Pawlenty’s Foreign Policy
Is he on the John McCain wing of the Republican party?


Andrew C. McCarthy

In this, Talabani echoed made-in-America Karzai, whose regime has just inked a joint defense and security agreement with Iran. In the interim, that other U.S. counterterrorism “ally,” Pakistan, is urging the Afghans to dump the United States and look not just to Pakistan and Iran but also to China for help striking a deal with the Taliban and shifting to a very different kind of nation-building.

Pawlenty’s apparent answer to all this is to make believe it’s not happening. Like McCain and Graham, he’d have you believe Iran is cornered because the dynamic force in the region is the forward march of freedom, not Islamism. Indeed, the governor’s speech, entitled “Now Is Not the Time to Retreat from Freedom’s Rise,” mentioned the word “Islam” a grand total of one time — modified, naturally, by the adjective “radical,” in service of the delusion that the region is teeming with secular democrats who would seize the “Arab Spring” if we could just excise this tiny fundamentalist fringe.

Anyone who begs to differ is a knuckle-dragging “isolationist” — if Pawlenty may quote McCain (without, of course, mentioning that he’s quoting McCain). As Pawlenty put it, pandering to his receptive CFR audience, “parts of the Republican party now seem to be trying to out-bid the Democrats in appealing to isolationist sentiments. This is no time for uncertain leadership in either party.” Or, as Graham eloquently reasons, “Shut up, already.”

This is about as cockamamie as it gets. Yes, there is a Ron Paul wing of the GOP that would have America retreat from the world. But it is a small wing. The rest of us are not opposed to interventions. We’re opposed to stupid interventions — the kind that make Representative Paul’s critique sound persuasive until you start thinking about how prosperous the United States stands to be once we radically slash the armed forces that guarantee global trade and stability.

The “uncertain leadership” that Governor Pawlenty decries can be avoided only when leaders have certainty and the gumption to act on it. We do not have much certainty at the moment, except when it comes to that which our leaders have no stomach to face: mainstream Islam is anti-freedom, it is not a “radical” fringe, and it is on the rise in today’s Islamic Middle East. It is also rabidly anti-American, which is why America-bashing has become the daily political rhetoric of nascent Islamic “democracies,” where popular elections are a poor substitute for real democratic culture.

To be sure, there are pockets of resistance: Muslim reformers, secular democrats, non-Muslim libertarians, and so on. But when our admiration for them deludes us into misjudging their relative strength, that is not certain leadership — it is leadership certain to serve Islamist interests over American interests.

Real leadership would concede that what we have been doing ever since the Bush Doctrine devolved into the Forward March of Freedom has failed. It is empowering our enemies, and expecting that to turn around on its own is as futile as continuing to rely on the international institutions that our adversaries now dominate.

Real leadership would also entail diagnosing the Middle East as it truly is. It would acknowledge Islam as a fact of life in the region but understand that this does not mean we have to pretend it is an asset. It is a volatile antagonist with diverse elements — some to be courted, some to be competed with, and some that must be defeated because they are implacably hostile.

Real leadership would do its best to figure out which is which, approaching each of them as an unapologetic champion of Western principles — not as a supplicant who will supple those principles into whatever sharia needs them to be.

Real leadership is always prepared to engage, but doesn’t do so simply for the sake of engaging, or out of wishful thinking. It is guided by American interests. It does not put itself on the line until it is convinced that the beneficiaries will serve American interests — which means those beneficiaries are never going to be Islamists.

Real leadership is not just knowing that you don’t want to be lumped in with the Incoherent Wing. It is knowing why.

—  Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.


Sign up for free NRO e-mails today:

Subscribe to National Review