The Cable

Pawlenty to give rebuttal to Obama’s Middle East speech

GOP presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty will deliver a major address on foreign policy on Tuesday in what his top aides are billing as a rebuttal to what they see as President Barack Obama's flawed May 19 speech on the Middle East.

All the Republican presidential candidates are being forced to sharpen their foreign policy chops as the primary race heats up, but Pawlenty has been vocal on several key foreign policy issues for some time. His campaign may for now be light on foreign policy infrastructure, but it's heavy on policy positions and ideas, several of which he plans to lay out tomorrow morning when he addresses the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

"There's a frustration the governor feels with President Obama, that there's no strategic coherence to his foreign policy. Whether it's the Arab Spring, the Middle East peace process, Iran, or Syria there's an ad hoc approach to what they're doing.  And the learning curve never seems to get flatter," Pawlenty's senior foreign policy advisor Brian Hook told The Cable.

"The governor's speech will set forth a strategically coherent approach to the Middle East and he will discuss a better way forward in the Middle East peace process."

Pawlenty will lay out a set of principles that the United States should adhere to in the Arab-Israeli peace process.

Pawlenty will also put forth his own views tomorrow for how the United States should respond to the Arab Spring. He will divide the countries of the region into categories -- those that are struggling for democracy, entrenched monarchies, anti-U.S. regimes such as Syria and Iran, and Israel. He will then argue that there's no one-size-fits-all solution for the problems plaguing the Middle East.

Hook, a former assistant secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, also worked as an advisor to two U.S. ambassadors: Zalmay Kalizad and John Bolton. He emphasizes that on foreign policy, Pawlenty is a "Reagan Republican" when it comes to the broad strokes.

On specific issues such as the president's approach to Israel, U.S. policy toward Iran, or U.S.-Russia relations, Pawlenty often shares the views of leading GOP hawks in the Senate such as Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Joe Lieberman (I-CT). But Pawlenty doesn't want to be identified as a neoconservative, and doesn't want his views to be tied to those senators in particular.

"I wish you could think of another way to describe this wing of the party, other than McCain and Lindsey Graham. I love John, but that's like saying we're embracing Nelson Rockefeller on economics," Pawlenty joked during his interview with Bloomberg News.

The other major foreign policy voice so far in Pawlenty's campaign is former Minnesota congressman and campaign co-chair Vin Weber, who was a member of the neoconservative group Project for a New American Century and an early supporter of the invasion of Iraq

But Hook said Pawlenty's foreign policy identity is his own.

"Governor Pawlenty believes in an exceptional America. He believes that a President must provide strong and decisive leadership to the forces of democracy, and President Obama has repeatedly failed at this basic task," he said.

Pawlenty mostly sticks to that forward-leaning approach, particularly in regard to Obama's intervention in Libya, a topic that he will also address on Tuesday. Pawlenty was among the first to call for a no-fly zone over Libya and for  Muammar al-Qaddafi to go, but he's not satisfied with the way the Obama administration has handled the war.

"A quick, decisive decision by Obama in days, not weeks, to impose a no-fly zone would have given us a very different result. But once the president of the United States says that Qaddafi must go, you just can't let him sit there indefinitely and thumb his nose at us. He's a third-rate dictator who has American blood on his hands," he said.

Pawlenty's staff is aware that there is a fractious internal debate going on inside the GOP on foreign policy. The influx of Tea Party candidates in Congress has conflated foreign policy with calls to slash the budget, and  candidates like Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are now questioning the continued commitment to Afghanistan. But Pawlenty is unmoved by the politics of the moment.

"Some foreign policy positions are not politically popular today, but the governor bases his decisions on principle and American values -- not what the polls say this week or next," Hook said.

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