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Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Rick Perry

    • Former 2012 Republican Presidential Candidate
    • Texas Governor (2000- )

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Rick Perry, George W. Bush's successor as Texas governor, led an unsuccessful campaign for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

Perry catapulted to the head of the Republican presidential primary race after he announced his candidacy in August 2011. However, a number of high profile gaffes severely damaged his campaign and in January 2012, after poor showings in early primaries, Perry announced he was dropping out the campaign. He said he would throw his support behind Newt Gingrich, the main remaining rival to Mitt Romney for the nomination.

Among Perry's weaknesses as a presidential candidate was his poor comprehension of U.S. foreign policy. His campaign website offered only brief, vague remarks on foreign policy, including a common conservative refrain that Perry rejected "the notion our president should apologize for our country but instead believes allies and adversaries alike must know that America seeks peace from a position of strength."[1]

Perry made headlines with a September 2011 speech to conservative Jewish leaders, during which he said, "Well, obviously, Israel is our oldest and most stable democratic ally in that region. That is what this is about. I also as a Christian have a clear directive to support Israel. So from my perspective, it's pretty easy. Both as an American and as a Christian, I am going to stand with Israel."[2] Few mainstream politicians—despite widespread support for Israel—couch their language in such stark biblical terms.

Although the speech drew predictable support from neoconservatives and other right-wing, "pro-Israel" figures like Devon Gaffney Cross of Secure America Now, it was heavily criticized by many observers. William Saletan, in a scathing piece for Slate.com, wrote, "Bush never said he had a Christian duty to stand with Israel, because to say such a thing would have been stupid and dangerous. By framing U.S. foreign policy in terms of a religious alliance between Christians and Jews, Perry is validating the propaganda of Islamic extremists. He's jeopardizing peace, Israel, and the United States … [and] he has vindicated Bin Laden's narrative."[3]

Blogger Andrew Sullivan also lambasted Perry's "theological foreign policy," calling the Texas governor "Bush without the sophistication or conscience." Sullivan wrote, "In that sense, Perry is the best thing for Jihadism in a very long time."[4]

Daniel Larison of The American Conservative attacked Perry not for his Christian-based support for Israel ("this is a common view among a significant number of evangelical and other Christians, and Perry has made a concerted effort to identify himself as one of these people"), but rather that "Perry takes it as a tenet of his faith that he ought to endorse a particularly close relationship with another state. The "clear directive" doesn't leave room for considerations of national interest or changed circumstances. That suggests that he would support that relationship in its current form no matter how costly it might become to the U.S., and it would mean that there is virtually nothing that an Israeli government could do that would make him change his position."[5]

In a separate blog post discussing Perry's claim that the Obama administration was "appeasing the Palestinians," Larison wrote that "Perry is going to treat anything that Obama has done or failed to do on these issues as appeasement, because the accusation of appeasement is the inevitable line of attack that he and other Republicans are always going to use when it comes to policy on Israel and Palestine. Accusations of appeasement are very much like accusations of 'isolationism,' and their utility comes from how wildly inaccurate and inappropriate they are. If Obama reiterated and briefly took seriously standing U.S. policy on settlement-building on occupied territory, to take one example, that will be lumped in as an example of appeasement. The goal is obviously not to describe the policy or even to contest the policy on its merits, but to define it as a policy that is supposedly both treacherous and weak, which then allows it to be dismissed out of hand."[6]

Perry showed signs of a pro-Israel, neoconservative bent early in his bid. Before he had even announced his campaign, in addition to criticizing President Obama's handling of the U.S.-Israel relationship, Perry wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder calling for the arrest of all U.S. citizens "found to be in violation of U.S. law by their participation in" the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. It was soon after revealed that Perry had held a foreign policy briefing with Bush-era hardliners Douglas Feith and William Luti, as well as with neoconservative pundit Andrew McCarthy. Politico reported that the briefing had been convened by Donald Rumsfeld.[vii] (For more, see Right Web, "Perry's Neocon Clues," July 22, 2011.)

Despite his views on the U.S.-Israeli relationship, Perry did not won over all neoconservatives. For instance, the Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin repeatedly attacked Perry, calling him—according to a report by Politico—"sleepy," "hostile," "dreadful," "provincial," "cloying," and "buffoon." According to Politico's Ben Smith, "Rubin, caustic and single-minded, has proven immune to the usual approaches from Perry's staff: She can't be schmoozed, can't be convinced. They respond diligently, if glumly, to emails that arrive in Austin like hostage notes, and often echo or prefigure former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney's attacks on him. 'It's just very high level saturation bombing from our perspective—we don't know why,' said a Perry ally, who said the campaign has given up on swaying her. 'It's just duck and cover.'"

In addition to his remarks about Israel, Perry drew criticism for his comments that U.S. troops should intervene in Mexico to help that country's efforts against drug cartels. He said in an October 2011 New Hampshire speech, "It may require our military in Mexico working in concert with them to kill these drug cartels and keep them off our border."[8] Steven Taylor of Outside the Beltway called this "Rick Perry's worst idea yet," saying it would be merely a "serious escalation of the current policy" already failing, would "lead to an escalation of violence," is "tone deaf" historically, and "is an egregious example of American hubris."[9]

However, this view appears to be the result of pressure he was facing from conservatives over earlier comments he made on immigration in a September 2011 debate. When defending a 2001 bill that provided illegal immigrants with in-state tuition at Texas public universities if they had lived in the state for more than three years, Perry said, "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."[10]

Perry continued by mocking a long preferred immigration policy of conservatives, namely building a fence spanning the U.S.-Mexico border to keep illegal immigrants out: "You can't just talk about it and say, 'Oh, let's build a wall from Brownsville to El Paso and that will take care of it.' We have to live with reality."[11]

Despite his debate comments, Perry's campaign website says he would "secure our international borders" and "will take decisive action to defend our sovereign border because there can be no homeland security without border security."[12]

Perry doubled back on this theme after an alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States—via a Mexican drug cartel—was revealed. Calling such behavior "business as usual for Iran," Perry told an Indianapolis audience that, "We cannot have national security until we have border security."

Prior to his governorship, Perry served as lieutenant governor under George W. Bush from 1999-2000, and before that was commissioner of agriculture in Texas from 1991-1999.

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[1] RickPerry.org, "National Security," http://www.rickperry.org/issues/national-security/.

[2] RickPerry.org, "Gov. Perry's Remarks at Israel-Palestine Press Conference in New York City," September 20, 2011, http://www.rickperry.org/news/gov-perry-remarks-at-israel-palestine-press-conference-in-new-york-city/.

[3] William Saletan, "Alliance for Christ," Slate.com, September 21, 2011, http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/frame_game/2011/09/alliance_for_christ.single.html.

[4] Andrew Sullivan, "Perry's Backs Great Israel – With Cowboy Boots On, Ctd," The Dish, September 22, 2011, http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2011/09/perrys-backs-greater-israel-with-cowboy-boots-on-ctd-1.html.

[5] Daniel Larison, "Clear Directives," The American Conservative, September 21, 2011, http://www.theamericanconservative.com/larison/2011/09/21/clear-directives/.

[6] Daniel Larison, "Perry and Appeasement," The American Conservative, September 21, 2011, http://www.theamericanconservative.com/larison/2011/09/21/perry-and-appeasement/.


[8] Amy Gardner, "Perry: Send U.S. troops to Mexico to fight drug wars," Washington Post, October 1, 2011, http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/perry-send-us-troops-to-mexico-to-fight-drug-wars/2011/10/01/gIQA2qDGDL_story.html.

[9] Steven L. Taylor, "Rick Perry's Worst Idea Yet," Outside the Beltway, October 1, 2011, http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/rick-perrys-worst-idea-yet/.

[10] Arlette Saenz, "Rick Perry Walks Back 'No Heart' Comment on Immigration," ABCnews.com, September 28, 2011, http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2011/09/rick-perry-walks-back-no-heart-comment-on-immigration/.

[11] Arlette Saenz, "Rick Perry Walks Back 'No Heart' Comment on Immigration," ABCnews.com, September 28, 2011, http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2011/09/rick-perry-walks-back-no-heart-comment-on-immigration/.

[12] RickPerry.org, "National Security," http://www.rickperry.org/issues/national-security/.

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Rick Perry Résumé


    • The Response: Organizer and convener (2011)


    • Texas Governor (2000-)
    • Lieutenant Governor of Texas (1999-2000)
    • Texas Commissioner of Agriculture (1991-1999)


    • Independent Real Estate Development


    • Texas A&M University: B.S.


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