Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty tries so hard to be loved, and yet. He makes exciting action films on a regular basis, he's apologized for once believing in science, he's released a cartoonish parody of a Republican economic plan, and he's all about the Jesus stuff. He is a full-service pander shop but scares away all the customers. What else can he do at this point? Go nuts about war, obviously.

Pawlenty, whose remarkable willingness to pander I first really noticed a few months back when he described Obama's Egypt strategy as working to "appease the Muslim Brotherhood," is trying to squeeze into the last little niche of branding space available in the Republican primary field: The robust endless war-bomb neocon guy. Today he rolled out this new emphasis at the Council on Foreign Relations, in a speech with a funny consultant-approved title:

Titled "No Retreat From Freedom's Rise," Pawlenty's speech aspired to be a Reaganesque declaration of American strength and leadership, perhaps most notably criticizing the growing conservative sentiment against expansionist U.S. foreign policy. "[P]arts of the Republican Party now seem to be trying to out-bid the Democrats in appealing to isolationist sentiments," Pawlenty said. "This is no time for uncertain leadership in either party. The stakes are simply too high, and the opportunity is simply too great."

Whereas plenty of Congressional Republicans want to end U.S. operations in Libya, Pawlenty urged Obama to "stop leading from behind," and "commit America's strength to removing Ghadafi." To Republicans who say it's time to wind down the war in Afghanistan, Pawlenty said David Petraeus' voice "ought to carry the most weight on that question."

Guess what? He likes Israel, too:

And, when it came to Israel, Pawlenty called Obama's policy "stunning," saying that Obama "thinks Israel is the problem. And he thinks the answer is always more pressure on Israel."

So this is your Tim Pawlenty now: Hawk. War man. Never retreats from freedom, or whatever it was. Perhaps the new John McCain or Lindsey Graham, since this foreign policy approach is exactly the same as theirs? He doesn't like to think of it this way, apparently:

I made this observation the other day to Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, and he winced. It wasn't a run of the mill wince; it was, as they say, an audible wince. McCain and Graham are both deeply crosswise with conservative activists, the sort of people who participate in caucuses in Iowa and vote in the New Hampshire primaries.

"I prefer that it not be that," Pawlenty said, as his face clouded over. "I prefer that it be my own views that are referenced." Later, he unaccountably returned to the issue. "I wish you could think of another way to describe this wing of the party, other than McCain and Lindsey Graham. I love John, but that's like saying we're embracing Nelson Rockefeller on economics."

In sum, Tim Pawlenty is trying too hard.

[Image via AP]