Special Report

Rick Perry’s Foreign Policy

Rick Perry’s Foreign Policy

Foreign-policy credentials: Perry lived in Germany and Saudi Arabia in the 1970s while flying cargo planes for the U.S. Air Force in Latin America, North Africa, and Europe. "I saw all of these different types of governments and I made the connections to how the people acted and looked, and it became abundantly clear to me that, at that particular point in time, that America was this very unique place and that our form of democracy was very rare," he told the Abilene Reporter-News in April. As governor of Texas, he has traveled abroad and worked particularly closely with Latin America.

Overview: Perry may appear like an aggressive, American Exceptionalism–trumpeting defense hawk at first glance, but his views on issues such as the Afghanistan withdrawal, illegal immigration, and "military adventurism" complicate the picture. "We respect our allies, and we must always seek to engage them in military missions," he told a gathering of veterans in August. "At the same time, we must be willing to act when it is time to act. We cannot concede the moral authority of our nation to multilateral debating societies."

Advisors: The campaign recently hired Victoria Coates, a research director for former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld with a Ph.D. in Italian Renaissance art and history, to advise Perry on foreign policy. The Texas governor told Sean Hannity in November that he also discusses international affairs with Liz Cheney and John Bolton — people "who actually understand, intimately, where these countries are, why they think like they think."

On the Issues:

Afghanistan/Pakistan: Perry wants to transfer responsibility to Afghan security forces and bring U.S. troops home, but he opposes President Barack Obama’s withdrawal timetable and in September quickly walked back from an apparent endorsement of a speedy withdrawal. He thinks Pakistan isn’t being "honest with us" and wants to cut off foreign aid to the country. "Their political people are not who are in charge of that country," Perry claims. "It’s the military. It’s the secret service."

Military spending: The governor hasn’t called for defense cuts, but he has warned against a "foreign policy of military adventurism" and declared that America "should only risk shedding American blood and spending American treasure when our vital interests are threatened." Still, he told the conservative Values Voter Summit in October that "we must never put the military on the chopping block for arbitrary budget cuts as part of some political horse-trade." The key question, he added, is "not what we can afford to spend on our military, but what it costs to remain secure and free."

Immigration/borders: Perry has pledged to beef up the Border Patrol and dispatch Predator drones to the U.S.-Mexico border to gather intelligence. During a debate in October, he argued that Mitt Romney was guilty of the "height of hypocrisy" for talking tough on immigration while hiring illegal immigrants — a charge Romney denies. But Perry’s own nuanced record on immigration has left him vulnerable to charges from Republican opponents that he’s soft on the issue (Bill Clinton, for his part, praises Perry’s stance). Perry has defended his decision as governor of Texas to grant in-state tuition to some undocumented students. "If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they’ve been brought there by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart," he argued in September. Although Perry wants to construct fencing in "high traffic areas," he ridicules the notion of erecting a wall across the entire U.S.-Mexico border — or, as he put it, echoing a line from Obama, the idea of building a "double fence" with "alligators between it" and "lava in there."

Israel/Palestine: As the Palestinians pressed their bid for statehood at the United Nations in September, Perry warned the Palestinians that they could lose their U.S. aid and criticized Obama for "moral equivalency," which he charged "gives equal standing to the grievances of Israelis and Palestinians, including the orchestrators of terrorism." He said it was "time to change our policy of appeasement toward the Palestinians [and] to strengthen our ties to the nation of Israel," adding that he supports a two-state solution so long as it stems from direct negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. He has said in the past that "my faith requires me to support Israel."

China: Perry doesn’t buy the notion that the 21st century will be the "century of China" and that the United States has had its "time in the sunshine." In a nod to Ronald Reagan’s prediction about the Soviet Union’s trajectory, Perry thinks the "communist Chinese government will end up on the ash heap of history if they do not change their virtues."

Foreign aid: Perry turned heads during a debate in November by arguing that countries should earn every dollar they receive from the United States, especially slippery allies like Pakistan. "The foreign-aid budget in my administration for every country is going to start at zero dollars," he proclaimed. "Then we’ll have a conversation about whether or not a penny of our taxpayer dollars needs to go into those countries." Later, he added, "Obviously, Israel is a special ally, and my bet is we would be funding them at some substantial level."

Iran/nukes: Perry’s formulation on Iran is pretty simple: "We cannot afford to allow that madman in Iran to get his hands on a nuclear weapon, period." He says he would support an Israeli airstrike on Iran if there were proof Tehran was closing in on a nuclear weapon. As for a pre-emptive U.S. strike on Iran, Perry says he "never would take a military option off the table when it comes to dealing with this individual."

Trade: "There is nothing more important towards peace on this planet than having arrangements with countries where you’re actually doing trade with them," said Perry, a longtime free trade champion, citing Chile, Panama, and South Korea as examples. "Maybe that’s one of the ways that you deal with the issue of what’s happening in that Afghanistan, India, Pakistan region, and you create a southeastern Asian free trade zone."

War on terror/detainees: Perry has called for a "war on terror" with a "smaller footprint" that relies on high-tech special operations. He has forcefully defended waterboarding (but not "torture"), arguing, "For us not to have the ability to try to extract information from [detainees], to save our young people’s lives, is a travesty. This is war."

Environment: Perry has called global warming a "scientific theory that hasn’t been proven and from my perspective is more and more being put into question," a statement that has gotten him in trouble with fact-checkers. He opposes "anti-carbon programs" like cap-and-trade schemes and wants to prevent the federal government from "picking winners and losers" by ending federal subsidies to the energy industry. That agency he forgot in his now-infamous "oops" moment? The Energy Department. As for the Environmental Protection Agency, Perry wants to "downsize and retask" it so that it "no longer torments job creators or gives an official stamp to phony science."

Russia: Perry has called Obama’s reset of U.S.-Russia relations a "slap in the face" to American allies in Central Europe and lamented the rise of a "Russia that is increasingly aggressive and troublesome to its neighbors and the former satellite nations that are struggling to maintain their relatively newfound independence." He has said little about the New START nuclear arms reduction agreement between the United States and Russia.

Arab Spring: The Middle Eastern uprisings, according to Perry, demonstrate that America must continue to "be the world’s leading advocate for freedom" and speak "the truth to adversaries and dictators in keeping with our democratic values." But he warns that "we have been slow to recognize the risks posed by the new regime in Egypt," specifically regarding its relationship with Israel. He called the fall of Libyan strongman Muammar al-Qaddafi a "cause for cautious celebration."

Other issues: Perry has advocated sending U.S. troops to Mexico to battle drug cartels. "The way that we were able to stop the drug cartels in Colombia was with a coordinated effort," he explains, warning that Mexico is in danger of becoming a failed state.