- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 13, 2011

Potential Republican presidential candidates for 2012 painted President Obama as a weak commander in chief who appeases foes and spurns allies, as they assailed the administration at an annual conservative gathering in Washington over the weekend.

“The Obama administration is wrong on terrorism, wrong on Iran, wrong on the Muslim Brotherhood, wrong on Hezbollah; and being wrong on that many national security items is an enormously dangerous thing,” said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

“This is an administration which doesn’t even have the courage to tell the truth about who wants to kill us.”

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who placed second in a Washington Times straw poll at CPAC, slammed Mr. Obama’s “reset” policy with Russia. He said it “consisted, of course, of our abandoning our missile defense in Poland and in signing a one-sided nuclear treaty.”

He said it is one more example of Mr. Obama’s ” ‘they get, we give’ diplomacy.”

Mr. Romney also took aim at Mr. Obama’s July deadline for beginning the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

“While the Taliban may not have an air force or sophisticated drones, they do have calendars,” he quipped.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty mocked comparisons between Mr. Obama and Ronald Reagan, saying “Ronald Reagan knew how to stare down our enemies.”

“Bullies respect strength. They don’t respect weakness. So when the United States of America projects its national security interests here and around the world, we need to do it with strength,” he said to chants of “USA! USA! USA!”

“And one more thing,” he added. “Mr. President, stop apologizing for our country! The bullies, terrorists and tyrants of the world have lots to apologize for. America does not.”

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota accused the Obama administration’s of failing to use “all elements of our national power to win” the war on terrorism.

“We need to use lawful interrogation techniques to acquire actionable intelligence,” he said. “And when we are done interrogating terrorists, we should give them their day in court - in a military tribunal, not an American courtroom.”

Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, a libertarian who again won the straw poll this year, said the crisis in Egypt is a good argument for ending all foreign aid.

“Seventy billion dollars we invested in Egypt,” he said, “And guess what? The government is crumbling, and the people are upset, not only with their government; but they’re upset with us for propping up that puppet dictator for all those years.”

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who finished a distant third in the straw poll, said that if fiscal conservatives are serious about balancing the budget, they need to take a hard look at the defense budget.

“I support a strong defense,” Johnson told The Washington Times, “but we’re broke; and if we’re serious about getting our fiscal house in order, we need to make deep cuts across the board. The defense budget can’t be taken off the chopping block.”

Mr. Paul and Mr. Johnson, unlike the others, opposed the war in Iraq and the surge in Afghanistan.

In an interview with The Times, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum sang the tune one is most likely to hear in the 2012 debates.

Mr. Obama is “arguing from a point of weakness versus strength, and I don’t think that’s a good position to bargain from, no matter what [the issue] is,” he said.

“And when the president says we should apologize for our behavior and that we should defer to international organizations to promote good policies that are in the interest of this country, I think it’s wrong-headed.”

Mr. Santorum slammed Mr. Obama’s China policy, but he declined to comment on Jon Huntsman Jr., the U.S. ambassador to China and former Republican governor of Utah, also rumored to be considering a presidential campaign.

“That’s a little trickier question,” he said, laughing. “I’ll leave that one alone.”

John R. Bolton, a former U.N. ambassador and undersecretary of state who also addressed the conference, has said that he may run for president simply to ensure that foreign policy and national security have a place in the debate.

David Keene, the outgoing president of the American Conservative Union and a CPAC organizer, told The Times that the conference always sought to satisfy all segments of the conservative movement, including national-security hawks.

However, he said, “This year, the pizzazz is about fiscal matters, because that’s what the country’s interested in, just as in the two or three years after 9/11, the pizzazz was on foreign-policy matters because that’s what the country was focused on then.”

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