I recently interviewed Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor, about his foreign policy views, and about his reputation as too much of a nice guy. I found a couple of things impressive about him:
a) He's decided to go against the grain of current world-weary Republican thinking and stand up for deep foreign engagement, and he seems to understand that once the U.S. has engaged militarily in a conflict (see: Libya) it's important that we achieve our stated goals;
b) He seems to know quite a lot about the Middle East and South Asia. Usually, you can tell within 10 minutes whether a candidate is just spitting out talking points, or is actually knowledgeable about an issue. Pawlenty seemed actually knowledgeable, and analytical (particularly on Pakistan and South Asian regional rivalries).
This is from my Bloomberg View column on the ex-governor:
Pawlenty left me with the impression that his unwillingness to confront Romney at the New Hampshire debate was aberrational. He is the candidate who seems most attuned to the threats posed by Iran, by global jihadism, by a sudden U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. His eagerness to stand up for a set of views that seems unpopular among many Republican voters suggests the presence of a spine.