Tim Pawlenty washed out of the presidential race early, but he did garner praise for his tough and consistent stance on national security. He’s now weighed in on that issue following Monday’s debate.

He told Right Turn: “A core reason I decided to support Mitt Romney is that he is the strongest candidate on national security. Governor Romney firmly and appropriately criticized President Obama when the president announced an arbitrary timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan that disregarded the advice of our military commanders and put the success of our mission at risk. In last night’s debate, Govs. Perry and Huntsman did not criticize President Obama. Instead, they argued for an even faster withdrawal that strays even farther from the recommendations of the generals. Today’s brazen attacks on the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul highlight the need for a responsible national security candidate.” Not surprisingly, he argued that Romney is the right guy.

Pawlenty is right that, in the Iowa debate, Romney argued, “Generals recommended to President Obama that we should not start drawing our troops down until after the fighting season in 2012; he took a political decision to draw them down faster than that — that is wrong.” Good answer.

But Romney’s answer was shakier by far two months earlier, in the debate in New Hampshire. The next day his campaign “clarified,” that answer. Since then Romney has been relatively error-free, giving, for example, a solid speech to the VFW.

So perhaps Pawlenty has it almost right. A more accurate statement would be this: Pawlenty was the most robust and effective candidate on foreign policy in the race, but he didn’t make it. Rick Santorum is rock-solid on a range of issues, including Iran, the need to complete the mission in Afghanistan and Israel. But he’s been written off (unfairly) by the mainstream media and most Republicans. For those unwilling to back a long shot, then, Romney is the best there is on this subject. That, would be plausible.

A Capitol Hill adviser disappointed in the debate told me this morning, “It would be a shame if GOP candidates go to the left of Obama on foreign policy.” Indeed.