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Pawlenty on Foreign Policy

Jennifer Rubin notes that Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich stopped by the big Foreign Policy Initiative Conference last week and made fairly lengthy, detailed foreign policy pitches.  Pawlenty was absent which is perfectly understandable.  It’s one thing for a sitting Governor, with no official national aspirations, to stump the country talking about domestic issues.  You can almost sell that as typical loyal party stuff.  If he started giving big foreign policy speeches he’d give the game away far too early.  But, I thought this would be a good time to lay down what Pawlenty has said about various foreign policy issues.  What’s the use of having access to different online databases (thank you, university) if you’re not going to use them to dig up obscure quotes? 

Iraq

Back in 2007, Pawlenty claimed to be skeptical about the surge and wondered if it shouldn’t have come earlier.  He said, in March 2007 visit to Iraq: 

“The war, of course, is not going as well as we all hoped,” Pawlenty said, “I guess I’d have to call myself a skeptic as to whether you can really turn it around [after] we let the situation deteriorate so badly. But now we’ve pulled the goalie, to put it in Minnesota terms, and we’re going all in with the surge. 

He expressed confidence in Petraeus’s candor and said, of the troops in the region:

They asked, ‘Where do you withdraw to?’ ” he said. “We need to maintain a presence in the region. There are big challenges ahead, and it’s not limited to Iraq.

So he was skeptical, but on-board. 

Afghanistan

In a March 2007 trip to Afghanistan, Pawlenty said:

“The snow is melting and they’re expecting a spring offensive from the Taliban,” the governor said Friday in conference call with Minnesota reporters. “It’s important that the United States of America press on and prevail from a national security standpoint.”…”It’s like going back 400 years, in some respects,” Pawlenty said. “It’s a very developing country, provincial and tribal, with a complicated culture and structure.”

Specifically, Pawlenty has since praised Afghanistan agri-development programs as “very important” for success. 

All-in-all, there hasn’t been a whole lot of meat on the Pawlenty foreign policy.  He has supported the major Republican foreign policy initiatives and has sounded hawkish themes at various points, but generally he’s preferred to focus on the troops.  He’s made an almost unbelievable 8 trips to Iraq and Afghanistan since becoming Governor which, I’m pretty sure, puts him ahead of our current President.  And you can’t search for “Pawlenty and Iraq” without turning up dozens of ceremonies and funerals he’s attended or pro-veteran laws he’s championed.  So I think its fair to say Pawlenty has an outsized interest, for a Governor, in foreign policy. 

Still, most of this is easy stuff; being CIC isn’t.  If Pawlenty wants to play on the world stage he needs to start making gradual, in-depth forays into foreign policy discussions.  He should go on cable news programs immediately after big foreign policy developments, ostensibly to talk about something else.  While there he can chime in on the news of the day in a detailed way and answer some big questions.  How does he see America’s role in the world?  What are the future international hot-spots (Romney identifies China) outside of the US?  Here are my two cents:  stay away from soundbytes and don’t overcompensate.  Governors always overcompensate on foreign policy, but this isn’t 2008 (Huckabee and his “bunker mentality”, Romney and his “radical jihadists”) or 1988 (Dukakis in a tank).  It’s more like 1992.  Foreign policy probably won’t be the overriding issue in the primaries.  Someone like Pawlenty has the luxury of not having to make foreign policy “news” to impress upon people his seriousness.  If he does the small stuff and seems conversant on foreign affairs he ought to be alright. 

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