Pawlenty Punts on Afghanistan

Will Keola Thomas – Afghanistan Study Group

Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has been on a foreign policy tear since beginning his campaign for the White House. In brandishing his foreign policy credentials (such as…<cough> “governor” <cough>), Pawlenty is apparently attempting to fill a void, which some observers have noticed among the Republican candidates, a lack of experience in international affairs.

If Pawlenty’s performance so far is any indication, the void remains.

There’s his “basic perspective on foreign policy” derived from early experiences with sandbox realpolitik:

“You may have learned it on the playground, you may have learned it in business, sports. You may have learned it in some other walk of life, but it’s always true. If you’re dealing with thugs and bullies, they understand strength. They don’t respect weakness.”

Okay, so Pawlenty admitted he was oversimplifying in the interest of time when he distilled his foreign policy vision as “strength.” Still, staking out a “pro-strength” position isn’t going to put much distance between the former governor and his opponents.

Then there’s the whole keeping Iran and Iraq straight thing:

But it was hard to hear the reporter’s question and Gov. Pawlenty is undoubtedly tired from all the campaigning and it’s just that one damned letter separating the two countries anyway, right? It wouldn’t be fair to judge the governor’s potential for strong leadership on foreign affairs based on such minor details.

The war in Afghanistan, on the other hand, is no detail. And when Pawlenty was asked what he would do if he found himself in charge of the longest war in U.S. history, a war that is currently maxing out the national credit card at almost $120 billion a year with no end in sight, the governor essentially dodges the question like it was a bullet in The Matrix.

From the Des Moines Register’s account of a meeting between Pawlenty and Republican party activists in Iowa:

“Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said the country should try to decrease its troop levels in Afghanistan within the next two years, if conditions are right…

When addressing specific troop levels, Pawlenty deferred to recommendations from military leadership, who have said decisions should be based on conditions in the country.”

“…try to decrease troop levels…” + “…deferred to recommendations from military leadership…” + “…based on conditions in the country…” = PUNT

Why would he pass off responsibility for the most important foreign policy issue facing the country?

“Pawlenty said General David Petraeus told him during a visit to Afghanistan last fall that troop levels could be decreased in two years. Petraeus has since said the timeline could be shortened to about a year and a half.”

Come on, Governor…you fell for the “two-years” line? Man, that one is just plain tired.

As Democracy Arsenal’s Michael Cohen reminds us, Gen. Petraeus was whispering that sweet nothing into President Obama’s ear back in the heady days of September, 2009:

Inside the Oval Office, Obama asked Petraeus, “David, tell me now. I want you to be honest with me. You can do this in 18 months?”

“Sir, I’m confident we can train and hand over to the ANA [Afghan National Army] in that time frame,” Petraeus replied.

“Good. No problem,” the president said. “If you can’t do the things you say you can in 18 months, then no one is going to suggest we stay, right?”

“Yes, sir, in agreement,” Petraeus said.

So much for projecting strength. Pawlenty is showing deference to the big boys and girls at the Pentagon before he even steps foot onto the presidential playground, Gov. Pawlenty is guaranteeing that if he is in charge the taxpayer’s lunch money is going to get “taken”.

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