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FOREIGN POLICY DOSSIER: Rick Perry FOREIGN POLICY DOSSIER: Rick Perry

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Election 2012 / CAMPAIGN 2012

FOREIGN POLICY DOSSIER: Rick Perry

photo of Sara Sorcher
November 12, 2011

He's from conservative West Texas, and served five years as an Air Force pilot -- a pro-military background that differentiates Texas Gov. Rick Perry from some of his competitors who are advocating for a more limited and isolationist foreign policy and national security. He has criticized President Obama's withdrawal of virtually all U.S. troops from Iraq, and even hinted at being supportive of Israeli military action against Iran's nuclear program.

Still, Perry’s foreign-policy philosophy overall appears contradictory: He says he doesn't believe America "should fall subject to a foreign policy of military adventurism” in the same breath that he insists "we must renew our commitment to taking the fight to the enemy wherever they are, before they strike at home.”

MUDDLED STANCE ON AFGHANISTAN. Perry told Time magazine he doesn’t think keeping a “large force of United States uniform military in Afghanistan for a long period of time is particularly in the interest of the U.S., or for that matter, in Afghani interest,” and seemed to break away from GOP military hawks by saying during a debate that he would support bringing the troops home as soon as possible.

 

Despite this, Perry has criticized Obama’s phased-withdrawal plan, which would pull out 33,000 surge troops from Afghanistan by the end of next summer, saying it’s “irresponsible from a foreign-policy standpoint” to “give the enemy a timetable of what you’re going to pull out.” Even with his aversion to giving details on troop levels, Perry’s foreign-policy adviser told The Cable that the candidate “is not confident” in the 100,000 troop level in Afghanistan, and would “like to know if [the mission] is possible at 40,000.”

REDUCE THE FOOTPRINT. “We have the ability to impact the war on terror in a substantially smaller footprint than what we are engaged in today,” Perry said in an interview with the The Union Leader of Manchester, N.H. “When we reduce that footprint and how we reduce that footprint needs to be coordinated with those commanders on the ground. I would substantially increase the amount of funding for our technological, our research and development, side of the military.”

"POLITICAL EXPEDIENCY" TO WITHDRAW FROM IRAQ. Perry slammed President Obama's decision to withdraw virtually all 43,000 U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of the year, in accordance with a 2008 security agreement signed under the Bush administration. "I'm deeply concerned that President Obama is putting political expediency ahead of sound military and security judgment by announcing an end to troop-level negotiations and a withdrawal from Iraq by year's end," Perry said in a press release. "The president was slow to engage the Iraqis and there's little evidence today's decision is based on advice from military commanders. America's commitment to the future of Iraq is important to U.S. national security interests and should not be influenced by politics."

CLEAR CHRISTIAN DIRECTIVE TO SUPPORT ISRAEL. Perry seized the opportunity to blame the Obama administration for failing to prevent the Palestinians from going to the United Nations with a bid for membership as an independent state in September. "Simply put, we would not be here today at this very precipice of such a dangerous move if the Obama policy in the Middle East wasn't naïve and arrogant, misguided and dangerous," said Perry, who was flanked by Jewish leaders just blocks from the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. When asked whether his views on Israel and support for continued Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank were a “theological” matter, Perry referenced the strong U.S.-Israel alliance, adding that “I also, as a Christian, have a clear directive to support Israel.”

PALESTINIANS COULD FACE CONSEQUENCES. In New York, Perry also warned that Palestinians must know “their gambit” by presenting a statehood bid at the United Nations "comes with consequences, in particular, that America will have to reconsider the $4 billion in assistance we have provided to the Palestinians over the last 17 years.”  Perry also said the U.S. should close the office of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s envoy to Washington if the UN grants standing to a Palestinian state.

SO COULD THE UNITED NATIONS. Perry and Obama both agree that the Palestinian UN bid is unproductive to the peace efforts—but the GOP contender takes it even further by calling for Washington to have “a very serious discussion” about defunding the international body. “I think it's time not only to have that entire debate about all of our foreign aid,” he said at a Las Vegas CNN debate, “but in particular the U.N. Why are we funding that organization?”

HAWKISH ON IRAN. With the latest International Atomic Energy Agency report detailing Iran’s progress toward building a nuclear weapon, Perry said the U.S. must “revisit the options President Obama has taken off the table.” These options include tough sanctions on the Iranian Central Bank, and preparing for a “worst-case scenario to use military force” to destroy key Iranian nuclear sites. Perry seemed more certain of military action in a past interview with CNN, saying the U.S. has two “really bad” positions, either allowing “madman” President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad to have control of a nuclear device, or a military strike to keep that from occurring – launched by the Israelis themselves or with its allies. He didn’t rule out a unilateral presumptive U.S. strike.  

DIPLOMACY NOT ALWAYS SO USEFUL. Perry told Fox News host Bill O'Reilly he doesn't think some State Department employees are working in the best interest of the country -- comments that set off a wave of criticism by foreign-service officers who said Perry has a serious misunderstanding of their role in promoting U.S. interests overseas. Perry told Fox the career diplomats and secretary of State are "all too often" giving advice to the administration that's not in the United States' best interest. 

NO NATIONAL SECURITY WITHOUT BORDER SECURITY. To secure the border, Perry says "the first thing you need to do is have boots on the ground." The federal government needs to commit to putting U.S. troops on the border and aviation assets in the air -- and possibly even Predator drones to provide real-time information to local, state, and federal law enforcement. "For the president of the United States to go to El Paso, Texas, and say that the border is safer than it’s ever been, either he has some of the poorest intel of a president in the history of this country, or he was an abject liar to the American people," Perry said in a Sept. 7 debate. "It is not safe on that border.”

NO OPTIONS OFF THE TABLE WITH MEXICO. Perry said he was open to sending U.S. troops to Mexico to help them battle drug cartels. At a house party in Manchester, N.H., Perry likened the situation there to Colombia and said that ending the drug war in Mexico "may require our military in Mexico working in concert with them to kill these drug cartels and to keep them off of our border and to destroy their networks." Perry has been hawkish on the southern border throughout his campaign, telling an audience at the conservative Values Voters Summit in Washington: “Make no mistake about it: what we are seeing south of our border is nothing short of a war being waged by those narcoterrorists. They represent a clear and present danger to our country.... We shouldn’t take any options off the table."

PREDATOR DRONES TO TRACK IMMIGRANTS ... AND IRANIANS. "You use Predator drones that are being trained right up here at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada to use that real-time information to give those boots on the ground that information, and they can instantly move to those areas," Perry said at a CNN debate in Las Vegas. "And that is the way to shut that border down, to secure that border, and really make America safe from individuals, like those Iranians that are using the drug cartels to penetrate this country.” Perry was referring to the alleged Iran-backed plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador and bomb embassies in Washington, which was thwarted with help from a Drug Enforcement Administration informant posing as a member of a Mexican drug cartel. One of the Iranians charged was a U.S. citizen who lived in Texas for three decades, and the other is thought to be in Iran.

NO 'HORSE TRADE' WITH DOD BUDGET. Perry is unlikely to advocate for further defense cuts, judging by his assertions in his book Fed Up! that the U.S. defense budget has already been dangerously eroded as a result of "explosion of entitlement spending." Perry's "Cut, Balance, and Grow" economic plan also does not call for any reductions in defense spending. In a speech to the Indiana GOP, Perry said the defense budget should “never” be put on the chopping block "for arbitrary budget cuts as part of some political horse trade.” He cautions in a Union Leader interview that while research and development shouldn’t be trimmed, he doesn’t mean to say "there aren't places we need to have good, solid discussions about reductions in places that may not be appropriate expenditures on the military budget.”

OBAMA'S BAD MESSAGE ON TAIWAN. Perry said during a meet and greet in New Hampshire: “When Taiwan asks for the next generation of F-16s and our president refuses that to allow one of our strongest allies in that South China Sea reason to have the technology to defend against an ever more aggressive China, that sends a very bad message across the board to all of our allies.” The Obama administration recently decided to upgrade Taiwan’s existing fleet of F-16 jets, rather than sell it the new package of late-model F-16 aircraft Taipei had requested. Arms sales to Taiwan caused China to cut off virtually all its defense ties with the U.S. last year, but still the administration insists that the decision not to sell the new jets was not made in deference to China, or that the new package is off the table for good.

PERRY SKIRTS CHINA SPECIFICS. When asked by radio host Laura Ingraham about whether or not a “rising China” is good for the U.S., Perry said, vaguely: “We’re going to have to deal with China. We’re going to have to trade with them. China disregarded the world for millennium. They lived in their own little world. We can't afford to do that.” Ingraham asked him to get more specific. “One of the ways we do it is by getting the economy going,” Perry said. “Because the fact of the matter is if you don't have a strong economy your foreign policy means nothing.”

AT 3 A.M., YOU'D DO ... WHAT? During the Fox News/Google debate in Orlando, Fla., Perry famously flubbed a question about what he would do if he got a 3 a.m. call saying Pakistani weapons had fallen into the hands of the Taliban. Try to follow this response:

"Well, obviously, before you ever get to that point, you have to build a relationship in that region. And that's one of the things that this administration has not done. Just yesterday we found out through Adm. Mullen that Haqqani has been involved with -- and that's the terrorist group directly associated with the Pakistani country -- so to have a relationship with India, to make sure that India knows that they are an ally of the United States. For instance, when we had the opportunity to sell India the upgraded F-16s, we chose not to do that. We did the same thing with Taiwan. The point is our allies need to understand clearly that we are their friends; we will be standing by there with them. Today we don't have those allies in that region that can assist us if that situation that you talked about were to become a reality.” 

CONGRATULATIONS OBAMA, FOR KILLING AWLAKI. "I want to congratulate the United States military and intelligence communities – and President Obama for sticking with the government's longstanding and aggressive anti-terror policies – for getting another key international terrorist," Perry said in a statement after a U.S. airstrike killed the al-Qaida leader in Yemen. "The death of American-raised al Qaida leader Anwar al-Awlaki is an important victory in the war on terror.... We must remain vigilant, and make sure we bring every resource and tool to bear in the fight to keep Americans safe.”

BIN LADEN, NOT SO MUCH. While Perry “tip[ped] his hat” to Obama during a September debate for his role in killing al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in his Pakistan compound, he gave him far less credit two months later in a radio interview with Fox’s Bill O’Reilly. “I promise you, those Navy SEALs that took out bin Laden, they knew what they were doing a long time before the president of the United States took office," Perry said. " … We know how those things were done. It was because of the dedication and the focus and the professional of the military men and women of this country [the U.S. killed bin Laden], not because he ended up being the president.”

At a house party in Manchester, Perry said that ending the drug war in Mexico “may require our military in Mexico.”

“The way that we were able to stop the drug cartels in Colombia was with a coordinated effort,” Perry said. “It may require our military in Mexico working in concert with them to kill these drug cartels and to keep them off of our border and to destroy their networks.
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