Pawlenty tries his hand at foreign policy

After President Obama’s speech last week on U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan, Republican presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty was one of the first figures to go on the attack. The problem, as Joe Klein explained, was that Pawlenty’s assessment was “utterly absurd.” Klein added, “[I]t’s fine to disagree with the decision Obama has made…. But to have any credibility at all, you have to show some indication that you understand the decision he has made.”

Pawlenty had a chance to help bolster his faltering credibility on foreign policy today, but I’m not sure he did himself any favors.

In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, Mr. Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, offered himself as the foreign policy hawk in the Republican race, swiping at his rivals for what he said were their “isolationist sentiments” in the face of the president’s failures.

“America already has one political party devoted to decline, retrenchment and withdrawal; it does not need a second one,” Mr. Pawlenty said, according to an advance copy of the speech provided by his campaign.

Reading the prepared text, most of this seems pretty boilerplate. Pawlenty, who assumes he has foreign policy experience because Minnesota borders Canada, loves Israel, hates Obama, hates Iran, and cares about “the freedom deficit.” The former governor apparently looks at his rivals, doesn’t see a Kristol/McCain/Graham-style candidate, and figures he might be able to fill the void — his speech was littered with tired, shallow neocon talking points.

But what I found odd about the speech was Pawlenty’s focus. The bulk of the address — billed as the candidate’s “major foreign policy speech” — was focused on the Middle East, but it only made one passing reference to Iraq. Perhaps more important, Pawlenty also only made one passing reference to the war in Afghanistan.

Last week, Pawlenty was eager to slam U.S. policy in Afghanistan, but given a chance to speak about foreign policy and national security in depth, at the Council on Foreign Relations no less, the former governor took a pass.

What kind of presidential candidate gives a big speech on foreign policy and the future of the Middle East but forgets to talk about two ongoing wars? I guess the kind of candidate who confuses Iran and Iraq.

It makes sense that Pawlenty would want to try to pass the “Commander in Chief Test.” Unfortunately for him, he appears to have a long way to go.