Reports of Tim Pawlenty’s early preparations for a 2012 presidential campaign have drawn a lot of attention today, so I thought I would look at Pawlenty’s statements on foreign policy to see what we could expect from him if he did run for higher office. Most recently, Pawlenty went on record declaring Obama’s decision on missile defense to be “appeasement.” This is standard Republican boilerplate at this point, so some conservatives might be inclined to forgive him for repeating such nonsense on the grounds that it doesn’t necessarily reflect how he thinks about foreign policy. It could be that he will mouth stupid phrases to satisfy certain activists, but will then demonstrate some understanding of policy at a later date. I’m not holding my breath.
However, Pawlenty did not simply call the decision appeasement, but went on to make this bizarre claim:
Appeasement and weakness did not stop the Nazis, appeasement did not stop the Soviets, and appeasement did not stop the terrorists before 9/11.
I call this bizarre because there were no meaningful attempts to appease the Soviets or jihadis. Even the harshest anti-Clinton hawks could and did acknowledge that he did not attempt to “appease” Al Qaeda. For the most part, they have attacked Clinton for not engaging in enough military action in response to terrorist strikes, but that was it. Unless you tendentiously define detente as appeasement, there is nothing in U.S.-Soviet relations that would be relevant. In other words, Pawlenty is spouting pure nonsense, but he thinks he is making a significant contribution to the debate, and his audience is eating it up. What worries me about this statement is that it isn’t even remotely close to a serious statement about European security and U.S. interests. What worries me about Republican cluelessness on foreign policy more generally is that this statement counts as intelligent, informed commentary in GOP circles.
Yes, Pawlenty was speaking to the Values Voters Summit, so he was to some extent playing to the crowd and throwing them the red meat they want, but that has to be balanced with some modicum of knowledge and understanding. Otherwise, he would just be a Minnesotan version of Palin. This is supposed to be the viable, credible alternative to Mitt “No Apology” Romney?
Is there evidence from other remarks that would suggest Pawlenty knows anything about foreign policy? The more I search, the more discouraging the results. There are not many results, and those that I do find confirm my impression that he doesn’t know anything and has compensated by echoing the most ridiculous criticisms of the current administration. Pawlenty just launched his Freedom First PAC, which is not primarily concerned with foreign policy, but in his first conference call for the PAC he kept harping on the missile defense decision. This tells me that the primary debates are probably going to be dominated by candidates trying to out-do one another in hawkish ignorance. Pawlenty’s off to a good start in that respect.