Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty came out of the gates swinging on foreign policy, emphasizing it as an area where he had an advantage over other candidates. He described his vision through the prism of playground antics. “[What's] always true is [when] you’re dealing with thugs and bullies they understand strength, they don’t respect weakness,” he said. Compared to Herman Cain, he might have been right. But having a better grasp than the rest of the GOP field does not exactly qualify the former Minnesota governor as one of the nation’s top foreign policy minds.
Just four days after announcing his bid for the Republican nod, Pawlenty confused Iran and Iraq on the campaign trail:
PAWLENTY: You’re talking about Iran?
PAWLENTY: Yea, well I think the situation now in Iran is such that Secretary Gates is negotiating with whether the United States Military will be there beyond the end of this year. And they’re looking to the Iranians to see if they invite the Americans to stay, invite us to stay. And if they do invite us to stay at some very reduced level I think the United States will be wise, until we make sure that they get to the next level of stability, to accept that invitation. So if Iran makes that invitation by the end of the year, leaving a residual force, a greatly reduced force, but a residual force that would be there for a temporary amount of time. Until they could establish much better air security, until they can develop their intelligence –
REPORTER: You mean Iraq not Iran, because Iran-
PAWLENTY: I’m sorry, Iraq, yes, yes. You said-, did you say Iran or Iraq?
Ben Smith highlights the video:
One might be tempted to excuse the mistake due to all the background noise, but Pawlenty clearly confirms with the questioner that U.S. policy toward Iran is in question, and the questioner confirms. Pawlenty then goes into a spiel about Iraq, noting the issue of U.S. troops remaining there.
Pawlenty focused early on foreign policy. In September 2009 at a religious right conference, he labeled Obama’s policies toward missile defense and attempted negotiations with Iran as “appeasement” — a stance conservative blogger Daniel Larison called “hawkish ignorance” at the time. Since then, he’s been making strident foreign policy attacks against the Obama administration.
Neoconservative Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin seems clear that Pawlenty is her top pick in terms of foreign policy, declaring him “forceful and precise on national security” and, more recently, giving him credit for “bashed the president on his Middle East speech.” Commentary Magazine recently said, “Pawlenty has a chance to step to the fore” of the establishment candidates on foreign policy.
His latest gaffe on the trail will not kill his campaign, of course. But that a candidate for a presidential nomination who is given plaudits by the right for his foreign policy confuses two very different, albeit similar sounding, countries should be a little disconcerting.