Pawlenty Explains How To Cook Up Vital National Interests After A War Has Started

Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty delivered a major foreign policy address this morning at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. The former Minnesota governor, still the darling of Washington’s hawks, spoke out during the question and answer session about the U.S.’ vital national security interest in Libya:

In Libya, once the President of the United States says [Libyan president Muammar] Qaddafi must go, he has to go. You can’t let a third rate dictator thumb his nose at the President of the United States in the free world. Keeping him there indefinitely is not an option.

And now, some would argue whether we had a vital interests initially, we have one now, which is you can’t leave Qaddafi sitting there because if he were to survive and reestablish any capability at all, I would guess one of his main motivations is going to be retaliation and guess who it’s going to be against? And so Qaddafi must now go.

In other words, Pawlenty laid out two ways that a vital national security interest can be created out of thin air:

  1. If the President says something must be done, and it does not get done, then getting it done becomes a vital national security interest because the President cannot be embarrassed in this way.
  2. If the President attacks someone who is not a national security threat, then killing, capturing or removing that person from office becomes a vital national security interest because, like a bee hive you’ve swatted with a stick, that person might come after you for attacking them.

Pawlenty’s line is remarkably consistent — though perhaps a bit disconcerting from someone who can’t keep his Middle East countries straight.

Compared to the rest of the GOP field, Pawlenty seems much closer to the first term of the George W. Bush presidency by emulating Bush’s tough guy swagger. Pawlenty has criticized the Obama administration for not pulling an Osama bin Laden-style raid on Qaddafi and for going to the U.N. Security Council to create an international coalition for the war. But at least Bush (falsely) sold the Iraq war as a vital national security interest before going to war there.