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Pawlenty, Gingrich Call for Firmer Line on Egypt

Pawlenty, Gingrich Call for Firmer Line on Egypt

By Scott Conroy - February 1, 2011

As top Republicans on Capitol Hill remained largely deferential to the Obama administration's handling of the uprising in Egypt, a pair of leading 2012 Republican presidential contenders on Monday took a more contentious approach in criticizing the White House's public reaction to the crisis.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich both took issue with the administration's unwillingness to specify whether Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak should resign in light of the popular uprising against his 30-year rule.

"We're not picking between those on the street and those in the government," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said on Monday.

The Des Moines Register reported that Pawlenty said that Mubarak's time in office "should come to an end" after signing copies of his book in West Des Moines, Iowa, on Monday.

"The early statements by Secretary Clinton, Vice President Biden and the president seemed inconsistent, bordering on incoherent if you put them all together," Pawlenty added, according to the Register. "I guess I would say their statements taken as a whole look like they were caught off guard and surprised and confused."

In an appearance on "The Sean Hannity Radio Show" on Monday, Gingrich was perhaps even more dismissive of the White House's approach, warning of the possibility that Egypt could "go the way of Iran" and fall into the hands of a dictatorship imposed by Islamic extremists.

"I think this is a period of tremendous challenge and is a sign of the general failure of our strategy of not dealing with radical Islamists and not being honest and aggressive of what's going on around the world," Gingrich said.

In a pointed attack against the president whom he could soon be campaigning to defeat, Gingrich said that the administration had not taken the Middle East seriously and suggested that Obama had seriously erred in delivering a 2009 speech from Egypt that was geared toward repairing the American relationship with the Muslim world.

"The president went to Cairo and gave his famous speech in which he explained that we should all be friends together because we're all the same people doing the same things and there are no differences between us," Gingrich said. "Well, I think there are a lot of differences between the Muslim Brotherhood and the rest of us."

The tough talk from the likely presidential candidates appeared reflective of a desire to contrast themselves more forcefully against an administration that leading Congressional Republicans have been more hesitant to criticize since the uprising in Egypt began.

Appearing on "Fox News Sunday" last weekend, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said that the administration had been handling the situation in Egypt "pretty well" and pointed to the difficult balancing act of acknowledging the "legitimate grievances" of the Egyptian people without allowing a radical regime to come to power and replace one that has long been key to facilitating American goals in the region.

And following an appearance by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on NBC's "Meet The Press" on Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told host David Gregory that he did not "have much to add" to what Clinton had said on how the administration was handling the uprising.

"I don't have any criticism of President Obama or Secretary Clinton at this point," McConnell added after he was pressed by Gregory. "I mean, they know full well that we can't give the Egyptians advice about who their leadership is. That's beyond the reach of the United States. And I think we ought to speak as one voice during this crisis."

On Tuesday, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is almost certain to become the latest prospective GOP presidential candidate to weigh in on the crisis in Egypt. Romney has been silent on the issue thus far but has three scheduled national television appearances to promote the paperback release of his book, No Apology: The Case For American Greatness.

The title of Romney's book reflects the undertones of one of the likely presidential contender's core grievances against Obama: that the president, in Romney's view, has been too deferential and hesitant on the world stage. Tuesday's appearances on ABC's "The View," CNN's "Piers Morgan Tonight," and CBS' "The Late Show With David Letterman" are likely to demonstrate Romney's efforts to position himself as a foreign policy hawk leading up to the official start of the 2012 campaign.

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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