Campaign 2012Campaign 2012


PrintPrint EmailEmail ShareShare CiteCite


Campaign 2012 Series: A Conversation With Tim Pawlenty

Speaker: Tim Pawlenty, Candidate for the 2012 Republican Presidential Nomination; Former Governor, Minnesota
Presider: Jon Meacham, Executive Vice President and Executive Editor, Random House Publishing Group
June 29, 2011



JON MEACHAM: Welcome to today's Council on Foreign Relations meeting. If you would, please completely turn off all electronic devices, BlackBerrys, everything. Otherwise it will make havoc with the sound system.

I'd like remind members this meeting is on the record. So watch yourself, Governor. (Laughter.) And I'm delighted to introduce the former governor of Minnesota. When my 9-year-old Yankee fan asked me this morning where I was going, I said I was going to see the former governor of Minnesota. He said: Poor Twins! (Laughter.)

So, Governor Pawlenty. (Applause.)

TIM PAWLENTY: Well, you know, we don't always have a fair advantage again these larger-market teams. (Laughter.) So you got to take -- put it in context. (Chuckles.)

MR. : (Off mic.)

PAWLENTY: (Chuckles.) Good morning. Thank you for being here. I really appreciate it. I'm delighted to have a chance to share my views about some of the most pressing foreign policy issues and opportunities and challenge facing the United States of America.

But before I do that, I want to thank the Council on Foreign Relations for their tremendous hospitality and for the forum that they provide, not just today but throughout these many years and decades, advancing the cause of thoughtful and deliberate discussion and debate on matters of foreign policy. And I'm grateful for the hospitality and grateful for your presence here this morning.

I want to speak plainly this morning about a number of opportunities and dangers we face today in the Middle East. We have a situation where the revolutions now roiling that region offer the promise of a more democratic, more open and more prosperous Arab world. From Morocco to the Arabian Gulf, the escape from the dead hand of oppression is now a real possibility. Now is not the time to retreat from freedom's rise.

Yet at the same time, we know these revolutions can bring to power forces that are neither democratic nor forward-leaning. Just as the people of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria and elsewhere see a chance for a better life of genuine freedom, the leaders of radical Islam see a chance to ride political turmoil into power.

The United States has a vital stake in the future of this region. We've been presented with a challenge as great as any we've faced in recent decades, and we must get it right. The question is, are we up to the challenge?

My answer is, of course we are. If we're clear about our interests and guided by our principles, we can help steer events in the right direction. Our nation has done this in the past -- at the end of World War II, in the last decade of the Cold War, in the more recent war on terror -- and we can do it again.

But President 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, our clear commitment to our principles. And parts of the Republican Party now seem to be trying to outbid the Democrats in appealing to isolationist sentiments. This is no time for uncertain leadership in either party. The stakes are simply too high, and the opportunity is simply too great.

No one in this administration predicted the events of the Arab Spring, but the freedom deficit in the Arab world was no secret. For 60 years, Western nations excused and accommodated the lack of freedom in the Middle East. That couldn't last. The days of comfortable private deals with dictators were coming to an end in the age of Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. And history teaches there is no such thing as stable oppression.

President Obama has ignored that lesson of history. Instead of promoting democracy, whose fruit we see now ripening across the region, he adopted a murky policy. He called it "engagement."

"Engagement" meant that in 2009, when the Iranian ayatollahs stole an election and the people of that country rose up in protest, President Obama held his tongue. His silence validated the mullahs, despite the blood on their hands and nuclear centrifuges in their tunnels. While protesters were killed and tortured, Secretary Clinton said the administration was, quote, "waiting to see the outcome of the internal Iranian processes." She and the president waited long enough to see the Green Revolution -- the Green Movement crushed.

"Engagement" also meant that in his first year in office, President Obama cut democracy funding for Egyptian civil society by 74 percent. As one American democracy organization noted, this was "perceived by Egyptian democracy activists as signaling a lack of support." They perceived correctly. It was a lack of support.

"Engagement" also meant that when crisis erupted in Cairo this year, as tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Tahrir Square, Secretary Clinton declared, quote, "the Egyptian government is stable." Two weeks later, Mubarak was gone. When Secretary Clinton visited Cairo after Mubarak's fall, democratic activist groups refused to meet with her, and who can blame them? The forces we now need to succeed in Egypt, the pro-democracy secular political parties, these are the very people President Obama cut off and Secretary Clinton dismissed.

The Obama "engagement" policy in Syria led the administration to call Bashar al-Assad a "reformer." Even as Assad's regime was shooting hundreds of protesters dead in the street, President Obama announced his plan to give Assad an, quote, "alternative vision of himself," close quote. Does anyone outside a therapist's office have any idea what that means? This is what passes for moral clarity in the Obama administration.

By contrast, I called for Assad's departure on March 29th. I call for it again today. We should recall our ambassador from Damascus, and I call for that again today. The leader of the United States should never leave those willing to sacrifice their lives in the cause of freedom wondering where America stands. As president, I will not. We need a president who fully understands that America never leads from behind.

We cannot underestimate how pivotal this moment is in Middle Eastern history. We need decisive, clear-eyed leadership that is responsive to this historical moment of change in ways that are consistent with our deepest principles and safeguards our vital interests.

Opportunity still exists amid the turmoil of the Arab Spring, and we should seize it. As I see it, the governments of the Middle East fall into four broad categories, and each requires a different strategic approach.

The first consists of three countries now at various stages of transition toward democracy: the formerly fake republics in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. Iraq is also in this category, but it's further along on its journey toward democracy. For these countries, our goal should be to help promote freedom and democracy in the region.

Elections that produce anti-democratic regimes undermine both freedom and stability. We must do more than monitor polling places. We must redirect foreign aid away from efforts to merely build good will, and we must direct those efforts toward building good allies, genuine democracies governed by free people according to the rule of law. And we must insist that our international partners get off the sidelines and do the same.

We should have no illusions about the difficulty of the transitions faced by Libya, Tunisia, and especially Egypt. Whereas Libya is rich in oil, and Tunisia is small, Egypt is large, populous and poor. Among the region's emerging democracies, it remains the biggest opportunity and the biggest danger for American interests.

Having ejected Mubarak, too many Egyptians are now rejecting the beginnings of the economic opening engineered in the last decade. We act out of friendship when we tell Egyptians and every new democracy that economic growth and prosperity are the result of free markets and free trade, not subsidies and foreign aid. If we want these countries to succeed, we must afford them the respect of telling them the truth.

In Libya, the best help America can provide to these new friends is to stop leading from behind and commit America's strength to removing Gadhafi, recognizing the TNC as the government of Libya and unfreezing assets so the TNC can afford security and essential services as it marches towards Tripoli.

Beyond Libya, America should always promote the universal principles that undergird freedom. We should press new friends to end discrimination against women, to establish independent courts and the freedom of speech and the press. We must insist on religious freedoms for all, including the region's minorities, whether Christian, Shia, Sunni, or Baha'i.

The second category of states is the Arab monarchies. Some, like Jordan and Morocco, are engaging now in what looks like genuine reform. This should earn our praise and our assistance. These kings have understood they must forge a partnership with their own people, leading step by step toward more democratic societies. They need to understand these changes. These monarchies can smooth the path to constitutional reform and freedom, and thereby deepen their own legitimacy. If they choose this route, they too deserve our help.

But others are resisting reform. While President Obama spoke well about Bahrain in his recent speech, he neglected to utter two important words: Saudi Arabia. U.S.-Saudi relations are at an all-time low, and not primarily because of the Arab Spring. They were going downhill fast long before the uprisings began. The Saudis saw an American administration yearning to engage Iran, just at the time they correctly saw Iran as a mortal enemy.

We need to tell the Saudis what we think, which will only be effective if we have a position of trust with them. We'll develop that trust by demonstrating that we share their great concern about Iran and that we are committed to doing all that is necessary to defend the region from Iranian aggression.

At the same time, we need to be frank about what the Saudis must do to ensure stability in their own country. Above all, they need to reform and open their society. Their treatment of Christians and other minorities -- and their treatment of women -- is indefensible and must change.

We know that reform will come to Saudi Arabia sooner and more smoothly if the royal family accepts and designs it. It will come later, and with turbulence and even violence, if they resist. The vast wealth of their country should be used to support reforms that fit Saudi history and culture, but not to buy off the people as a substitute for lasting reform.

The third category consists of states that are directly hostile to America. They include Iran and Syria. The Arab Spring has already vastly undermined the appeal of al-Qaida, and the killing of Osama bin Laden has significantly weakened it. The success of peaceful protests in several Arab countries has shown the world that terror is not only evil but will eventually be overcome by good. Peaceful protests may soon bring down the Assad regime in Syria. The 2009 protests in Iran inspired Arabs to seek their freedom. Similarly, the Arab protests of this year and the fall of regime after broken regime can inspire Iranians to seek their freedom once again.

We have a clear interest in seeing an end to Assad's murderous regime. But sticking to Bashar al-Assad so long, the Obama administration has not only frustrated Syrians who are fighting for freedom, it has demonstrated a strategic blindness. The government of Iran and Syria are enemies of the United States. They are not reformers and never will be. They support each other. To weaken or replace one is to weaken or replace the other. The fall of the Assad mafia in Damascus would weaken Hamas, which is headquartered there. It would also weaken Hezbollah, which gets its arms from Iran through Syria, and it would weaken the Iranian regime itself.

To take advantage of this moment, we should press every diplomatic and economic channel to bring the Assad reign of terror to end. We need more forceful sanctions to persuade Syria's Sunni business elite that Assad is too expensive to keep. We also need to work with Turkey and the Arab nations, the Europeans, to further isolate the regime.

And we need to encourage opponents of the regime by making our own position very clear, right now: Bashar al-Assad must go. When he does, the mullahs of Iran will find themselves isolated and vulnerable. Syria is Iran's only Arab ally. If we peel that away, I believe it will hasten the fall of the mullahs. And that is the ultimate goal we must pursue. It's the singular opportunity offered to the world by the brave men and women of the Arab Spring.

The march of freedom in the Middle East cuts across the region's diversity of religious, ethnic, and political groups, but it's born of a particular unity. It's a united front against stolen elections and stolen liberty, secret police, corruption and the state-sanctioned violence that's the essence of the Iranian regime's tyranny. But this is a moment to ratchet up pressure and speak with clarity: more sanctions; more and better broadcasting into Iran; more assistance to Iranians to access the Internet and satellite TV, and the knowledge and freedom that comes with it; more efforts to expose the vicious repression inside that country and expose Teheran's regime for the pariah it is; and very critically, we must have more clarity when it comes to Iran's nuclear program.

In 2008, candidate Barack Obama told AIPAC that he would, quote, "always keep the threat of military action on the table to defend our security and our ally Israel." This year he told AIPAC, quote, "we remain committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons." So I have a -- have to ask the question: Are all the options on the table or not? If he's not clear with us, it's no wonder that even our closest allies are confused. The administration should enforce all sanctions for which legal authority already exits. We should enact and then enforce new pending legislation which strengthens sanctions, particularly against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, who control much of the Iranian economy.

And in the middle of all this is Israel. Israel is unique in the region because of what it stands for and what it has accomplished. And it's unique in the threat it faces: the threat of annihilation. It has long been a bastion of democracy in a region of tyranny and violence. And it is by far our closest ally in that part of the world. Despite wars and terrorists, attacks of various forms, Israel offers all its citizens, men and women, Jews, Christians, Muslims and others -including 1.5 million Arabs -- freedom of religion, freedom of speech and the right to vote, as well as access to independent courts and all other democratic rights.

Nowhere has President Obama's lack of judgment been more stunning than in his dealings with Israel. It breaks my heart that the president of this country treats Israel, our great friend, as a problem rather than as an ally.

The president seems to genuinely believe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lies at the heart of every problem in the Middle East. He said it in Cairo in 2009 and again this year.

President Obama couldn't be more wrong. The uprisings in Tunis, Cairo, Tripoli and elsewhere are not about Israelis and Palestinians. They're about oppressed people yearning for freedom and prosperity. Whether those countries become prosperous and free is not about how many apartments Israel builds in Jerusalem.

Today the president doesn't really have a policy toward the peace process. He has an attitude. And let's be frank about what that attitude is: He thinks Israel is the problem, and he thinks the answer is always more pressure on Israel. I reject that anti-Israel attitude. I reject it because Israel is a close and reliable democratic ally, and I reject it because I know the people of Israel want peace. Israeli-Palestinian peace is further away now than the day Barack Obama came to office, but that doesn't have to be permanent. We must recognize that peace will only come if everyone in the region perceives clearly that America stands strongly with Israel.

I would take a new approach.

First, I would never undermine Israel's negotiating position nor pressure it to accept borders which jeopardize security and its ability to defend itself.

Second, I would not pressure Israel to negotiate with Hamas or a Palestinian government that includes Hamas unless Hamas renounces terror, accepts Israel's right to exist and honors the previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. In short, Hamas needs to cease being a terrorist group in both word and deed as a first step towards global legitimacy.

Third, I'd ensure assistance to the Palestinians immediately ends if the teaching of hatred in Palestinian classrooms and airwaves continues. That incitement must end now.

Fourth, I'd recommend cultivating and empowering moderate forces within the Palestinian society. When the Palestinians have leaders who are honest and capable, who appreciate the rule of law, who understand that war against Israel has doomed generations of Palestinians to lives of bitterness, violence and poverty, then peace will come.

The Middle East is changing before our very eyes, but our government has not kept up. It abandoned the promotion of democracy just as Arabs were about to seize it. It sought to cozy up to dictators just as their own people rose against them. It downplayed our principles and distanced us from key allies. All this was wrong, and these policies have failed. The administration has abandoned them, and at the price of the American leadership in the region, in a region that since World War II has looked to us for security and progress and now wonders where we are and what we're up to.

The next president must do better. Today, in our own Republican Party, some look back and conclude our projection of strength and defense of freedom was a product of different times and different challenges. While times have changed, the nature of the challenge has not. In the 1980s we were up against a violent totalitarian ideology bent on subjugating the people and the principles of the West. While others sought to coexist, President Reagan instead sought victory. So must we today, for America is exceptional, and we have a moral clarity to lead the world.

It's not wrong for Republicans to question the conduct of President Obama's military leadership in Libya. There's much to question. And it's not wrong for Republicans to debate the timing of our military drawdown in Afghanistan, though my belief is that General Petraeus' voice ought to carry the most weight on that important question. What is wrong is for the Republican Party to shrink from the challenges of American leadership in the world. History repeatedly warns us that in the long run, weakness in foreign policy costs us and our children much more than we'll ever save in a budget line item.

America already has one political party devoted to decline, retrenchment and withdrawal. It doesn't need a second one. Our enemies in the war on terror, just like our opponents in the Cold War, respect and respond to strength. Sometimes strength means military intervention. Sometimes it means diplomatic pressure. It always means moral clarity in the -- in word and deed. That is the legacy of Republican foreign policy at its best and the banner our next Republican president must carry around the world.

Our ideals of economic and political freedom, of equality and opportunity for all citizens, remain the dream of people in the Middle East and throughout the world. As America stands for these principles and stands with our friends and allies, we'll help the Middle East transform this moment of turbulence into a firmer, more lasting opportunity for freedom, peace and progress.

Thank you very much. I look forward to your questions and the discussion. (Applause.)

MEACHAM: Decline, retrenchment and withdrawal. Really?

PAWLENTY: (Chuckles.) Well, here's some examples that support that characterization. Number one, at a minimum, the commander in chief and the leader of the free world and the president of the United States needs to lend moral clarity and rhetorical strength to the values and principles that we support and embrace here and around the world. So at the beginning of the Green Revolution in 2009, when you had people standing in Iran asking where does the United States stand, and the president stands essentially mute on those issues, that is a form of flinching, withdrawal, retrenchment, rhetorically.

When you have the president of the United States take the recommendation of perhaps the most informed, forward-leaning, effective and impactful military leader in the modern history of the country in Afghanistan, when General Petraeus calls for the complement of surge troops to be around at their maximum level a little while longer, not for 10 years' or 20 years' worth of nation building but for at least the logical intermediate next-step goal of making sure the Afghan security forces are trained in volume and quality, so that it can at least reasonably take up more of the charge and the challenge of security in Afghanistan, and the president draws down those troops -- notwithstanding that recommendation -- and coincidentally, very well-timed, compared to the political calendar -- that strikes me as something that is a sense of withdrawal, retrenchment and decline.

And the list goes on. When you have the president of the United States say to Syria, notwithstanding the fact that Bashar al-Assad is not a reformer, is a known killer, is an enabler of terrorism -- sends a(n) ambassador back to Damascus, refuses and declines to address Syria, its behavior and its leadership with any moral clarity -- all of those things and more support those statements.

MEACHAM: You said America is exceptional and that we have a moral clarity to lead the world. What is that moral clarity?

PAWLENTY: Well, the moral clarity is that we and other developed nations around the world support these principles and more: human rights; free and fair elections; the free and fair flow of information; the ability for people to express themselves freely, to worship freely, to associate freely. Those are values and principles that we can speak to with moral clarity because they are our values. And they are shared by many around the world, but not all. And when people oppress them in tyrannical ways, we should, at the very least, speak to that, but we have moral clarity to do that because they're our values.

MEACHAM: Well, for two and a half centuries, we've dealt with the tension between --

PAWLENTY: And they're universal values as well.

MEACHAM: -- the tension between those values in operation and the security issues that arise. So what do you do about a state -- you mentioned radical Islam early on. What do you do with a state that chooses to oppose the United States and its interests, but out of the values -- believing that they've followed a democratic process and have become what they believe they should be, but then pose a threat to the United States?

PAWLENTY: Which state would you highlight as an example of that?

MEACHAM: (Chuckles.)

PAWLENTY: Which state has followed a democratic process that leads you to that conclusion?

MEACHAM: But you're speaking about -- you've run through a list of principles by which you would govern, and the tension between freedom and security is a perennial one. So at what point do you draw a line?

PAWLENTY: OK, I thought your question was premised on there's a state that has a democratic result.

But nonetheless, you know, these four categories I put forward in the speech was this.

One is, we have -- several countries have gone through revolution and are at the doorstep of freedom. We should help them.

Two is, we have these long-standing monarchies, many of whom have been at least somewhat or at least partially friendly to the United States, but you can see the handwriting on the wall. Their day is not long if they try to stay in their current form. Now it may be a year, it may be 10 years, it may be 20 or 30, but they can't sustain the system that they're on. There's a continuum between where they are and more shared power with their people. We need to use the levers that we have economically, militarily, socially, trade and beyond to move them, as constructively as possible, down the continuum from what they have now to a better place of shared power with their people.

And then we have the failed states or states that are directly threatening to the United States. And they include Syria, and they include Iran -- hopefully not yet Yemen, but that could also be on the list -- and they need to be dealt with in a different and more aggressive manner.

And fourth, we need to recognize that we have our great ally Israel that does share our values and our principles and our security concerns, and we need to stand shoulder to shoulder with them as we confront and also embrace the challenges and opportunities of the region more broadly.

So the essence of your question is, where's the dividing line between democracy and tyranny? And the answer is, you can't flip a switch overnight and move historically tyrannical governments to democracy, but you can use the levers that are available to try to nudge them, pressure them, cajole them, encourage them, inspire them, incentivize them to move down the continuum towards democracy. And it doesn't happen overnight. Look at, you know, the Balkans. Look at Romania. Look at Serbia. Look at Kosovo. Look at Bosnia. These are not one- or two-year projects. These are 10-, 20-, multidecade projects, and they take sustained, persistent commitment by people within the countries as well as their enablers and friends beyond.

Reagan did great work in Romania, in Poland and Afghanistan part one, not by always using direct military -- explicit military intervention, but by lots of support mechanisms, and over time it changed the country. But it starts with a president who is going to lend moral clarity, clear voice, strength of vision, strength of values, so the individuals who are dissidents, reformers, dreamers, change agents in those countries hear the voice and know, at least aspirationally and directionally, we stand with them.

MEACHAM: I'm going to ask one question. Then we'll go to the audience -- the members. The -- you made a very interesting historical linkage early on: the post-World War II era, the last decade of the Cold War and the war on terror as -- I'm taking it as three examples of equivalent triumphs. Define the war on terror and what you would do in the next phase of that if you were in power.

PAWLENTY: Well, we first need to recognize that this is not -- there is not a known beginning and end to this yet. So we are accustomed to a mindset in this regard where people might see a clear beginning and a clear end to the challenge and to the need. But unlike some past conflicts, the war on terror is likely to be not just about Afghanistan and Iraq. It is going to be transnational. It is going to be multiyear if not multidecade. It is going to be episodic. It's going to ebb and flow. The threat will take different forms in different places at different times. It will be asymmetrical, and it will be significantly different, as we all well know, than some of the historical examples that you cite.

But we need to steel ourselves for that future. There is only one person in the country who can continually lend voice and educate and raise awareness and remind the American people about the importance of this cause and the opportunities and risks of making sure that we remain vigilant; that people who killed 3,000 of our fellow citizens in this city and in other places on September 11th, 2001, still exist; the organizations still exist; their mindset still exists; their designs and plans still exist; and as soon as they have the opportunity to kill not 3,000 but 30,000 or 3 million or 30 million or 300 million, they will try.

And this may not be just about how do you, in an orderly and reasonable -- and, I would add, successful -- fashion, draw down the troops in Afghanistan. This is going to be about do we have the steely-eyed, clear-eyed determination to see this threat, call it by name, identify it wherever and however it exists, and defeat it before it manifests itself and operationalizes itself in a way that's threatening to the security interests of the United States and our allies. That is going to be -- require persistence, diligence over a long, episodic period of time. But that is not the direction this president is headed, in my view, and it is not the direction, unfortunately, that a good chunk of even the Republican Party now seems to be headed, and I take sharp issue with both.

MEACHAM: We will now take your questions. Please rise, wait for the microphone, state your name and affiliation. Start here. Sorry. Middle here.

QUESTIONER: Governor, thank you very much for your remarks. I'm wondering if you can shed some light on your support for the idea of change agents, so to speak, in Syria, in Libya, in Iran. Who are those change agents? How can you be assured that if President Assad was no longer in power, that the change agent that would be acceptable to Washington would be the individual who would sit in power in whatever capital it may be, as opposed to someone who could be possibly a bit, you know -- a Salafist, et cetera, et cetera? But basically, how do you have visibility on a change agent that no one in-country really has visibility on right now?

PAWLENTY: Well, it's a very good question, but of course the premise is, how can you guarantee X? And the answer is, the world's a messy place, and there is ultimately no guarantee in these uncertain situations. But when you're flying in the clouds, and you're navigating in uncertain situations, you need to make sure your compass is set to true north or to proper compass headings. That's why it starts with making sure you have a president who enunciates, articulates forcefully, repeatedly, clearly what our values and principles and interests really are.

And then, number two, people didn't ask, you know, what comes after Hitler? You know, what's -- what could happen after that? Hitler was awful and needed to go. Now is there danger about what comes next and risk? Of course, but let's take Libya as one example of many. And each of these countries is different. They have different cultures, histories, backgrounds, relationships with the United States, and a one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter formula does not work for the Middle East. They have to be done strategically, but ultimately one at a time.

In Libya, there are the kinds of risks that your question implies. But we also know that at least a significant chunk of the rebels are Western-educated, seem to genuinely desire freedom and democracy or a better way, want markets and the like. Now is that all of them? No, but are they going to be in competition between the former and the latter? Yes. And is it our best interest, assuming Gadhafi's going to go -- and he is going to go -- to try to maximize the odds that the folks who are favorable to our values prevail? Yes. So is there a(n) absolute guarantee? Of course not; the world doesn't work like that. It's a messy, difficult, risky, complex place. But that doesn't mean we, you know, retreat and duck under the table. We get in there and compete, with information, with ideas, with values, with resources in the power of the marketplace.

And again, this does not mean we invade militarily every country. There are a lot of levers you can pull, develop and deploy that will influence the course of these countries. Can we guarantee the outcome? No, but in Libya, once the president of the United States says Gadhafi must go -- and he has -- you can't let a third-rate dictator thumb his nose at the president of the United States and the free world. Leaving him there indefinitely is not an option.

And now, even if some would argue whether we had a vital interest initially, we have one now, and which is, you can't leave Gadhafi sit there, because if he were to survive and re-establish any capability at all, I would guess one of his main motivations is going to be retaliation, and guess who it's going to be against. And so Gadhafi must now go. And letting him linger indefinitely while the president wrings his hands about what to do next is not a good idea. He needs to go.

MEACHAM: Governor, you've mentioned President Reagan several times. As you look back, do you think your foreign policy approach would have more in common with George H. W. Bush or George W. Bush?

PAWLENTY: Well, I would like to believe I'll have my own foreign policy, that it will reflect upon the best of the policy success of our country and Republicans. I think there are positive examples within both of those administrations on foreign policy successes, some challenges as well, obviously, but I don't think it's one or the other. I think there are strong and positive elements in both.

And again, times change, circumstances change, so these are not -- these are complex issues in complex parts of the world with lots of nuance, and to suggest a cookie-cutter doctrine for the region, I think is, you know, underutilization of our abilities, our capability and our thoughtfulness. But I like -- there are elements of both that I would embrace.

MEACHAM: Are you -- you're not running in a primary right now, are you?

PAWLENTY: (Laughs.)

MEACHAM: Sir, right here.


QUESTIONER: My name is Isaac Shapiro.

MEACHAM: One second, sir.

QUESTIONER: I'm with the law firm of Skadden, Arps. Just to get away from the Middle East for a moment, how would your policy toward North Korea be different from the -- whatever the policy is today? (Laughter.)

PAWLENTY: Well, North Korea is one of the many -- one of the most concerning challenges that we face on the foreign policy arena. I think North Korea will most likely best respond to a multifaceted approach, one prong of which is a prominent and important role for China in that discussion. And it's not the only lever, but it's an important lever. We don't have ultimate control over how and when and whether China exerts more influence in that discussion, but we need them to be involved. That's doesn't mean we abdicate or defer or subjugate to China; we need to take a leadership role in it. And of course, you're dealing with a leadership structure that is fragile, uncertain, potentially erratic, unpredictable --

QUESTIONER: Well, what does moral clarity dictate that you do towards North Korea?

PAWLENTY: Well, when you -- again, when you're facing these difficult situations, we have to get back to articulating what we stand for and what we believe. And so, first of all, articulate it, and second of all, are there ways to influence it? And again, North Korea is not Angola or Poland or Afghanistan. But to the extent we have levers, whether they be implicit or explicit, to try to change to North Korea internally, that is a good option for us; at least it's one option for us. And we're going to need some help in the region. We have some people who are particularly connected to North Korea.

But look at, for example, the transition in South Korea. Obviously, great success has been made there, with a different system, different set of values, different approach. But I would suggest that Reagan gave us a pretty good blueprint about how you, short of an invasion, influence events inside a country that you're worried about in a constructive, positive way, in many instances.

MEACHAM: Ms. McFarland first. Then we'll go in the back.

QUESTIONER: K.T. McFarland. I'm with Fox News.

When you talked about, you know, Gadhafi must go, Assad must go, and President Obama saying Mubarak must go, it's easy to say but, as we've seen, hard to do. Mubarak was pretty easy; Gadhafi is proving to be much more difficult. How would you deal with it, with a little more specificity of how you would get -- how do you get Gadhafi to go? Boots on the ground, special operations forces, directing targeting, more of the same -- you know, again, easy to say, hard to do if the guy decides he doesn't want to go.

PAWLENTY: Yeah. Well, first of all, start out by being consistent and clear about your expectations. In Egypt, we have a(n) 82-year-old dictator who, whether it was this spring's revolution, next fall's election, or his likely heart attack or stroke or other infirmity, was not long for that position. And so now you have Mubarak there for 30-some years, and what was the plan between a 30-plus-year dictator and chaos? Answer: There's wasn't one. He thought it was his kid. That wasn't going to work, either. And so what was our plan? What had we done to prepare for that moment?

Now, as it unfolds, in a abrupt moment towards the end, we have President Biden say -- excuse me, Vice President Biden -- say Mubarak is not a dictator.

Really? Yes, he is.

Then we have the director of our intelligence infrastructure go before Congress and say: The Muslim Brotherhood is a largely secular organization.


Then we have Hillary Clinton say: Don't worry; the situation in Egypt is stable.

As mentioned in my remarks, no, it wasn't.

And she gratuitously adds something to the effect -- and by the way, the Mubaraks and the Clintons are dinner friends.

Well, how is that helpful as we reach out to the people on the street?

And then they dispatch Wisner to, I think, the Munich Security Conference or some event in Egypt -- or, excuse me, in Europe -- to issue a communique informally. Gibbs goes to the White House press room and says: Mubarak must now go, and we mean yesterday. And then, as I understand the chain of events, Wisner goes and whispers to a designee of Mubarak that we didn't really mean it, you know; you can stay a while, or something to that effect.

So the point of all of that is, in the early days, hours and weeks of this event in Egypt, we had a very confused, very uncoordinated, very unclear, very hesitant administration. Clearly, Mubarak was a dictator. Clearly, he was not long for his position. Clearly, we need to be in the business before chaos of trying to have some capacity in place for a better way forward in Egypt.

So, you know, that took care of itself in terms of the events of the ground, but now we better be helping out with the NGOs and the others who are about the business of trying to build democratic capacity in Egypt and using the trade, economic and military levers we have to maximize the likelihood that that will actually happen.

Bashar Assad is not a reformer. And to this day, this administration, until very recently, would not utter the words: He needs to go and he's a killer. They were very hesitant to do it, and they implied he was a reformer and that there was still time and hope for him to renew himself.

Now does that mean we are now going to use military force in Syria? No, not necessarily. But are there other things we can do to try to effectuate change within Syria? Absolutely. And this administration, in my view, is reluctant to do it, doesn't see it, doesn't want to do it, isn't dedicated to it, doesn't believe it has a leadership role in it, and it leading from behind.

MEACHAM: We have one question from the national --

PAWLENTY: And as to -- as to Gadhafi, this is not Afghanistan; it is a relatively simple place topographically. I'm not suggesting you need boots on the ground, but I believe it is a fair statement to say if the United States and its allies wants to Gadhafi to go, he would be gone. And I think you say to Gadhafi: Essentially, you have X number of days to get your affairs in order; you can go the easy or you can go the hard way, but you're going to go.

By the way, Ronald Reagan tried to kill him in the '80s -- missed him by a bedroom. He's a killer, he's got American blood on his hands, he's a terrorist, and now he's an indicted war criminal. There's more than sufficient reason to go get Gadhafi.

MEACHAM: As president, would you have tried to -- would you have tried to follow the War Powers Resolution in Libyan military action, or would you have done what President Obama did?

PAWLENTY: Well, I would reserve as executive prerogative the argument that the War Powers Act does not apply. However, in the case that it might, and as a courtesy and out of respect for the Congress, I would've more fully consulted with them, because I think the case could have been made, presented successfully as a courtesy to the Congress, not necessarily as a legal obligation.

MEACHAM: So you would've consulted more with Congress than President Obama did.

PAWLENTY: I think he had a couple of the leaders over for sandwiches. I think that could've been more systematic, more broad, and I think a strong case can be made on the merits that what we did in Libya was the correct course.

I will tell you then, on about March 7th, I said: Establish or at least threaten a no-fly zone in Libya. At that moment, Gadhafi was on the ropes, the rebels had the momentum, they had taken over most of the country geographically, and he was openly, according to several news accounts, talking about leaving voluntarily. Had we seized the moment at that time, I think we would've nudged Gadhafi out without much fanfare and without much difficulty. Instead, the president dithered for the better part of the month, waited for the Arab League, waited for the United Nations, allowed Gadhafi to get off the canvas, regroup, regain momentum, take back more than half of the country and give us the now complicated situation that we now have. That's very unfortunate, but as it relates to the case that could've been made and should've been made to the Congress on how to do that, as a courtesy and gesture of respect, I would've done that. But I don't concede the notion that it was required by the War Powers Act.

MEACHAM: We have question from the national program online. It's from Dennis Jett of Penn State.

In a recent debate, you said Iraq was a shining example for the Middle East. A number of experts at a recent meeting said they thought the Shiite majority was going to eliminate the Sunni minority by driving them out of the country or worse. My question is, for whom is Iraq a shining example?

PAWLENTY: Well, for those who like democracy, more open societies, increasing appreciation for democratic institutions and principles. So is Iraq guaranteed to be a shining example forever or much longer? No. Is it a lot better than it was in recent years? Absolutely. So again, this is on a continuum, and it's on a moment in time. If you look around the Middle East, with the exception of our great ally Israel and Turkey, and you are trying to rank-order nations that are next on the progress meter in terms of movement towards democracy, openness and the like, you'd have to put Iraq moving in the right direction.

Now is it guaranteed to stay that way in light of sectarian concerns, in light of other challenges within Iraq? We don't know the answer to that. But in this moment of time, is it an example of progress that can and has been made in a difficult region with a complex and long, seemingly insurmountable history? Absolutely.

MEACHAM: Let's go to the back. Please, sir.

QUESTIONER: Hi. Jim Traub, with The New York Times Magazine. I want to re-ask a question that Jon asked you about states that democratically choose leaders who are opposed to American values -- that conundrum.

I assume that one of the reasons the Obama administration hesitated in the case of Egypt was that they thought that whoever would replace President Mubarak would be more anti-American and anti-Israel. That's simply the logic of democracy in a region where anti-Americanism runs high.

So do you have a reason to think that that's wrong? Or if it's correct, are you saying that the United States should be prepared to pay that strategic price for the important moral gain of having a more democratic Middle East?

PAWLENTY: But I want to make sure I understand your question. Are you asserting that the elections in Egypt were legitimate?

QUESTIONER: No, no. My question was this: that the fear of not only the Obama administration but others was that since the Middle Eastern public is broadly anti-American -- if you spend time there, you wouldn't have any doubt that -- for reasons having to do with Israel and other things -- a democratic election in a country like Egypt or Jordan or any countries in that region are going to bring to power people who are more anti-American than these autocratic regimes which don't have to respond to public opinion. So that might be a price that the United States has to pay in order to bring about a more democratic Middle East. Do you have reason to think that that, in fact, is not such a price? Or if it is, would you say, a price worth paying?

PAWLENTY: Well, I think you need to look at this over time. So we have monarchies, for example -- I think the third category in my speech -- that we have accommodated, tolerated, supported, engaged with on a tactical and strategic level over many years and many decades. And the argument for not pressuring them too much for change is because they have accommodated us with respect or security interests, and that has been the bargain, unspoken or spoken -- oversimplified, but I think that's the essence of what you're describing.

So the next question is, how much longer in the world of Twitter, Facebook, social networking, instant media all the time everywhere, is that sustainable? And if you believe it is not in the intermediate and long term sustainable, are we best served to at least try to move those countries down the continuum towards a better future so that transition can be orderly, predictable and more likely successful than have it erupt in a cataclysmic moment of revolution, the debris, the political debris and security debris for which is uncertain? And that is what I tried to describe in the remarks. And so I hope you caught that.

But the point wasn't to say to these third-group monarchies that are described in the speech that we're going to demand or otherwise require you to flip a switch from what you are now to democracy in 24 hours. What I am trying to say is, you think about -- even within the realm of monarchies, you have current Middle Eastern monarchies all the way to, say, Spain or U.K. -- more ceremonial, obviously. Over a reasonable period of time, with our friendship, relationship, leverage, mutual interest, hopefully increasing amounts of shared values, can we move them on a continuum so that they have more shared power with their people. It begins to convince the people in those countries that there is hope in an orderly fashion, and it decreases the likelihood of a dramatic or catastrophic moment for which the outcome is even more uncertain. So that's what I'm trying to describe, at least for that category of countries.

Now there's also, keep in mind, the failed states and those who've already gone through the revolution -- the four categories in the speech.

MEACHAM: And to be clear, you're not trying to send a message to Elizabeth II. (Laughter.) Watch out, you're with us or against us.


I knew we'd get Kate Middleton in here somehow.

QUESTIONER: Bob Grady, from Cheyenne Capital Fund in the state of New Jersey. You implied in your remarks, and, actually, in the answer to one of the more -- the follow-up questions, that Secretary Clinton and the president were too slow to embrace and support the reform movement in Egypt. What do you make of the argument that, actually, we were too quick as a country to abandon President Mubarak, our ally of 35 years, quite unlike Gadhafi or Assad; and that by not having what you just described, a more sort of orderly transition, we could reap the whirlwind, as access is open to the Gaza Strip, dramatically, and that could be a pathway for weapons that would threaten the state of Israel?

PAWLENTY: I don't accept the premise, because Mubarak's days were numbered any way you count them. He was either gone in the revolution, gone in the election, or gone through human life expectancy (bands ?) sometime within the next few years. So the question isn't whether Mubarak was going to go; the question is what was going to happen once he went. And it happened more suddenly because of the revolution.

But when you have 32 years' worth of his reign featuring things like the 2010 parliamentary elections, which are clearly stolen, which are unquestionably stolen by any reasonable or fair-minded assessment of those elections, and the United States of America says nothing, that sends a pretty powerful signal.

Now was that the only thing that cumulatively led to the problems Mubarak had? No. But was it one recent example? Was it perhaps the straw that broke the camel's back or the match that thrown into the -- into the, you know, kindling? Maybe. But it's endemic of and emblematic of the 32 years' worth of suppression, tyranny, dictatorship, denial of rights, secret police, stolen elections. And if you do that long enough, eventually you're going to have a problem. It is predictable, it's inevitable, it's undeniable, and we need to get ahead of it, not behind it. And that same pattern will come for every one of those countries in the region eventually.

So the question isn't what's the outcome; the question is, can we make that outcome more orderly, predictable, stable, secure and more oriented towards the values, views and security interests of the United States?

But I just don't -- I don't fundamentally accept the premise that one option was to leave Mubarak around. He wasn't around much longer, any way you cut it.

MEACHAM: Governor, thank you for a thoughtful morning.

PAWLENTY: You're welcome.

MEACHAM: Very grateful.

PAWLENTY: Thank you. (Applause.)

More on This Topic