Tim Pawlenty gives a speech this morning at Council of Foreign Relations in New York City.
No one in this Administration predicted the events of the Arab spring – but the freedom deficit in the Arab world was no secret. For 60 years, Western nations excused and accommodated the lack of freedom in the Middle East. That could not last. The days of comfortable private deals with dictators were coming to an end in the age of Twitter, You Tube, and Facebook. And history teaches there is no such thing as stable oppression.
President Obama has ignored that lesson of history. Instead of promoting democracy – whose fruit we see now ripening across the region – he adopted a murky policy he called “engagement.”
“Engagement” meant that in 2009, when the Iranian ayatollahs stole an election, and the people of that country rose up in protest, President Obama held his tongue. His silence validated the mullahs, despite the blood on their hands and the nuclear centrifuges in their tunnels.
While protesters were killed and tortured, Secretary Clinton said the Administration was “waiting to see the outcome of the internal Iranian processes.” She and the president waited long enough to see the Green Movement crushed.
“Engagement” meant that in his first year in office, President Obama cut democracy funding for Egyptian civil society by 74 percent. As one American democracy organization noted, this was “perceived by Egyptian democracy activists as signaling a lack of support.” They perceived correctly. It was a lack of support.
“Engagement” meant that when crisis erupted in Cairo this year, as tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Tahrir Square, Secretary Clinton declared, “the Egyptian Government is stable.” Two weeks later, Mubarak was gone. When Secretary Clinton visited Cairo after Mubarak’s fall, democratic activist groups refused to meet with her. And who can blame them?
The forces we now need to succeed in Egypt — the pro-democracy, secular political parties — these are the very people President Obama cut off, and Secretary Clinton dismissed.
The Obama “engagement” policy in Syria led the Administration to call Bashar al Assad a “reformer.” Even as Assad’s regime was shooting hundreds of protesters dead in the street, President Obama announced his plan to give Assad “an alternative vision of himself.” Does anyone outside a therapist’s office have any idea what that means? This is what passes for moral clarity in the Obama Administration.
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. The leader of the United States should never leave those willing to sacrifice their lives in the cause of freedom wondering where America stands. As President, I will not.
We need a president who fully understands that America never “leads from behind.”
To oh-so-slightly defend Hillary Clinton, she did not state directly that Assad was a reformer, but said, “Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer.” Of course, she didn’t follow up with, “I disagree,” or “this assessment is wrong” or “many members of Congress are probably as insane as Assad is.”
Nonetheless, the key foreign policy approach of candidate Obama was engagement and has generated no serious benefits to U.S. interests; meanwhile, the one indisputable, widely-hailed, perhaps presidency-defining achievement of President Obama was the distinctly Bush-ian unilateral, secret use of lethal military force to kill the world’s most wanted terrorist without trial and without informing the host country.