GOP presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty has been one of President Obama’s most forceful foreign policy critics. Even though Pawlenty reportedly “doesn’t want to be identified as a neoconservative,” his attacks on the president, particularly on Libya, have had a neoconservative aura.
That pattern didn’t subside this morning in his foreign policy speech at the Council on Foreign Relations this morning. The former Minnesota governor “sought to claim the mantle as his party’s foreign policy hawk” by “accusing President Obama and his GOP rivals of being weak-kneed in their posture toward the Middle East.” Pawlenty wasted no time in attacking the Obama administration on Syria, saying the president has no “moral clarity” in dealing with Syrian President Bashir al-Assad:
PAWLENTY: By contrast, I called for Assad’s departure on March 29; I call for it again today. We should recall our ambassador from Damascus; and I call for that again today.
So Pawlenty wants to withdraw America’s top diplomat in Syria. Later in the speech, he returned to the issue. “We have a clear interest in seeing an end to Assad’s murderous regime,” he said. How should the U.S. accomplish this goal? Diplomacy:
PAWLENTY: To take advantage of this moment, we should press every diplomatic and economic channel to bring the Assad reign of terror to an end.
Perhaps Pawlenty would argue that recalling the U.S. ambassador to Syria is a diplomatic move. But at the same time, not having an ambassador in Syria means we aren’t using “every diplomatic” channel available. This is how White House spokesman Jay Carney recently explained it:
CARNEY: Having an ambassador in Syria has allowed us to be in Syria, basically in the presence of the government, to make our views known directly and not via long distance. So, yes, it has been useful to have our ambassador there, precisely because we can communicate directly what our positions and views are. And so I think that has been a useful avenue for us to pursue in terms of communicating our points of view.
Later when taking questions after the speech, Pawlenty said the U.S. should “try to effectuate change within Syria.” So to recap: Pawlenty wants to press “every diplomatic channel,” including using assets “within Syria,” to bring about change. Yet, he also wants to recall America’s number one point of contact that is currently in Syria.