Global Leadership During a Time of Uncertainty

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A Conversation with Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) - Former Governor of Minnesota

Moderated by Robert Kagan - The Brookings Institution & Foreign Policy Initiative

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Governor Pawlenty focused on the challenges and opportunities resulting from the historic Arab Spring.  He began by recounting his recent visit to Tunisia, noting that he could not judge whether the new interim Islamist government was truly moderate or not, saying that they would be judged by their deeds and not their words.

On Egypt, Pawlenty remarked that the United States should take a longer-term view of the situation.  The last parliamentary elections before the revolution were clearly stolen, and the West remained silent.  Mubarak, meanwhile, was an elderly dictator who had planned to transfer power to his son.  The choice for the United States was not whether “to push Mubarak out or not,” but whether or not to prepare for and advance a democratic infrastructure in Egyptian society.

Pawlenty noted that transitions from tyranny to democracy cannot be done smoothly overnight, and can result in illiberal outcomes, as was the case in the 2005 Palestinian elections.  He noted that there will be a tension between the Egyptian military and the Egyptian people’s march towards parliamentary rule.  But he predicted that the democratic forces would ultimately prevail, as the military leadership appears to understand the risks of a second popular revolution in which they were perceived to be autocrats.  He urged that the United States consider leveraging its aid to the country as a means to advance democratic ideals and human rights practices.

Governor Pawlenty criticized the Obama administration’s early policy of engaging the Syrian regime as “naive,” and noted that the Assad regime’s true, brutal nature had been revealed by the crackdown against civilian demonstrators.  He lamented the slowness of the White House’s shift to a policy of regime change in Syria.  He urged the United States to provide aid for the Syrian opposition.

On Iraq, Pawlenty said that the United States has spent too much blood and treasure for that country to fail.  He had hoped that both Obama and Maliki would secure an agreement for a residual force of several thousand U.S. troops to remain in Iraq after 2011.  But he said that the failure to secure such a post-2011 military presence was a failure of both countries’ leaders.  He said he hoped that Iraq would at least continue its progress toward a stable, secure, and democratic state.

On Iran, Pawlenty emphatically said that the United States cannot let the country have a nuclear weapon, and should use all plausible measures to prevent Iran from doing so.  He praised the apparent covert campaign to slow-down the progress of Iran’s nuclear program, and expressed support for a military campaign to stop or delay Iran’s nuclearization if it could be effective.  Noting that such a campaign would require a large and lengthy campaign to target Iran’s nuclear sites, neutralize their air defenses, and mitigate Iran’s capacity to militarily respond, Pawlenty said that there was one country capable of executing such a campaign, “and it isn’t Israel.”

On Russia, Pawlenty remarked that Putin had “overplayed his hand” in committing blatant fraud in the recent parliamentary elections.  While the protests that have followed the December 4 vote have been “relatively modest,” he said that these protests are inherently unpredictable, and the final outcome could be very beneficial to the United States.  Pawlenty criticized the Obama administration’s attempt to “reset” relations with the Russian Federation as demonstrating weakness to a bully, and consequently the Kremlin viewed the Obama administration with disrespect.



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The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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