"The Middle East is changing before our eyes but our government has not kept up," the former Minnesota governor said in a speech before the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. "The next president must do better. Today, in our own Republican Party, some look back and conclude our projection of strength and defense of freedom was a product of different times and different challenges. While times have changed, the nature of the challenge has not."
As far as Obama's foreign policy goes, Pawlenty said the president "has failed to formulate and carry out an effective and coherent strategy in response" to the wave of pro-democracy uprisings moving across northern Africa and the Middle East.
"He has been timid, slow, and too often without a clear understanding of our interests or a clear commitment to our principles," Pawlenty said of Obama.
"We need a president who fully understands that America never 'leads from behind,'" he said.
Emerging democracies should be supported and encouraged to embrace human rights and popular rule, Pawlenty said, while hostile countries should be subject to diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions until they respect the rights of their people.
Pawlenty said he called for Syrian President Bashar Assad's departure on March 29 and called for it again Tuesday, while the Obama administration has called Assad "a reformer."
"The leader of the United States should never leave those willing to sacrifice their lives in the cause of freedom wondering where America stands," Pawlenty said. "As president, I will not."
Pawlenty blamed Obama for not working harder to oust rulers such as Egypt's former President Hosni Mubarak and Syria's Assad. He also criticized the administration for not being forceful enough in removing Libya's Moammar Gadhafi.
Concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Pawlenty said he would not impose on Israel borders that are indefensible, a swipe at Obama for saying the 1967 borders should be a basis for negotiating. Under a Pawlenty administration, peace in the Middle East would see a diminished role for Hamas, an end of "the teaching of hatred in Palestinian classrooms," and a cultivation and empowerment of moderate forces in Palestinian society.
"It breaks my heart that President Obama treats Israel, our great friend, as a problem, rather than as an ally," Pawlenty said.
Pawlenty also chastised his own party, saying it was wrong for the GOP to "shrink from the challenges of American leadership in the world."
"America already has one political party devoted to decline, retrenchment, and withdrawal," Pawlenty said. "It does not need a second one."