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
TIME magazine got Rick Perry to sit down for an interview. The conversation goes as you might expect. The Texas Governor defends calling Social Security a “Ponzi scheme,” sidesteps the question of how he would change the program by saying that “the idea that we’re going to write a Social Security reform plan today is a bit of a stretch from my perspective,” and repeats his claim that Obama is a socialist. (The latter claim rests on a definition of socialism that you won’t find in the dictionary, namely, “when all the answers emanate from Washington…that is, on its face, socialism.”)
But what caught my eye was what Perry said about what should happen next in Afghanistan:
I think we need to try to move our men and women home as soon as we can. Not just in Afghanistan, but in Iraq as well. And we’ve got to continually reassess our objectives. We need to make strategic decisions based on consultation with our military leaders on the ground, rather than just some arbitrary political promises.
Our objective should be clear. We’ve got to support the Afghan national security forces as they transition into the role of being the stable and appropriate force to sustain that country. Our overall objective has to be to serve that process and to drive out those who would do harm to our country. I think we’ve done that in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have substantial ways to continue to put the pressure on the bad guys, if you will, and I don’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.
Perry’s answer leaves some room for interpretation. Most important, he does not say how fast U.S. troops should leave Afghanistan. And while he endorses troop drawdowns in Afghanistan and Iraq, he takes a shot at the White House for doing just that. At least, that’s how I interpret his comment that he would not make his decisions based on “some arbitrary political promises.”
The thrust of Perry’s answer, however, is that he opposes a sustained military commitment in Afghanistan. So Sen. Lindsey Graham will continue to remain “disappointed” in the GOP front-runner. Which raises two questions: Is Senator Graham so disappointed that he will back another candidate in the critical South Carolina presidential primary? Will Rick Santorum use the nextGOP debate in Orlando on the 22nd to attack Perry for embracing “a very isolationist view of where the Republican Party should be headed”?
The “isolationist” charge probably won’t hurt Perry’s nomination chances. Most voters will likely scoff at the claim given that he reminds so many of them of George W. Bush, one of our most interventionist presidents. Even if voters decide that Perry wants to do less abroad, they probably won’t care and may even like it. Domestic issues are driving the presidential debate, and the public is suffering from intervention fatigue.
What do you think?
The views expressed in this article are solely those of James M. Lindsay.