NEW YORK — Presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty on Tuesday struck a hawkish tone on foreign policy, criticizing President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and even his own Republican Party for their views on the continuing uncertainty in the Middle East.
In a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, the former Minnesota governor hit Obama for being too timid, Clinton for her stewardship of the situation in Egypt this year, and the GOP for its increasingly isolationist sentiment.
Pawlenty said the current landscape in the Middle East should be seen as an opportunity to grow democracy and remove tyrants, rather than as a thing to fear because of the uncertainty that would result.
“The revolutions now roiling that region offer the promise of a more democratic, more open and a more prosperous Arab world,” Pawlenty said. “Now is not the time to retreat from freedom’s rise.”
Pawlenty’s sharpest words were for Obama, whom he criticized for having a “murky policy” of “engagement” in the region. He said the United States should “not underestimate how pivotal this moment is,” and that it should take decisive action rather than half-measures.
The 2012 contender took his argument a step further, criticizing Clinton for suggesting that former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s regime was stable in the lead-up to his overthrow.
In a later question-and-answer session, Pawlenty noted that Clinton has said she and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, were “dinner friends” of the Mubaraks.
“How is that helpful when we reach out to people on the street?” Pawlenty asked.
Overall, Pawlenty described a picture of U.S. foreign policy that is too cozy with dictators who are friendly with the United States, for fear that instability in their countries would give rise to anti-American governments.
He said that concept is outdated, with the rise of social media allowing people to push for democracy in ways that weren’t possible before. He cast the overthrow of these dictators as more a matter of time, and even compared their removal to the Nazi regime in World War II.
“People didn’t ask, ‘What comes after Hitler?’ ” Pawlenty said.
In his own party, Pawlenty is emerging as perhaps the most hawkish major candidate in the GOP presidential primary field. His fellow candidates at a debate two weeks ago and in the time since have suggested a more limited U.S. foreign policy, particularly when it comes to the war in Afghanistan.
On Tuesday, Pawlenty indirectly criticized his opponents for moving against U.S. involvement around the world.
“America already has one political party devoted to decline, retrenchment and withdrawal; it does not need a second one,” Pawlenty said, adding that moral clarity is the “legacy” of the GOP.
He did reserve some praise for Obama, suggesting that the president’s decision to intervene in Libya may have been the right thing to do. He dismissed concerns that Obama, legally, should have gotten the approval of Congress beforehand but said the president could have involved Congress more as a goodwill gesture.
He also praised Obama’s rhetoric when it comes to Bahrain, but he said the president needs to be more forceful in pushing Saudi Arabia — a major oil supplier and ally of the United States — to improve its human rights practices.
“Above all, they need to reform and open their society,” Pawlenty said. “Their treatment of Christians and other minorities, and their treatment of women, is indefensible and must change.”