(WASHINGTON) -- Several likely top contenders for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination have emerged as leading critics of President Obama's handling of the Egyptian crisis, breaking with party leaders who have largely been supportive of the administration's approach.
But their critiques are far from uniform, reflecting both the political and diplomatic complexity of the situation and each hopeful's attempt to stake out ground on a foreign policy debate that could get some play in the 2012 campaign.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, the front-runner among likely candidates in the latest ABC News-Washington Post poll, was the latest to weigh in, criticizing Obama Wednesday for not more publicly supporting Mubarak, who has been a longtime U.S. ally.
"This would not have required us to approve everything he did, or deny the rights of the people of Egypt to demand a change of government," Huckabee said in an interview with the Jerusalem Post. "But I think it would have been an important symbol to send to the rest of the world, that we don't just walk away from long-standing allies."
Some of Huckabee's potential rivals have made clear they disagree, themselves casting Mubarak aside and suggesting the Obama administration do the same.
"I think his time is going to come to an end. It should come to an end," former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty told reporters in Iowa Monday, according to the Des Moines Register. Pawlenty chided the administration for cautious early statements supportive of Mubarak.
"The early statements by Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton, Vice President [Joe] Biden and the president seemed inconsistent, bordering on incoherent if you put them all together," Pawlenty said, referring comments by Clinton, who said the Mubarak government was stable, and Biden, who said Mubarak was not a dictator and should not resign.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney appeared to stake out a middle ground this week, saying the administration got off to a "rocky start" and that their early statements were "misguided," but that the administration has been correct in not outright calling for Mubarak's departure.
"I don't know that I would say to the president, 'You should call for Mubarak's resignation,'" Romney said on "Good Morning America" Tuesday. "That, I think, flies in the face of a long history of friendship between he and our country and our friends, but it is very clear that [Mubarak] needs to move on and transition to the voices of democracy."
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