,” and argued that Obama has “been timid, slow, and too often without a clear understanding of our interests.”
The former governor went further to denounce Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for not supporting revolutionaries early enough in Iran, Egypt and Syria. He reminded the audience that Clinton had called Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a “reformer.”
“Even as Assad's regime was shooting hundreds of protesters dead in the street, President Obama announced his plans to give Assad, ‘an alternative vision of himself.’ Does anyone outside a therapist’s office have any idea what that means? This is what passes for moral clarity in the Obama administration. By contrast, I called for Assad's departure on March 29. I call for it again today,” said Pawlenty.
Governments of the Middle East fall into four broad categories, according to Pawlenty. Those that are transitioning toward Democracy, Arab monarchies that share U.S. concerns over an Iran capable of nuclear weapons, those directly hostile towards the U.S. (Iran and Syria), and our ally (Israel). Each of these, he stated, “requires a different strategic approach.”
With regard to Israel, Pawlenty accused Obama of treating “our great friend as a problem rather than as an ally.”
"The president seems to genuinely believe the Israeli/Palestinian conflict lies at the heart of every problem in the Middle East. ... President Obama couldn't be more wrong. The uprisings ... are not about Israelis and Palestinians. They're about oppressed people yearning for freedom and prosperity.”
Accusing the president of having an “anti-Israel attitude,” the GOP candidate noted, “Israeli/Palestinian peace is further away now than the day Barack Obama came to office.”
In a speech laced with criticism of the president, Pawlenty did lend support for one of Obama's most criticized decisions. During the Q&A session following the speech, Pawlenty was asked about Obama's argument that the War Powers Act does not apply to Libya.
“I would reserve as executive prerogative the argument that the War Powers Act does not apply. However, in the case that it might and as a courtesy and out of respect for Congress, I would've more fully consulted with them, because I think the case could've been made, presented, successfully as a courtesy to Congress, not necessarily a legal obligation,” he stated. Obama's legal argument has been harshly criticized by members of Congress in both parties.
Pawlenty's speech comes at a time when his campaign is in need of some forward momentum. A recent Des Moines Register poll showed him at only six percent in Iowa, and a Gallup poll shows him at six percent nationally.
It is not clear how this speech will help Pawlenty win over a war-weary nation, however. A recent Gallup poll shows that 74 percent of the public, and 50 percent of Republicans, support Obama's plans for withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan and only 39 percent approve of military actions against Libya.