Tim Pawlenty has had a rough month, but though his campaign has faltered recently, he can still lay claim to having the most serious approach to foreign policy of any of the Republican presidential contenders. Pawlenty is delivering a major speech on foreign policy this morning to the Council on Foreign Relations in which he is not only laying out the failures of the Obama administration but confronting those elements in his own party that are undermining support for a strong American role in world affairs:

What is wrong is for the Republican Party to shrink from the challenges of American leadership in the world. History repeatedly warns us that in the long run, weakness in foreign policy costs us and our children much more than we’ll save in a budget line item. America already has one political party devoted to decline, retrenchment and withdrawal; it does not need a second one.

While most of his competitors in the GOP field have confined their remarks on foreign policy to sniping at the Libyan intervention or waffling on the U.S. commitment to the war in Afghanistan, Pawlenty is also taking on the president for his abysmal handling of the Middle East. In particular, he calls Obama to account for not only a “timid” approach to the movement for democracy in the Arab world but also for the administration’s increasingly hostile attitude toward Israel. He also lambasted Obama for wasting the first year of his presidency attempting to “engage” the ayatollahs of Iran.

While the GOP field has understandably concentrated its fire on the president’s mismanagement of the economy as well as the stimulus boondoggle and the massive expansion of government entitlements via Obamacare, it is high time one of the mainstream candidates began addressing what will remain the primary responsibility of any president: foreign policy.

Though he has spent his political career in Minnesota rather than in Washington, Pawlenty brings to the race the most coherent approach to security and defense issues of any of the major contenders. Pawlenty seems to have a firm grasp of not only America’s place in the world but the need for a strong foreign policy that will strengthen U.S. allies and discomfit its foes.

Rather than running to the left of the president as Jon Huntsman has done with his call for a speedier bug out of Afghanistan or waffling on major foreign policy issues as Romney has done, Pawlenty has brought forth a consistent and informed approach. Other Republican candidates are acting as if their party’s voters no longer support a strong defense or a policy of bringing the fight to our foes rather than sitting back and waiting for the next disaster. By contrast, Pawlenty is striking an aggressive note that ought to resonate with GOP voters.

The economy will be the main point of contention in 2012, but it is not the only one. By prioritizing support for Israel (and to oppose Obama’s pressure on the Jewish state) as well as by his focus on Iran, Pawlenty is staking out a position as the most serious candidate on foreign policy. That alone won’t save a campaign that has so far failed to catch fire. But his stance on security issues does provide Pawlenty with a solid rationale for his presidential ambitions and a platform from which he can begin his comeback.

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