Pawlenty's Middle East Speech - Plenty to Like

Claiming the mantle of George W. Bush, Tim Pawlenty relaunched the Middle East freedom agenda.

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Amiel Ungar, | updated: 22:30

Tim Pawlenty
Tim Pawlenty

It is an ill-disguised secret that partisans of a neoconservative approach in foreign policy for example the folks at the Weekly Standard and Commentary have a fondness for former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. They view him an electable candidate in 2012 as well as the heir to the George W. Bush freedom agenda that reached its apogee after the 2004 elections but was in retreat after the losses in the 2006 midterm elections.

It has therefore been frustrating for them to see a potential standard bearer floundering in the polls, even in Iowa where he has devoted a major efforts to establish himself as the alternative to Mitt Romney in a must-win state for him.

In his speech Tuesday before the Council on Foreign Relations on Middle East policy, Pawlenty vindicated the sympathy of neoconservative thinkers for his candidacy. The question remains whether an approach that clearly distinguishes him from both the Obama administration as well as from some fellow Republican candidates will win over first the Republican electorate and then the general electorate.

According to the candidate, freedom is on the rise in the Middle East and therefore this is not the time to retreat. Pawlenty criticized Barack Obama but interestingly Hillary Clinton as well for their muddled policy in the Middle East that could be subsumed under the term “engagement.”  

Under engagement, the administration abandons the Iranian green movement to the mullahs, "despite the blood on their hands and the nuclear centrifuges in their tunnels."

If others criticize Obama for undercutting Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, Pawlenty accused the administration of equivocation that alienated Egypt's young activists. While welcoming the democratic movements, the United States should also admonish them that democracy does not merely mean the overthrow of the old order but:

We should press new friends to end discrimination against women, to establish independent courts, and freedom of speech and the press.  We must insist on religious freedoms for all, including the region’s minorities—whether Christian, Shia, Sunni, or Bahai.  

Re-creating Bush's axis of evil description of Syria and Iran without repeating the term but employing the description "states that are directly hostile to America," Pawlenty acidly attacked the administration's policy toward Syria beginning with the maladroit description of Assad as a "reformer."

Even as Assad’s regime was shooting hundreds of protesters dead in the street, President Obama announced his plan 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.

Additionally the United States has a strategic interest in ousting the Assad regime in Damascus

The fall of the Assad mafia in Damascus would weaken Hamas, which is headquartered there.  It would weaken Hezbollah, which gets its arms from Iran, through Syria.  And it would weaken the Iranian regime itself.    

Pawlenty wants more forceful and consistent measures against Iran and above all clarity. He criticized Obama for backtracking from his 2008 pledge to AIPAC of keeping the military option on the table.

Perhaps the strongest criticism he reserves for last in discussing the Obama administration's policy towards Israel "by far our closest ally in that part of the world."

The president according to Pawlenty "treats Israel, our great friend, as a problem, rather than as an ally." By his antipathy towards Israel Obama has made a Middle Eastern peace more remote. Pawlenty promises a new approach:

First, I would never undermine Israel’s negotiating position, nor pressure it to accept borders which jeopardize security and its ability to defend itself.

Second, I would not pressure Israel to negotiate with Hamas or a Palestinian government that includes Hamas, unless Hamas renounces terror, accepts Israel’s right to exist, and honors the previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. In short, Hamas needs to cease being a terrorist group in both word and deed as a first step towards global legitimacy.

Third, I would ensure our assistance to the Palestinians immediately ends if the teaching of hatred in Palestinian classrooms and airwaves continues. That incitement must end now. 

Fourth, I would recommend cultivating and empowering moderate forces in Palestinian society.

Finally, Pawlenty acknowledged that there were voices within the Republican Party that wanted to outbid Barack Obama in calling for an American withdrawal from world affairs

 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.  It does not need a second one.

This may have been Pawlenty's best speech of the campaign it remains to see whether it will make waves and get people to take notice of him.