In a speech on the Middle East at the Council on Foreign Relations this morning, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty strongly criticized President Obama's "murky policy" of "engagement." But he also took aim at unnamed "parts of the Republican Party" that "now seem to be trying to out-bid the Democrats in appealing to isolationist sentiments."
Pawlenty began his critique by panning Obama's policy of engaging Iran, Egypt, and Syria.
On Iran, Pawlenty said:
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.
While protesters were killed and tortured, Secretary Clinton said the Administration was 'waiting to see the outcome of the internal Iranian processes.' She and the president waited long enough to see the Green Movement crushed.
Turning to Egypt, Pawlenty said that Obama's engagement policy "meant that 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 forces we now need to succeed in Egypt -- the pro-democracy, secular political parties -- these are the very people President Obama cut off, and Secretary Clinton dismissed."
And regarding Syria, Pawlenty said that Obama's engagement policy "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?" Pawlenty said he'd enforce tough sanctions on Syria and call for Assad to go.
Pawlenty went on to discuss different measures that should be taken to promote democracy throughout the region, and he criticized Obama for treating Israel "as a problem, rather than an ally."
Although many Republicans are in favor of ceasing U.S. involvement in the NATO-led campaign against Libya, Pawlenty said that we should "stop leading from behind and commit America’s strength to removing Ghadafi, recognizing the TNC as the government of Libya, and unfreezing assets so the TNC can afford security and essential services as it marches toward Tripoli."
While warning against Republican isolationism, Pawlenty said that those who disagree with his views on Libya or Afghanistan are not necessarily isolationists. He closed by saying:
It is not wrong for Republicans to question the conduct of President Obama’s military leadership in Libya. There is much to question. And it is not wrong for Republicans to debate the timing of our military drawdown in Afghanistan—though my belief is that General Petraeus’s voice ought to carry the most weight on that question. What is wrong, is for the Republican Party to shrink from the challenges of American leadership in the world. 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.
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.
Our ideals of economic and political freedom, of equality and opportunity for all citizens, remain the dream of people in the Middle East and throughout the world. As America stands for these principles, and stands with our friends and allies, we will help the Middle East transform this moment of turbulence into a firmer, more lasting opportunity for freedom, peace, and progress.