Pawlenty uses foreign policy speech to set himself apart from other GOP candidates

Pawlenty during the Q&A session at the Council on Foreign Relations.
REUTERS/Mike Segar
Pawlenty during the Q&A session at the Council on Foreign Relations.

WASHINGTON — Tim Pawlenty set a forceful foreign policy agenda Tuesday, becoming the first Republican candidate to outline how to deal with the democratic uprisings in the Middle East. By doing so, Pawlenty is seeking to take up the mantle as the hawk of the Republican presidential field, which includes candidates like Jon Huntsman, who has called for a swift drawdown of troops in Iraq, and Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul, who have been outspoken critics of the offensive in Libya.

During a question and answer session after his speech, Pawlenty was asked whether his foreign policy would be closer to that of George H.W. Bush or George W. Bush. Pawlenty was coy, saying that he wanted to set his own course rather than mimic something else.

Andrew Exum, a fellow at the Washington-based Center for a New American Security, said Pawlenty’s speech was reminiscent of the second Bush’s early years, before being bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But Pawlenty, though clearly differentiating himself from Obama, did leave out some specifics.

“Pawlenty made a series of strong statements in support of the burgeoning democracies in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia without really saying how the United States would really support these countries with limited and reduced resources for spending abroad,” Exum said. “Saudi Arabia, for example, is spending four times as much money in Egypt as the United States.”

Max Boot, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said Pawlenty was not only moving away from Obama foreign policy, but also clearly setting himself apart from the rest of the Republican field, which Boot contended, has been forming policy based more on public opinion than anything else.

“He was a welcome exception to that trend,” he said.

Minutes before Pawlenty’s speech, the Huntsman campaign put up a blog post highlighting Huntsman’s vision for the War on Terror. He called it an “asymmetrical war” where the emphasis is on intelligence gathering and moving quickly to quash threats.

“That’s not 1,000 boots on the ground,” Huntsman said. “It’s a different construct, it’s a different mindset, it’s a different set of priorities out of the Defense Department.”

“The Middle East is changing before our eyes — but our government has not kept up,” he said. “The next president must do better. Today, in our own Republican Party, some look back and conclude our projection of strength and defense of freedom was a product of different times and different challenges. While times have changed, the nature of the challenge has not.”

In assessing Obama’s foreign policy approach, Pawlenty repeated a phrase from his presidential rival Bachmann: Obama has “led from behind,” pointing to his hesitancy to address democratic uprisings in Iran, Egypt and Syria.

“What is wrong is for the Republican Party to shrink from the challenges of American leadership in the world,” Pawlenty said. “America already has one political party devoted to decline, retrenchment, and withdrawal. It does not need a second one.”

Mixed reactions
Reactions to Pawlenty’s speech were quick, and mixed.

Jonathan Tobin, writing in Commentary Magazine, said: “Though his campaign has faltered recently, [Pawlenty] can still lay claim to having the most serious approach to foreign policy of any of the Republican presidential contenders.”

Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen compared Pawlenty to conservative hero Ronald Reagan, saying that his speech “represents the clearest vision yet presented by any GOP candidate for a conservative internationalism in the mold of Ronald Reagan. Let’s see if any of the other Republican contenders now step forward to challenge Pawlenty for the Reagan mantle.”

Atlantic editor Conor Friedersdorf said Pawlenty’s speech “refutes itself,” saying, “it’s an incoherent position: it cannot be that America wrongly propped up Middle Eastern and North African dictators over many decades, that its current policy is terribly wrongheaded, and that our elected leaders are uniquely possessed of the moral clarity to get things right in those regions.”

Washington Examiner columnist Timothy Carney took issue with Pawlenty’s characterization of Democrats as the party of “retrenchment.”

“Seriously? The Democratic Party, a majority of whose senators voted to preemptively invade Iraq, is ‘devoted to … retrenchment?’ The Democratic Party, whose president sent us unblinkingly to manage a civil war in Libya, is devoted to withdrawal?” he wrote. “It’s a standard Republican talking point that the Democrats — and particularly Obama — want American greatness to diminish. But to drag anti-interventionist Republicans into this little smear is rare.”

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Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by James Hamilton on 06/29/2011 - 10:12 am.

    “You can’t let a third-rate dictator thumb his nose at the president of the United States and the rest of the free world,” Pawlenty said.

    School-yard foreign policy. Great.

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 06/29/2011 - 11:43 am.

    The purposes of the speech?

    * Claim the Cheney following

    * Raise money from the defense industries

    * Raise money from fundamental Christians who believe end-times are tied into American exceptionalism and the support of Israel.

    * Raise money from expansionist Zionist element of the Jewish community.

    * capture headlines for a day or two.

    So serious and “straight shooting”, ya know…

  3. Submitted by Virginia Martin on 06/29/2011 - 11:56 am.

    Sounds like fightin’ words to me.

  4. Submitted by Terry Hayes on 06/29/2011 - 12:01 pm.

    I think I’ll toss my hat in the ring for the Republican nomination. I can babble about foreign policy too. I think I’m a pretty good contender for the Reagan mantle. And having lived in Minnesota my whole life, I have a pretty good grasp of world politics. Can’t wait to see what the Washington Post writes about me.

  5. Submitted by Barbara Miller on 06/29/2011 - 12:36 pm.

    Every day, I check to for Tim Pawlenty’s persona du jour. Today’s hardline cojones-persona stands in stark contrast to the timid man who dares not announce (again, already, still) his presidential ambitions in the state he trashed.

    Iowa? Package deal. We’ll trade you Pawlenty and Bachmann for a bushel of corn.

  6. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 06/29/2011 - 02:33 pm.

    Yes, Terry (#4). I was just thinking the other day that anyone who declares his/her presidential candidacy is soon seen on the network talk shows and C-Span, interviewed by major newspapers and magazines, and (except perhaps for Michele B.) taken at least semi-seriously No Matter What They Say.

  7. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 06/30/2011 - 08:43 am.

    Pawlenty has already been set apart from the rest of the field by the public he seeks to serve, with a whopping 6% favorability rating aft over two years of hard running. He has been beat by everyone entering the race except Fred Karger, Fred who? Serving ALL the public is not what he excels at. Pawlenty is a political fraud.

  8. Submitted by Jeff Wilfahrt on 06/29/2011 - 03:06 pm.

    How about his kids enlist first and then walk point on patrol. Then he can shoot his mouth off.

    Always ready to offer someone else’s blood, typical militancy of those without skin in the game. Slapshot Chameleon Tim of $5.2 billion shortfall fame. Big talk, small walk.

    Jeff Wilfahrt, Rosemount, MN

  9. Submitted by Jim Roth on 06/29/2011 - 04:39 pm.

    Sounds like he knows about as much about foreign policy as GW and likes to use the same “aw shucks” analogies. We sure don’t need any more of Bush/Cheney foreign policy. The Middle East was mucked up before to be sure, but nowhere near as after they waded in with their neoconservative advisors and friends. It’s pretty easy to be simplistic about foreign policy and Pawlenty passes that test.

  10. Submitted by Lance Groth on 06/29/2011 - 06:46 pm.

    Oh great, another Republican chickenhawk who, from his vast foreign policy experience as Governor of a small midwestern state, and with zero military experience, seeks to lecture us on American foreign policy and the uses of American power. And we should listen to him … why? Sorry, no, we listened to a whole bunch of Repub chickenhawks in Dubya’s administration, and look where it got us.

    This guy is as changeable as the wind. I was about to say we should refer to him as the Chameleon Candidate, but Jeff (#7) beat me to it.

    Someone should really tell him that this whole “tough guy” persona he’s trying on like a cheap suit just isn’t working. When wimpy guys try to act tough, they just look like, well, wimpy guys trying to act tough. Here’s a guy who attacks Romney behind his back but turns into a stammering lickspittle who can’t even look Romney in the eye when they meet in person, and we’re supposed to trust him to stare down the Ahmadinejads, Assads, Jong-Ils and Putins of the world?

    Dubya had a saying applicable to the Pawlenty candidacy: “Fool me once, can’t get fooled again.”

    Did I just agree with Dubya?

  11. Submitted by Ann Spencer on 06/29/2011 - 09:07 pm.

    This speech seems weirdly dated. That neo-con stuff is so last decade! Even the Republican Party has (largely) moved on from the notion that we need to be strutting all over the world, trying to remake societies and cultures that we do not understand.

  12. Submitted by Terry Hayes on 07/01/2011 - 01:48 pm.

    Bernice, I just tapped you for my number two.
    Hayes-Vetsch 2012! Somebody call Anderson Cooper.

  13. Submitted by will lynott on 07/03/2011 - 09:10 pm.

    ““You can’t let a third-rate dictator thumb his nose at the president of the United States and the rest of the free world,” Pawlenty said.”

    Hmph. Thought for a minute there he was talking about himself. He certainly was a third rate governor. And now he’s a third rate candidate. He’d be a third rate president too, not that he’s got a shot.

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