In a speech that attempts to stake out his position as the GOP presidential field's leading hawk, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Tuesday accused President Obama of turning his back on democracy movements across the Middle East, saying the president has "retreated from freedom's rise" just as grassroots activists leading the "Arab Spring" needed him the most.

Pawlenty, speaking in New York at the Council on Foreign Relations, laid out an aggressive vision for his own foreign policy, calling for direct military intervention in Libya and the ousting of Syrian leader Bashar al Assad. And he said Obama has turned its back on Israel, treating it as an enemy instead of the country's closest ally in the region.

"The Middle East is changing before our eyes--but our government has not kept up," Pawlenty said, according to prepared remarks provided by his campaign. "It abandoned the promotion of democracy just as Arabs were about to seize it. It sought to cozy up to dictators just as their own people rose against them. It downplayed our principles and distanced us from key allies."

Pawlenty's speech occurs just as the hawkish foreign policy consensus that once united the Republican Party appears to be cracking. White House hopeful Jon Huntsman has articulated a scaled-back presence for America's military around the world, including a swift withdrawal from Afghanistan. Even the primary's early front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, has signaled that the country's footprint in other countries needs to be diminished.

But the former governor, while not mentioning any of his rivals by name, said that view is harmful.

"What is wrong, is for the Republican Party to shrink from the challenges of American leadership in the world," he said. "History repeatedly warns us that in the long run, weakness in foreign policy costs us and our children much more than we'll save in a budget line item."

"America already has one political party devoted to decline, retrenchment, and withdrawal," he added. "It does not need a second one."