Pawlenty attacks Obama foreign policy, isolationist GOP candidates in foreign policy address

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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In his first major foreign policy address of the campaign on Tuesday, Tim Pawlenty harshly criticized President Obama’s foreign policy and his handling of the Arab Spring, as well as the isolationist tendencies of the other Republican candidates.

“America is exceptional,” Pawlenty said, “and we have the moral clarity to lead the world.” Throughout his speech he made the case that not only could the US do so, it should.

“President Obama has failed to formulate and carry out an effective and coherent strategy in response to these events,” Pawlenty said, of the Arab Spring. “He has been timid, slow, and too often without a clear understanding of our interests or a clear commitment to our principles.” (Is Pawlenty a second-tier candidate?)

“And parts of the Republican Party now seem to be trying to out-bid the Democrats in appealing to isolationist sentiments,” he continued. “This is no time for uncertain leadership in either party. The stakes are simply too high, and the opportunity is simply too great”

Pawlenty attacked Obama’s policy of ‘engagement’ as effectively supporting dictators.

“’Engagement’ meant that in 2009, when the Iranian ayatollahs stole an election, and the people of that country rose up in protest, President Obama held his tongue,” Pawlenty said.

“’Engagement’ meant that in his first year in office, President Obama cut democracy funding for Egyptian civil society by 74 percent. As one American democracy organization noted, this was “perceived by Egyptian democracy activists as signaling a lack of support.” They perceived correctly. It was a lack of support,” Pawlenty said.

He also attacked Obama for supporting Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad.

Pawlenty’s criticism extended to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who he also called to task for not giving adequate support to the Egyptian protesters.

As for his own foreign policy, Pawlenty divided Arab countries into three categories: those in transition toward democracy, those with dictatorships, and those openly hostile to the United States of America.

Those transitioning toward democracy, he said, included Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya.

“For these countries, our goal should be to help promote freedom and democracy,” he said.

In Egypt, he said, it was necessary to ensure that in the tough economic times, instead of turning to extremism, they embraced “free markets and free trade – not subsidies and foreign aid.”

In Libya, he called for decisive action.

“In Libya, the best help America can provide to these new friends is to stop leading from behind and commit America’s strength to removing Ghadafi, recognizing the TNC as the government of Libya, and unfreezing assets so the TNC can afford security and essential services as it marches toward Tripoli,” Pawlenty said.

He also spoke of improving the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia, which he said was “at an all-time low.” In order to improve those relations, he said, the US needed to take a more aggressive stance toward Iran and make clear that “we are committed to doing all that is necessary to defend the region from Iranian aggression.”

At the same time, he said, the US must call for more democratic reform in Saudi Arabia.

In Syria, he said, the US has “a clear interest in seeing an end to Assad’s murderous regime.

“By sticking to Bashar al Assad so long, the Obama Administration has not only frustrated Syrians who are fighting for freedom—it has demonstrated strategic blindness,” Pawlenty said.

Weakening the Syrian regime, he said, would help to weaken and end the Iranian regime.

Pawlenty attacked Obama for not adequately respecting and protecting Israel.

“It breaks my heart that President Obama treats Israel, our great friend, as a problem, rather than as an ally,” Pawlenty said. “The President seems to genuinely believe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lies at the heart of every problem in the Middle East. He said it Cairo in 2009 and again this year.”

“President Obama could not be more wrong,” Pawlenty said.

“Today the president doesn’t really have a policy toward the peace process,” Pawlenty added. “He has an attitude. And let’s be frank about what that attitude is: he thinks Israel is the problem. And he thinks the answer is always more pressure on Israel.”

Pawlenty said his own policy toward Israel would be to “never undermine Israel’s negotiating position, nor pressure it to accept borders which jeopardize security and its ability to defend itself,” referring to Obama’s speech earlier this year in which he called for a return to a variation on the 1963 borders, which many perceived as not only a solution that would put Israel in a position of being unable to protect itself, but also removing Israel’s leverage for negotiations with the Palestinians.

He said that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations could not include Hamas, as it is a terrorist organization that does not accept Israel’s right to exist, and that part of the peace process would require the end of incitement by Palestinians. Pawlenty said he would also “recommend cultivating and empowering moderate forces in Palestinian society.”

Pawlenty rejected the notion that the US should not get involved in foreign wars, as some of his presidential rivals have suggested.

“It is not wrong for Republicans to question the conduct of President Obama’s military leadership in Libya. There is much to question. And it is not wrong for Republicans to debate the timing of our military drawdown in Afghanistan— though my belief is that General Petreaus’ voice ought to carry the most weight on that question,” Pawlenty said.

“What is wrong, is for the Republican Party to shrink from the challenges of American leadership in the world. History repeatedly warns us that in the long run, weakness in foreign policy costs us and our children much more than we’ll save in a budget line item.”

“America already has one political party devoted to decline, retrenchment, and withdrawal,” he concluded. “It does not need a second one.”