The Council on Foreign Relations in New York City set the stage this afternoon for Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty to deliver the most hawkish and extensive Middle East policy agenda speech to date among candidates in the 2012 field. The speech outlined a four category approach to Middle Eastern governments, criticized President Obama's murky policy of "engagement" when handling democracy movements, and condemned the President's treatment of our ally Israel.
You can listen to the full comments below. The Israel remarks start at about the 15-minute mark:
Gov. Pawlenty called on the president to put forward a legitimate plan for peace in the region, rather than constantly putting blame on Israel. According to remarks posted on his website:
"It breaks my heart that President Obama treats Israel, our great friend, as a problem, rather than as an ally. The President seems to genuinely believe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lies at the heart of every problem in the Middle East. He said it Cairo in 2009 and again this year.
President Obama could not be more wrong.
The uprisings in Tunis, Cairo, Tripoli and elsewhere are not about Israelis and Palestinians. They’re about oppressed people yearning for freedom and prosperity. Whether those countries become prosperous and free is not about how many apartments Israel builds in Jerusalem.
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.
I reject that anti-Israel attitude. I reject it because Israel is a close and reliable democratic ally. And I reject it because I know the people of Israel want peace."
In addition, Gov. Pawleny affirmed that the United States has a vital stake, and is both ready and capable to take on the challenge of steering the Middle East in the right direction.
"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."
The former Minnesota governor slammed President Obama for being "timid, slow, and too often without a clear understanding of our interests or clear commitment to our principles," and claimed the president failed in his response to the Arab Spring.
As several Republican candidates have advocated for a isolationist-leaning approach to foreign policy, Gov. Pawlenty affirmed himself as someone who would take a different approach if president:
"The leader of the United States should never leave those willing to sacrifice their lives in the cause of freedom wondering where America stands. As President, I will not.
We need a president who fully understands that America never 'leads from behind.'"
The race for the GOP 2012 presidential candidate is as open as it has ever been, and as the media frenzies over each new candidate that files FEC paperwork, attention on Gov. Pawlenty has begun to dilute. Some see today's speech as a turning point for Gov. Pawlenty, and a move to cement himself among the ticket's top contenders. From the New York Times:
"The speech comes as Mr. Pawlenty is struggling to break out in a campaign that has been dominated recently by the entries of Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Jon M. Huntsman Jr., the former governor of Utah. Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, is leading in polls that show Mr. Pawlenty at the bottom of the pack.
Mr. Pawlenty is trying to take advantage of a rift in his party over the extent of the country’s involvement overseas."
It remains to be seen if Gov. Pawlenty's foreign policy approach will be in line with majority of voters in the GOP primary. That said, Tuesday's speech hedged the Governor of a state over 2000 miles from any ocean as the Presidential candidate with the most extensive global ambitions.