Tacking right on foreign affairs, and rejecting the Obama administration’s policy of “engagement” with the Middle East, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty issued a scathing critique of the president’s realist approach to Egypt, Iran, Syria, and elsewhere in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on Tuesday morning.
He lambasted Obama’s relatively cautious approach to the Syrian Green Movement that erupted in the wake of the disputed presidential election in 2009.
““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. His silence validated the mullahs, despite the blood on their hands and the nuclear centrifuges in their tunnels,” he said.
His most intense criticism of the president was on Israel, where Republicans seem to think the president’s push for a settlement freeze and a return to 1967 borders with land swaps has provided them an opening with American Jews.
“Nowhere has President Obama’s lack of judgment been more stunning than in his dealings with Israel,” he intoned, saying it “breaks my heart” that the president treats that country as a “problem” rather than an ally.
He heaped praise on Israel, as most Republican presidential candidates do, championing its role in the Middle East as a democracy and partner and saying he rejected Obama’s “anti-Israel” attitude.
Pawlenty said Obama was too focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, attributing it more of an influence on Middle East politics in genera than is realistic. More important, he argued, was the phenomenon of “oppressed people yearning for freedom.”
He suggested that he would aggressively assist democratic movements as George W. Bush attempted to, but didn’t seem to be cognizant of the possibility that democracy could produce nations hostile to the United States, as it did when Hamas won elections in the Palestinian Authority in 2006.
Pawlenty embraced the “War on Terror” frame of combating radical Islamic terrorism, another signature Bush policy, implying this would be a long, episodic struggle.
At the conclusion of his remarks, he warned Republicans against isolationism, a reference to presidential primary rival former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman–and to a lesser degree, Mitt Romney–calling for a rapid drawdown from Afghanistan and a more measured approach to foreign intervention.
“America already has one political party devoted to decline, retrenchment, and withdrawal. It does not need a second one.”