I have been complaining that too many Republicans seem eager to run away from their party’s proud legacy of being strong on national security policy. But there are some notable exceptions, including presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty. As Jonathan noted earlier, today he gave an outstanding address at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York about how the U.S. should deal with the revolutions sweeping the Middle East. 

He laid out a compelling approach for adhering to our pro-democracy principles while also being aware of the need to take on-the-ground realities into account in their implementation. He staked out a strongly pro-Israel position and backed reform in moderate monarchies such as Jordan and Morocco while issuing an unwavering call for regime change in Syria and Iran.

He tore into President Obama for failing “to formulate and carry out an effective and coherent strategy in response to these events”—and into “parts of the Republican Party,” which “now seem to be trying to out-bid the Democrats in appealing to isolationist sentiments. “ His best line: “America already has one political party devoted to decline, retrenchment and withdrawal.  It does not need a second one.”

Of course any politician can deliver a good speech. But Pawlenty showed in the question and answer session that he understood what he was talking about. Several times he was asked what we should do when democracy is likely to bring a more anti-American regime into power. He deftly parried by arguing—rightly—that in the case of countries like Egypt simply supporting the status quo is not tenable; far better to push for change in the right direction.

Kudos to Pawlenty for standing on principle. He is standing up for his party’s best tradition, which is represented by Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan—not Herbert Hoover and Calvin Coolidge. Not only is this good policy, but it should be good politics too. He is differentiating himself from the horde of poll-followers in today’s GOP leadership ranks.