This morning, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty sought to claim the mantle of Ronald Reagan, delivering a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations that vigorously endorsed a freedom-centered foreign policy for the Republican Party. Without mentioning his rivals Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman by name, Pawlenty made clear that he does not like the direction of the GOP dialogue on foreign policy and that a return to isolationism would not happen on his watch if he becomes the GOP nominee:
Parts of the Republican Party now seem to be trying to out-bid the Democrats in appealing to isolationist sentiments. . . . America already has one political party devoted to decline, retrenchment and withdrawal; it does not need a second one.
Pawlenty focused primarily on the changes unfolding in the Middle East — and delivered a withering critique of the Obama administration’s handling of the Arab Spring:
The revolutions now roiling that region offer the promise of a more democratic, more open, and a more prosperous Arab world. From Morocco to the Arabian Gulf, the escape from the dead hand of oppression is now a real possibility. Now is not the time to retreat from freedom’s rise.”
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. … this is a moment to ratchet up pressure and speak with clarity. More sanctions. More and better broadcasting into Iran. More assistance to Iranians to access the Internet and satellite TV and the knowledge and freedom that comes with it. More efforts to expose the vicious repression inside that country and expose Teheran’s regime for the pariah it is.
In his first year in office, President Obama cut democracy funding for Egyptian civil society by 74 percent…. when crisis erupted in Cairo this year, as tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Tahrir Square, Secretary Clinton declared, “the Egyptian Government is stable.” Two weeks later, Mubarak was gone. When Secretary Clinton visited Cairo after Mubarak’s fall, democratic activist groups refused to meet with her. And who can blame them?
The Obama “engagement” policy in Syria led the Administration to call Bashar al Assad 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.. . . We have 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. The governments of Iran and Syria are enemies of the United States. They are not reformers and never will be. They support each other. To weaken or replace one, is to weaken or replace the other. 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.
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 [Transitional National Council] as the government of Libya, and unfreezing assets so the TNC can afford security and essential services as it marches toward Tripoli.
Nowhere has President Obama’s lack of judgment been more stunning than in his dealings with Israel. It breaks my heart that President Obama treats Israel, our great friend, as a problem, rather than as an ally. . . . Today the president doesn’t really have a policy toward the peace process. 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.
And Pawlenty closed with some thoughts on the message the GOP must carry into the next election:
Our enemies in the War on Terror, just like our opponents in the Cold War, respect and respond to strength. Sometimes strength means military intervention. Sometimes it means diplomatic pressure. It always means moral clarity in word and deed. That is the legacy of Republican foreign policy at its best, and the banner our next Republican President must carry around the world.
This was the first major foreign policy speech of the 2012 campaign, and it 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.