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Governor Tim Pawlenty On Obama’s Libya and Syrian policy, and Questions His Domestic Agenda, Too

Monday, April 25, 2011

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HH: Pleased to welcome back former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. Governor, always a pleasure, Happy Easter to you.

TP: Same to you, Hugh.

HH: I want to talk Syria and Libya with you, but first, what’s your reaction to Haley Barbour’s announcement today that he will not be seeking the GOP nomination?

TP: Well, I think he would have brought a lot to the debate and the race. He’s done a lot for the conservative movement and the Republican party over decades. I worked closely with Haley on the Republican Governors Association activities and other things, and he’s a very capable leader. He’s somebody that’s got a great concern for the country, and I think he would have brought a lot to the table. But you know, his decision has been announced, and we thank him, and I hope we can get him on board my campaign, exploratory at the moment. And hopefully, if we finalize that decision, we can get him to support our effort. But he’s going to be a sought after commodity, both politically and on policy levels, for a lot of years to come.

HH: I was just talking with Fred Barnes on air, Governor, and he said the moment you picked up Nick Ayers for your campaign director, he thought that meant Haley Barbour wasn’t going to run. Does the same apply to Mitch Daniels and other governors who might have worked with Nick when he was at RGA?

TP: Well, we’re very fortunate to have Nick Ayers. He’s kind of a prodigy talent politically in the country in many a people’s eyes, certainly my eyes. And we were fortunate to get him on board as my campaign manager. Everybody wanted him, we got him. We feel great about that, but you know, that won’t be the only variable as to whether other people do or don’t run. But I think we’ve got a huge talent in Nick Ayers running our campaign.

HH: Well you know, he’s from Georgia, so obviously you have a football gap on your staff. Who from Ohio is going to give you all the talking points on college football?

TP: (laughing) Well, we’ll be in Ohio a lot, but you know, our Minnesota Gophers and the Big Ten are not exactly on the positive upswing there. We’ve got a lot of work to do. Our new coach’s name is Jerry Kill, Hugh. Think about that.

HH: (laughing) Okay, I will. We might need a new coach in Ohio. I hope you’ll get there and do something about NCAA. Let me go to foreign policy now, Governor. In the new issue of the New Yorker, there’s a long piece about President Obama’s foreign policy that includes this quote from Zbigniew Brzezinski about the President. “I greatly admire his insights and understanding,” said Zbig. “I don’t think he really has a policy that’s implementing those insights and understandings. The rhetoric is always terribly imperative and categorical. You must do this, you must do that, this is unacceptable.” Brzezinski added, “The President doesn’t strategize. He sermonizes.” Do you agree with that, Tim Pawlenty?

TP: I do, and I think it’s a reflection of a number of things, one of which is his role as a professor. You know, and part of what his experience is in his formative years were in academia as a lecturer and a professor. But now, he’s the leader of the free world and president of the United States. And words have meaning, and they have consequences. So for example, when you say as the leader of the free world Gaddafi’s got to go, then Gaddafi’s got to go, Hugh. It’s not acceptable to have him linger. And what’s particularly galling to me, and I know most other Americans is he subordinated our decision making and our options relative to Libya to a U.N. resolution and an international body, tying our hands to do the kinds of things that would actually make Gaddafi go in a timely and efficient manner. And it’s an untenable position for a U.S. president to be in, but that’s an example of, I think, the uncertainty, the tardiness, the equivocation, and the sermonizing that we see from a president, rather than leadership.

HH: At the end of this Lizza article in the New Yorker, he quotes one of President Obama’s aides as saying, “The President’s actions in Libya are ‘leading from behind.'” Again, it seems very accurate, Tim Pawlenty, but also very different from what we’re used to in a president.

TP: Well, you know, when you have Nicholas Sarkozy leading the world on security and defense issues, it tells you we’ve entered a new era, and not a good one for the United States, not that he’s our enemy. He’s an ally, but you know, the fact that he’s out on the point on these issues should tell you something. I think I was the first national figure on March 7th, Hugh, to call for the establishment of the no-fly zone in Libya. But it needed to be done quickly and decisively, because at that time, the rebels had the momentum, they took over most of the geography in Libya, there were news reports about Gaddafi openly going voluntarily. And I think the threat of, and certainly the imposition of it quickly, decisively, in that moment, would have pushed him out and nudged him out. But unfortunately, the President took another three or four weeks, and now we’ve got what we’ve got, and it’s an untenable, and I think a very bad series of events for President Obama when he says Gaddafi’s got to go, but now he can’t make him go, because he’s handcuffed by a U.N. resolution.

HH: Would you support the additional commitment of American resources up to and including Special Forces and ground troops to dislodge Gaddafi?

TP: I think when you say Gaddafi’s got to go, you need to, Gaddafi’s got to go. So you can’t have the President say he’s got to go, and then he lingers indefinitely. So I don’t think we want to put troops on the ground under these circumstances, but additional resources in terms of Special Forces, limited, as well as communications capability and other enabling technologies and people, I think, would be a good use of it. But he should have done it in early March when we had Gaddafi on the ropes.

HH: When we come back from break, I’ll continue the conversation with former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. Governor, what’s the website? Is it www.timpawlenty.com?

TP: Yeah, and thanks for asking. www.timpawlenty.com about our exploratory committee. I hope people will check it out.

- – – –

HH: Governor, back on March 29th when you were on the show with me, you pronounced President Obama’s Syrian strategy a crock. I think it’s gotten worse since then. What’s your assessment of his effectiveness, vis-à-vis the Assad dictatorship?

TP: Well, I think it’s, again, tardy and Pollyannaish. We have a situation here where President Assad in Syria is a person who has enabled the killing of American soldiers in Iraq by allowing insurgents to transit through Syria into Iraq with terrorist intentions against American soldiers, and the blood of American soldiers is on President Assad and Syria’s hands. Two, President Obama sends an ambassador back to Syria. President Bush and others refused to do that because their behavior was so opposite what we believed and what we stood for. And he enables it and condones it by sending an ambassador there. And of course, Syria’s behavior on other fronts has been equally awful. So we should not be hugging Syria in any respect. We should withdraw that ambassador. We should go to the U.N. Security Council and ask them for a resolution condemning their behavior. We should dial up the sanctions. And we should try to push President Assad out. He is somebody who is not in the best interests of the United States, and I think they’ve had a very naïve view of him as a reformer, and he’s not a reformer at all. He’s an autocrat, he’s a tyrant, and really, he’s a killer.

HH: Governor Pawlenty, across the Middle East, we see extraordinary change churning up, and some forces coming to the fore in Egypt which are not at all friendly to democracy. Do you think that the Obama administration has a plan for the region?

TP: Well, these events of historic magnitude have unfolded very rapidly, and in some ways, unexpectedly, Hugh, but the answer to your question is no. And Egypt is a great example. I mean, whether it was this spring’s revolt, or this fall’s election, or next year’s health problems, we had an 82 year old dictator, Hosni Mubarak, who wasn’t long for that position. So what was the “plan” between his likely exit over the next year or so, or sooner, and chaos? And the answer was they didn’t have one, at least not a very good one. And when he, Mubarak, stole those 2010 parliamentary elections, the United States at a minimum should have lent voice to the idea that stealing elections is not acceptable, and we should have used our economic levers, our trade levers, and the relationship, military to military, that we had with Egypt, to at least nudge him along on the continuum towards what we believe, in free and fair elections, free and fair flow of information, human rights. Now can you change all of that overnight? But to stand silent after he stole those parliamentary elections, and to stand silent when the people of Iran asked where we stood in 2009, and not even lend voice to freedom and human rights and free expression, is a really underutilization of the presidency, and frankly, a misunderstanding of the role of leader of the free world. And that’s one of the, I think, huge disappoints and frustrations I have with this president.

HH: Now Governor Pawlenty, let me turn to domestic policy. Over in the United States Senate, the so-called Gang of Six, which includes good conservatives like Saxby Chambliss and Tom Coburn and Mike Crapo, are preparing to unleash a tide of tax hikes on us, including the elimination of the mortgage interest deduction. Do you support any tax hikes at this time?

TP: I do not. You know, our country is not undertaxed. We have a spending problem. And as I have demonstrated in Minnesota, that can be tamed in the land of Humphrey, Mondale, Wellstone and now Franken, if we can reduce spending and taxes in my state, we can do it anywhere. But this notion that the way forward is to raise taxes and get more money to a dysfunctional government? I don’t buy that at all, Hugh.

HH: Now the left is trying to scare the Republican Party off of Paul Ryan’s plan, in particular, his proposals vis-à-vis Medicare. What do you think of the Medicare provisions of the Ryan plan, and what’s your advice to the party vis-à-vis it?

TP: Well, I applaud Paul Ryan personally, his courage in putting forward the plan, his leadership, something that was missing from the President of the United States. So we have a Congressman from Wisconsin to provide the leadership that we should have received from the White House a lot earlier. Directionally, I like the plan. I will have my own plan out in the coming months that will be different. For example, I’ll address Social Security in our plan. And understandably, Congressman Ryan chose not to. But we will, and we’ll have a slightly different Medicare plan as well that will focus on payment reform as well as some other concepts. But that’ll be out in the next few months, and we’ll certainly, if you’ll have us, we’ll come back and walk you through that on the show.

HH: Oh, you bet. Now I’ve got to finish up by talking a little politics with you. The President is preparing, according to news reports, and executive order trying to impose the repeal of Citizens United on American corporate entities and others who would participate in politics. What’s your reaction to trying, for him to impose via executive order what he couldn’t get the Congress to pass last time?

TP: Well, it’s another example, I think, of public policy and political arrogance. You know, we’re not rubes. And if you look at this executive order as reported by the news outlets, it doesn’t affect unions. So if affects only businesses. It doesn’t affect people who have been supportive to the Democrats or to the President. And here’s a news flash for the President. The Supreme Court has spoken about the law of this land. It gives people free expression and 1st Amendment rights. Thankfully, it’s a long overdue decision, and brings some equity back so now we can have a fair fight. But to have an executive order that singles out people who support Republicans, and entities that support Republicans, and doesn’t touch the Democratic supporters, is another example of hypocrisy.

HH: And let me conclude by talking health care with you. Georgia passed, and Arizona passed last week, the Health Care Compact. People can read about it at www.healthcarecompact.org. Nathan Deal signed it, Jan Brewer vetoed it. Are you familiar with this, Governor Pawlenty? And what do you think about states taking the lead as the Health Care Compact would have them take the lead in the matter of taking care of the health care needs of their citizens?

TP: Well, I haven’t studied the particular compact, Hugh, so I can’t speak to that. But what I can speak to is we do not want to centralize solutions to problems by dragging them into Washington, D.C., creating top down, one size or limited size fits all, government regulated, government funded, government taken over systems. That is a formula that is doomed to fail. So the more we can push decision making to the state and local level to individuals and purchasers, and to the extent they need help, we’ll give it to them, but let’s give it to them directly in the form of a voucher or a stipend, a tax credit, rather than running it through some big bureaucracy. Directionally, that’s how we need to reform these systems, not dragging it into Washington, D.C.

HH: Should we get some health care reform, with 30 seconds, in exchange for the debt limit vote, Governor?

TP: Well, I’m opposed to raising the debt limit, Hugh. I think we should say enough is enough on that. But if anybody considers even voting for that, at the very least, they should demand systematic, structural reform, and should include health care and a lot of other things.

HH: Governor Tim Pawlenty, always a pleasure, www.timpawlenty.com, America.

End of interview.

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