Pawlenty Tries for Toughness

It's interesting to see that after his shrinking performance in the New Hampshire debate, where he declined to press his attack on Mitt Romney's health-care plan, Tim Pawlenty has chosen foreign policy, not health care, as the vehicle through which to prove his toughness. This column from Jeff Goldberg is a good illustration both of how Pawlenty is trying to do this and how he remains unwilling to deliver full-throated criticism (in this case, of Ronald Reagan's decision to withdraw from Lebanon):

In a Republican field that leans toward poll-influenced world- weariness, Pawlenty embraces the muscular, no-apologies interventionism of McCain and Graham. He listens to McCain's advisers, and he is critical of what he sees as a kind of creeping fecklessness in Republican foreign policy. (See: Mitt Romney's equivocating on Afghanistan in the June 13 New Hampshire debate; also, much of what Jon Huntsman says about foreign policy.)

Then came Goldberg's John King moment:
I asked Pawlenty if he thought Reagan's decision to withdraw from Lebanon was wrong. He went silent.

"Am I putting you in the uniquely uncomfortable position of criticizing Ronald Reagan?" I asked.

"I guess I would go back and say that my view, without referencing a particular president, is that once the United States commits to a mission, it's really important that we prevail."

Not exactly Churchill. But Pawlenty did succeed in picking a fight--although with the guy at the bottom (Jon Huntsman), rather than the top, of the polls. Still, his foreign policy push will continue in just a few moments when he delivers what his campaign bills as a "major" speech at the Council on Foreign Relations.


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Joshua Green is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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