The time is coming when the president of the United States will have to decide whether to use military force to set back Iran’s nuclear program, former 2012 Republican presidential contender Tim Pawlenty said on Tuesday.
Speaking at the Foreign Policy Initiative’s winter forum, the former Minnesota governor said that while he supports stringent sanctions and covert action to hinder Iran’s nuclear program, the next president will likely have to make a decision whether or not to take the next step.
“The next president — or maybe even this one, but certainly the next president — is going to have to likely confront the issue about how and when to make additional decisions,” Pawlenty said, “but the result of all of that has to be we cannot let Iran have a nuclear weapon.”
Asked explicitly by moderator Robert Kagan, a Brookings Institution scholar and FPI board member, whether military force will be necessary if sanctions and covert actions fail to stop Iran’s nuclear progress, Pawlenty said the option should certainly remain on the table.
“In my view that option has to remain on the table. No question,” he said.
Pawlenty acknowledged the risks of such a strike, but noted there are grave risks on the other “side of the coin” as well.
“There is no question that it would be a mission filled with lots of risks and possible collateral consequences, and that would all have to be sorted through,” he said.
“But the other side of the coin is if you know that they’re about to get that capacity, you have a plausible chance to remove it, and you don’t, and then they use the weapon or weapons plural, you will have committed a malfeasance in office of a historic magnitude.”
During his comments, Pawlenty also said that he doesn’t think Republicans should be so quick to cut foreign aid.
“In the context of budget limitations and budget constraints, can we reduce it? Yes. Should we eliminate it? No,” he argued.
“We should make sure that we focus it and be particularly committed to building not just good will, but good allies. And we should be particularly committed to funding these kinds of efforts that support transitions to democracy in an orderly way.”
Foreign aid accounts for about one percent of federal spending.
The former governor followed a speech by Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Other speakers scheduled to address the forum include Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Mark Kirk of Illinois.