Tim Pawlenty is becoming a bad joke.
In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday, Pawlenty established himself as the clear ideological heir to John McCain, giving remarks that could have been lifted wholesale from any of McCain's speeches over the last two decades.
That's not meant as a compliment.
First, he continued the outrageous argument, proffered by McCain, that the president should be able to wage war unrestricted by Congress. He seems to believe, as McCain does, that any Congress that attempts to discharge its responsibilities under Article I of the Constitution and exercise its rights under the War Powers Resolution hurts the country, puts our troops in danger and is generally unpatriotic. The plain language of the Constitution and relevant federal law notwithstanding, Pawlenty's argument is strikingly similar to that of the Bush administration, which would have the president alone determine the scope of his Article II power and remain unbound by pesky federal laws. This is at its heart a fundamentally un-conservative position, and one that would have abhorred James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Edmund Burke, Friedrich Hayek, Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. To argue that the president is somehow above the law, or alternatively, that Congress' power to declare war is meaningless, is absurd. If Pawlenty seriously believes this, that alone should disqualify him from being president.
Second: By a strict application of Pawlenty's metric, we can reasonably assume that a Pawlenty administration would launch military interventions nearly everywhere across Africa and the Middle East beginning in 2013. How America can finance such operations, both in terms of blood and treasure, is something that Pawlenty should probably explain. To examine the last decade's worth of misadventures and conclude, as Pawlenty apparently has, that they have been worth it -- and that the efforts should be replicated in countless other venues across the globe -- requires a suspension of reality that I'm not willing to engage in.
Third: Pawlenty's argument that it is the responsibility of the United States to impose democracy overseas blatantly ignores the effects of democratization in Arab countries. In nearly every place where elections have been liberalized -- Lebanon and Gaza being two examples -- extreme factions deeply hostile toward America have filled the vacuum. In Egypt, neocons like Pawlenty have shrieked about possible rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. Does Pawlenty seriously think that a democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood would serve America's interests better than did Hosni Mubarak? Does Pawlenty really think that we'd be better off if an elected Islamist party replaced the Saudi royal family? It's one thing to pander, which I seriously hope is all Pawlenty is doing -- but If he genuinely believes that the United States is better off with democratically elected radical Islamists in power across the Middle East, it demonstrates such poor judgment that it again should automatically disqualify him from the presidency.
Finally, as Conor Friedersdorf astutely noted, Pawlenty's logic suffers from an inherent contradiction: According to the governor, the United States has wrongfully backed dictators and despots in the Middle East for the last six decades, and the current U.S. policy is deeply flawed, but only the U.S. has the moral clarity to help the world lead the MIddle East out of darkness. It is a contradiction so blatantly obvious that it's hard to believe Pawlenty's advisers didn't at least alert him to how ridiculous his argument is.
Tim Pawlenty appears to be a nice guy, but the evidence is becoming overwhelming that he is so disconnected from reality, so shamelessly willing to pander, and so fundamentally unserious, that he would be a terrible president.