- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
Back in May, we did a quick round-up of the foreign policy and national security positions of the 2012 Republican field. Since then, some candidates — Mitch Daniels and Mike Huckabee — have dropped out, some — Newt Gingrich — have seen their fortunes fall dramatically, and one — Texas Governor Rick Perry — has emerged as a surprisingly compelling possible contender. As many commentators have noted, Perry comes without the liabilities plaguing much of the Republican field. His record is unquestionably conservative, unlike Mitt Romney. He’s personable and charismatic, unlike Tim Pawlenty. After this weekend’s prayer rally, attended by more than 30,000, he looks like a more formidable candidate than Michele Bachmann or Rick Santorum to appeal to evangelical voters.
But what does Perry think about the world? He hasn’t made that many statements on foreign policy, but we can gather some indications from the people he’s taking advice from. Perry has held meetings with former Bush administration officials including Doug Feith and William Luti, as well as Shadow Government contributor Dan Blumenthal. Former Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld has also reporteldy played a role in organizing his national national security briefings. This would seem to indicate that Perry is closer in outlook to the neoconservatism of the Bush adminsitration than the less interventionist approach of Tea Party leaders like Michele Bachmann and Rand Paul. Indeed, a source at the briefings told the National Review that Perry does not have “the neo-isolationism that you might expect from certain people [close to] the Tea Party.” (As if trying to complete the Bush White House circa 2002 vibe of his pre-campaign, Perry has also met with former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, who came away from the meeting with the impression that Perry will run.)
As governor, Perry as made visits to China, Mexico, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Qatar, Turkey, France and Sweden. Not surprisingly for a Texan, his thoughts on national security have mostly been directed across the Rio Grande. Last year, for instance, he suggested that the U.S. may need to deploy troops in Mexico to control the drug violence in the border region. Perry also defied the requests of the Mexian government, the Obama administration, the International Court of Justice, and Bush in July when Texas proceeded with the execution of a Mexican citizen.
Perry has recently waded into Middle Eastern politics as well. In May, he criticized Obama’s Middle East speech, saying it "continues a misguided policy of alienating our traditional allies, in this case Israel, one of our strongest partners in the war on terror. As someone who has visited Israel numerous times, I know that it is impracticable to revert to the 1967 lines." Perry has also called on the Justice department to prosecute Americans who take part in the Gaza flotilla.
Perry’s most detailed explanation of his foreign policy views may come in his recent book, Fed Up: Our Fight To Save America From Washington:
We are now confronted with the rise of new economic and military powerhouses in China and India, as well as a Russia that is increasingly aggressive and troublesome to its neighbors and former satellite nations that are struggling to maintain their relatively newfound independence. There is no reason to believe that armed conflict with any major power is imminen, but the world is rapidly changing, and the United States must be prepared for the ramifications of shifting balances of power.
North Korea and Iran, in contrast, are utterly unpredictable an do present an imminent threat with their nuclear ambitions. […] Leftists in Latin America and threatening democracy, and Hugo Chavez is harboring communist rebels in Venezuela. All of these issues require our attention and investment in defense capabilities.
In light of these threats, Perry feels the U.S. defense budget has been dangerously eroded as a result of the "explosion of entitlement spending." He’s also not a big fan of the Russia reset:
…it was a slap in the face to a number of our allies. As a Wall Street Journal article put it, "Some prominent figures in the region, such as former Polish President Lech Walesa, worried the new U.S. administration was turning away from its traditional allies in Central Europe to placate Russia." But there is good news for those who prefer our foreign policy be popular among the European elite, because NATO’s secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, welcomed the U.S. policy shift, saying it was his "clear impression that the American plan on missile defense will involve NATO… to a higher degree in the future." Surely we can’t be serious?
(Why the former president of Poland — even a historically significant one — is a "traditional ally" who should not be offended, but the secretary general of a defense alliance of which the United States was a co-founder is a figure worthy only of disdain is a little bit unclear.)
In other words, Perry seems to tick all the boxes of a conventional Republican defense hawk. Whether that will work in a very unconventional campaign season remains to be seen.