Republican White House hopeful Tim Pawlenty charged Tuesday that President Barack Obama has mishandled the “Arab Spring” and that prospects for Middle East peace have dimmed on the Democrat’s watch.
“Israeli-Palestinian peace is further away now than the day Barack Obama came to office,” the former Minnesota governor said in excerpts of what aides billed as a major foreign policy speech to be delivered in New York.
“But that does not have to be a permanent situation. We must recognize that peace will only come if everyone in the region perceives clearly that America stands strongly with Israel,” Pawlenty said.
Republicans have condemned Obama for saying in public last month what had been private US policy: that 1967 territorial lines, with agreed land swaps, should be the basis for borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state.
Pawlenty was to deliver the address to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
The former governor, who trails Republican White House front-runner Mitt Romney in early polls, also took aim at Obama’s handling of the “Arab Spring” uprisings against authoritarian rulers throughout the Middle East.
Obama “has failed to formulate and carry out an effective and coherent strategy in response to these events. He has been timid, slow, and too often without a clear understanding of our interests or a clear commitment to our principles,” said Pawlenty.
The former governor also charged that Obama had picked engagement with foes “instead of promoting democracy,” blasting what he called the president’s silence in the face of the uprising sparked by Iran’s contested 2009 election.
“When the Iranian ayatollahs stole an election and the people of that country rose up in protest, President Obama held his tongue,” said Pawlenty.
“His silence validated the mullahs, despite the blood on their hands and the nuclear centrifuges in their tunnels,” he added.
Obama spoke out days after the June 2009 vote in Iran, declaring himself “deeply troubled” by Tehran’s crackdown on protesters but vowing to stick with what he termed “tough, hard-headed” outreach with “no illusions.”
But the US president’s response to the Iranian turmoil was noticeably more muted than that of some of Washington’s key allies as well as influential US lawmakers such as Republican Senator John McCain.
Pawlenty’s speech comes after Obama announced plans to withdraw 33,000 “surge” troops from Afghanistan by the end of next summer, a step the former governor criticized.
It also follows former US envoy to China Jon Huntsman’s formal announcement that he sought the nomination to take on his former boss, Obama, making him the Republican candidate with the most high-profile foreign policy credentials.
Pawlenty will speak the day after firebrand Representative Michele Bachmann, a favorite of the archconservative Tea Party movement, formally launched her White House bid in Iowa, the site of an early political contest.
Bachmann has until now focused her attacks on Obama’s domestic policies — especially his landmark health care reforms — but on Monday she too accused Obama of failing to stand up for Israel and confront America’s enemies.
Pawlenty was to condemn what some have described as isolationist strains in the Republican field, where Huntsman and Romney have pressed for a withdrawal from Afghanistan and Representative Ron Paul has said Washington should butt out of other nations’ affairs.
“What is wrong is for the Republican Party to shrink from the challenges of American leadership in the world,” said Pawlenty.
“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,” he said, referring to widespread concerns about the bloated US deficit.
“America already has one political party devoted to decline, retrenchment, and withdrawal; it does not need a second one,” he said.