A foreign policy platform from Rick Perry? Not quite
Governor Rick Perry (Getty Images)
August 31st, 2011
12:43 AM ET

A foreign policy platform from Rick Perry? Not quite

Editor's Note: Dr. James M. Lindsay is a Senior Vice President at the Council on Foreign Relations and co-author of "America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy." Visit his blog here and follow him on Twitter.

By James M. Lindsay, CFR.org

Rick Perry used his speech yesterday to the Veterans of Foreign Wars 112th National Convention to sketch his foreign policy views. Here is the essence of what he had to say:

As the tenth anniversary of the attacks of 9-11 approaches, we must renew our commitment to taking the fight to the enemy, wherever they are, before they strike at home.

I do not believe America should fall subject to a foreign policy of military adventurism.

We should only risk shedding American blood and spending American treasure when our vital interests are threatened.

And we should always look to build coalitions among the nations to protect the mutual interests of freedom-loving people.

It is not in our interests to go it alone. We respect our allies, and must always seek to engage them in military missions.

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.

And when our interests are threatened, American soldiers should be led by American commanders.

I say this because we owe to them, and to their loved ones, to make sure any war we wage is led by the country with the most advanced military technology and the best training.

Three things to note about the speech. First, it’s politically savvy. There is something in it for every significant foreign policy constituency in the GOP. Worried about weakness in the Oval Office? Perry promises to take the fight to the enemy. Concerned that the United States is doing too much overseas? Perry opposes “military adventurism” and will risk shedding American blood only “when our vital interests are threatened.” Hopeful that the United States will work with other countries? Perry says “we respect our allies” and “we should always look to build coalitions.” Worried that international organizations are constraining America’s ability to act? Perry won’t ask “multilateral debating societies” for permission slips before acting overseas. Fearful of what tough budgetary times mean for defense spending? Perry vows to make sure that the United States will continue to have “the most advanced military technology.”

Second, any mainstream Republican or Democratic presidential candidate could have given Perry’s speech. After all, not many candidates for president would say they favor military adventurism, disrespecting America’s allies, or letting America’s military edge slide. That doesn’t mean, however, that commentators won’t read a lot more into Perry’s speech because of the history and geography he shares with George W. Bush. The messenger is often as important as the message in determining what we see and hear. Indeed, one of the first news stories on Perry’s speech headlined it “Perry Calls for Aggressive Foreign Policy.” Should this trope take hold, it will only be a matter of days before conservative bloggers rifle though Obama’s many speeches and find him saying a lot of the same things.

Third, while Perry’s speech was heavy on foreign policy bromides it was short on specifics. What constitutes “a vital interest”? Does Perry think that any recent uses of U.S. military force qualify as “military adventurism”? How would a President Perry square his vow to maintain the world’s best military with his pledge to balance the federal budget without raising taxes? The devil, as they say, is in the details.

The good news is that the GOP plans to hold four presidential debates in September. With any luck the moderators will push Perry and his fellow candidates away from generalities and toward specifics. Only when that happens will we know where Perry or any of his rivals stand on foreign policy.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of James M. Lindsay.

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Topics: 2012 Election • Politics • United States

soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Zadoc Paet

    I think Obama is excited that he might be running against Perry and his intellect.

    POLL: Is Rick Perry dumb?
    Vote: http://www.wepolls.com/p/2243001

    August 31, 2011 at 1:37 am | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      I don't know Perry, can't judge if he's dumb. I definitely find him impetuous, hence saying contradictory things. On the one hand he's for building coalitions and respects allies in military missions, one the other hand he wants American soldiers under American command! It's tragic that he didn't see the war in Iraq was a military adventure!

      August 31, 2011 at 6:22 am | Reply
  2. Memphis Tiger

    Have you ever seen Obama be specific on anything? Of course he never gets asked the tough questions. If he had been asked the questions Sarah Palin was asked, you would see how incompetent he is.

    August 31, 2011 at 1:54 am | Reply
    • Kar

      Yes, he has been. To name one example, he said he'd up the number of drone strikes in Pakistan. He did. There are plenty of other examples. As for the questions he was asked, you remember the Presidential debates? I think they were tough enough, and he did an admirable job. Granted, he wasn't asked a real tough question like which newspapers he read, but I think he has done well nonetheless.

      August 31, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Reply
  3. One By the Sea

    I can wait until any of the Republicans square off against the Idiot-in-Chief with contrasting views. Obama won't know what hit him. We are talking about how the Repulicans differ from themselves in debate but I would love to hear what Obama has to say when asked why he lied to his followers and lead a mutiny of the United States over the past three years.

    August 31, 2011 at 2:03 am | Reply
  4. Mark Montgomery

    Rick Perry is a lunatic who has no idea how government works. He had to beg for federal funds (billions of dollars) to balance his budget in Texas over a period of 3 years. He wants to kill Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, he wants the laws against dicscrimination and the laws protecting the environment trashed. He is a typical tea partier. Let's be clear about one thing: the tea party is a terrorist organization that is bent on the destruction of the US government. The tea party is really our present day KKK. The tea party hides its racism behind code words like "states' rights" but that is what the southern racists of 60 years ago did too.The tea party is a small group of elderly, rich, white racists who hate minorities, immigrants, the middle class and the poor and who are plotting the destruction of the federal government. We have to fight this tea party cancer every step of the way and encourage the FBI to investigate the tea party as a terrorist group. Mark Montgomery NYC, NY boboberg@nyc.rr.com

    August 31, 2011 at 3:44 am | Reply
    • coodav

      I think perhaps you may be the one who is the lunatic. Let's make a few things clear:

      "He had to beg for billions..."
      Texas is one of the few states in the nation with a balanced(ish) budget. Texas is doing FAR better than the great majority of states. And I guarantee you there was no "begging."

      "He wants to kill Social Security..."
      Show me that somewhere? Citation? No? I don't think he said that. He DID say that he wanted to 'balance' it, which means about 40% less, but that is not "kill."

      "The tea party is really our present day KKK."
      Mmmmmm... nooooooo... don't think so. Unless they are lynching people and burning crosses. No, they are just a fairly uninformed grass roots movement that is both legitimate and extreme.

      In the end, Monty, your rant doesn't do much for the other side. You just make comments like this easy. I suggest you stick to REAL facts, as they are not hard to find.

      Take for instance his 'succession' language? The fact that his state is in the hottest, dryest, fire-filled season it has ever seen and he says there is no global warming or need for EPA? His relationship with oil companies and his stance on drilling? Etc.................................

      August 31, 2011 at 11:01 am | Reply
  5. Onesmallvoice

    If Rick Perry would only advocate a decent foreign policy, I'd vote for him myself. The one thing this country hasn't had for the past 30 years or so is one. In fact, much of the the cause of our economic misery is our aggressive foreign policy but most people don't have the sense to see that!!! In short, we need to stop being the bullies of the world!

    August 31, 2011 at 7:31 am | Reply
  6. Henry Cameron

    This is the type of speech that would make you laugh out loud if it wasn't so terrifying. Rick Perry sure makes Jon Stewart's job easy. How can one human being contradict himself so many times in the same speech?

    I'm glad to hear Perry is opposed to "military adventurism", whatever that may be. An unprovoked war in Iraq that cost billions of dollars and millions of lives? Drone bombings in at least 5 separate countries? A decade-long war in Afghanistan that hasn't made an inch of progress in years, and yet continues to cost American lives? I'm not sure which engagement he considers adventurous, but I'd love to hear his specific stances on these issues.

    He supports working with our allies, but doesn't want to become entangled in multilateral engagements? He'll act, but only when it's time to act? These are meaningless and contradictory political ploys by a masterful politician who knows how to give an entire speech without saying a single thing.

    "I say this because we owe to them, and to their loved ones, to make sure any war we wage is led by the country with the most advanced military technology and the best training."

    How about instead of concerning yourself with the technology these men are going to war with, ask yourself first if the war is vital to protect this nation from an imminent threat? We cant afford the money, or more importantly, the blood, that these wars are costing us. Is it crazy to suggest maybe fewer countries would want to attack us if we started attacking fewer countries? We brought Al Qaeda to Iraq. We brought them to Libya. Ten years after 9/11 and people still don't understand the consequences of our actions. Sorry Santorum, but Bin Laden didn't attack us "for who we are", he attacked us in large part because we've been over there building bases on their holy land and dropping bombs on the middle east for 20 years. Enough is enough. No wonder Ron Paul gets more donations from active military members than all other candidates combined.

    Perry is weather vane, pointing whichever way the wind blows that day. Especially if it's blowing in the direction of Merck, so he can pick up his campaign donations and in exchange forcibly immunize children with Merck brand vaccines. Or if it's blowing towards the Obama Stimulus money, which he greedily gobbled up to balance his own budget. Some "Texas Miracle". Must be easy to create jobs when you get a big fat check from Washington. Maybe he could have spent some of that money improving the health care or educational systems in Texas, since they're the worst in the country. Or maybe do something about their outrageously high teen pregnancy rate? Or maybe send his buddy Al Gore a card?

    Don't listen to what politicians say. Look at what they do.

    August 31, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Reply

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