GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich's foreign policy beliefs are largely undefined and he has already flip-flopped on important issues, said Mitt Romney surrogate and former presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty.
"Newt's current views on foreign policy are a work in progress," Pawlenty told The Cable in a Tuesday interview following his speech at the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) 2011 Forum. "Some of this has yet to be revealed as it relates to Newt. Mitt's been out talking about foreign policy issues in detail for a long time. So his foreign policy positions are much more developed than Newt's."
Calling Romney the most qualified GOP candidate on foreign policy and national security issues, Pawlenty -- who said he is co-chairman of Romney's campaign -- also accused Gingrich of twice changing his position on U.S. policy toward Libya.
"[Gingrich] was for the no-fly zone, then he backed off the no-fly zone, then he was for it again," said Pawlenty. "I think he whirled around two or three times on the Libya question."
In fact, Gingrich called for a no-fly zone on March 7, just before the Libya war began, and then said after the operation began, said "I would not have intervened." Romney has also come under fire for what many have seen as a shifting position on President Barack Obama's military intervention in Libya.
Pawlenty declined to say that Romney outright rejects Gingrich's recent claim that the Palestinian identity is "invented." However, he did say that Romney probably wouldn't use those exact words -- at least not before checking with the Israeli government.
"One of the tests that Mitt would apply to using phrases that characterize people or organizations in a tense situation would be to call the prime minister of Israel and say, ‘If I used a characterization like this, would it be helpful or hurtful to Israel's goals and objectives in the region and their security,'" said Pawlenty. "Mitt articulated that he doesn't think that kind of rhetoric would be helpful to that situation."
Gingrich's recent attack on Palestinian identity does seem to contradict his previous writing on the issue. In a memo sent to the Defense Department leadership in 2003 titled "Seven Strategic Necessities," he advocated strong support for moderate Palestinians who were fighting against Hamas.
"The only hope for peace between Israel and the Palestinian people is for the United States to overtly ally with those Palestinians who will accept Israel if they have safety, health, prosperity and freedom and in this alliance defeat and ultimately eliminate the threat of the terrorists, " Gingrich wrote at the time. "Victory in the Israel-Palestinian conflict thus inherently means victory both in a campaign against terrorists and in a campaign to build a safe, healthy, prosperous, free Palestinian society."
Pawlenty maintained that Romney has the clearest and most detailed foreign policy positions of any GOP primary candidate. "He is calling for a reset of the reset with respect to Russia, and he would take a much more forceful stance with China in regards to their manipulation and pegging of their currency," Pawlenty said.
In what seemed like a threat of a trade war, Pawlenty said that as president, Romney would label China as a "currency manipulator," give it "fair warning" to change its behavior, and then invoke "financial consequences" on various trade relations with China.
What foreign policy experience would Romney bring to the presidency, we asked?
"Well, he as a governor has had exposure to many of these issues, not in the same way a president would have," Pawlenty explained. "For example, he was the commander-in-chief of the National Guard on state duty and when you come into contact with the military that regularly, you obviously learn command-and-control structures, techniques, and the like."
Romney also led a homeland security committee inside the National Governors Association and has traveled extensively abroad, Pawlenty said.
"When you are an executive leader you learn executive function and in the case of being a governor, you are significantly immersed in security and homeland security issues," Pawlenty said.
Does Romney give Obama any credit for recent victories in capturing and killing Islamist extremists?
"Mitt has acknowledged that President Obama did a good job in hunting down Osama bin Laden and others, but he has also noted that many of the techniques and tools that were presumably used in finding and killing those individuals were developed in the previous administration, and some of which President Obama opposed," Pawlenty said.
During the Q&A session following Pawlenty's FPI speech, Brookings scholar Robert Kagan suggested that Pawlenty would be a good choice for secretary of state in a future Romney administration. Pawlenty declined to put himself forward for that role.
"I'm happy to help Mitt as a volunteer doing all that I can. In my view, on foreign policy, he is clearly the most knowledgeable, the most capable, and the most electable," Pawlenty said. "But it would irresponsible to the campaign to start talking about winning the election and dividing up positions."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.