WASHINGTON - House Speaker John Boehner said Sunday that he thinks the Obama administration handled "a very difficult situation" in Egypt about as well as possible, undercutting potential Republican presidential candidates who have charged that President Obama botched the U.S. response to a popular revolt against a key ally.

Boehner, the nation's top Republican elected official, told NBC's "Meet the Press" that he thought there was a need for an assessment to determine why the U.S. intelligence community "didn't have a better feel for" the grass-roots movements that felled authoritarian regimes in Tunisia and Egypt in recent weeks. But he declined to accuse the spy services of failing.

The situation "surprised everyone," he said.

Boehner's remarks contrasted with those of Republicans who are pondering presidential runs in 2012, several of whom stepped forward over the weekend to criticize Obama.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty compared the administration's response to the biblical Tower of Babel and said the mixed messages added up to something "nearly incoherent."

"You had the president, the vice president, the secretary of state, the national intelligence director going off in different directions," Pawlenty said on ABC's "This Week."

He was referring to statements by members of the administration over the last two weeks that reflected internal divisions on how hard to push Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak before he finally surrendered power Friday.

Pawlenty criticized Obama for failing to articulate bedrock U.S. priorities in the crisis.

"One, we don't want a radical Islamic result," Pawlenty said. "Two, we favor democracy. And President Mubarak and [Vice President Omar] Suleiman or anyone else who may be purporting to be leading the nation needs to embrace those principles."

Other potential GOP presidential candidates criticized Obama from the other direction, saying the administration's public disavowal of Mubarak sent a distressing message to other U.S. allies in the region.

"You do it quietly," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said on "This Week," "because every other potential ally in the world is watching you. And ... they wonder, 'Why should I trust the United States?'"

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum voiced a similar sentiment last week, saying, "We've turned our backs on ... almost all of our allies."

Boehner rejected that idea, arguing that the United States had an obligation to stand with Egyptians protesting for their political rights.