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

Reprinted with permission of Think Progress

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.

Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.



  1. Give Pawlenty credit for honesty. No noble rhetoric, no phony WMDs, no phony freedom and democracy agenda, and no phony “humanitarian” intervention.

    Pawlenty just tells it like it is–the US wants to be king of the mountain. Pawlenty reduces the “great game” to its true limbic, middle school mindset.

  2. Gharib drops in as if from nowhere — or, to put it another way, from the Center for American Progress.

    Pawlenty is preaching to an ever-shrinking choir. If he thinks he can win a majority of Republicans with a hawkish foreign policy, he’s quite mistaken. Right-wing social views and a tough foreign policy will get him nowhere. Well, it might get him somwhere in South Carolina — except that Michelle B. will have more support there. Stop wasting your time, Tim, and go back to Minnesota.

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