What's Rick Perry's foreign policy?

Back in May, we did a quick round-up of the foreign policy and national security positions of the 2012 Republican field.  Since then, some candidates -- Mitch Daniels and Mike Huckabee -- have dropped out, some -- Newt Gingrich -- have seen their fortunes fall dramatically, and one -- Texas Governor Rick Perry -- has emerged as a surprisingly compelling possible contender. As many commentators have noted, Perry comes without the liabilities plaguing much of the Republican field. His record is unquestionably conservative, unlike Mitt Romney. He's personable and charismatic, unlike Tim Pawlenty. After this weekend's prayer rally,  attended by more than 30,000, he looks like a more formidable candidate than Michele Bachmann or Rick Santorum to appeal to evangelical voters. 

But what does Perry think about the world? He hasn't made that many statements on foreign policy, but we can gather some indications from the people he's taking advice from. Perry has held meetings with former Bush administration officials including Doug Feith and William Luti, as well as Shadow Government contributor Dan Blumenthal. Former Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld has also reporteldy played a role in organizing his national national security briefings. This would seem to indicate that Perry is closer in outlook to the neoconservatism of the Bush adminsitration than the less interventionist approach of Tea Party leaders like Michele Bachmann and Rand Paul. Indeed, a source at the briefings told the National Review that Perry does not have “the neo-isolationism that you might expect from certain people [close to] the Tea Party.” (As if trying to complete the Bush White House circa 2002 vibe of his pre-campaign, Perry has also met with former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, who came away from the meeting with the impression that Perry will run.)

As governor, Perry as made visits to China, Mexico, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Qatar, Turkey, France and Sweden. Not surprisingly for a Texan, his thoughts on national security have mostly been directed across the Rio Grande. Last year, for instance, he suggested that the U.S. may need to deploy troops in Mexico to control the drug violence in the border region. Perry also defied the requests of the Mexian government, the Obama administration, the International Court of Justice, and Bush in July when Texas proceeded with the execution of a Mexican citizen.

Perry has recently waded into Middle Eastern politics as well. In May, he criticized Obama's Middle East speech, saying it "continues a misguided policy of alienating our traditional allies, in this case Israel, one of our strongest partners in the war on terror. As someone who has visited Israel numerous times, I know that it is impracticable to revert to the 1967 lines." Perry has also called on the Justice department to prosecute Americans who take part in the Gaza flotilla. 

Perry's most detailed explanation of his foreign policy views may come in his recent book, Fed Up: Our Fight To Save America From Washington

We are now confronted with the rise of new economic and military powerhouses in China and India, as well as a Russia that is increasingly aggressive and troublesome to its neighbors and former satellite nations that are struggling to maintain their relatively newfound independence. There is no reason to believe that armed conflict with any major power is imminen, but the world is rapidly changing, and the United States must be prepared for the ramifications of shifting balances of power. 

North Korea and Iran, in contrast, are utterly unpredictable an do present an imminent threat with their nuclear ambitions. [...] Leftists in Latin America and threatening democracy, and Hugo Chavez is harboring communist rebels in Venezuela. All of these issues require our attention and investment in defense capabilities. 

In light of these threats, Perry feels the U.S. defense budget has been dangerously eroded as a result of the "explosion of entitlement spending." He's also not a big fan of the Russia reset: 

...it was a slap in the face to a number of our allies. As a Wall Street Journal article put it, "Some prominent figures in the region, such as former Polish President Lech Walesa, worried the new U.S. administration was turning away from its traditional allies in Central Europe to placate Russia." But there is good news for those who prefer our foreign policy be popular among the European elite, because NATO's secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, welcomed the U.S. policy shift, saying it was his "clear impression that the American plan on missile defense will involve NATO... to a higher degree in the future." Surely we can't be serious?

(Why the former president of Poland -- even a historically significant one --  is a "traditional ally" who should not be offended, but the secretary general of a defense alliance of which the United States was a co-founder is a figure worthy only of disdain is a little bit unclear.)

In other words, Perry seems to tick all the boxes of a conventional Republican defense hawk. Whether that will work in a very unconventional campaign season remains to be seen.  

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images


Bashar al-Assad is going down

The noose around Bashar al-Assad's neck is getting tighter.

With the extraordinary midnight statement Sunday by Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, demanding the "stoppage of the killing machine and bloodshed" in Syria and withdrawing the Saudi ambassador from Damascus for "consultations," the Syrian president's isolation is nearly complete. The remarks came after a milder Gulf Cooperation Council statement last week that, in hindsight, ought to have been seen as a warning.

Kuwait also withdrew its ambassador Monday, and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was on his way to Damascus to deliver "a very sharp message" to Assad, in the words of an anonymous senior Turkish diplomat quoted by Hürriyet Daily News.

“[Turkey and Syria] will sit down and talk for one last time … even though one should not exclude dialogue, even in wartime,” another Foreign Ministry official told the paper. “The talks will show whether the ties will be cut loose or not … If a new [Turkish] policy is to be outlined on Syria – that’s the last meeting.”

Yet for all the drama of leading Middle Eastern powers finally expressing their exasperation with a brutal crackdown that has lasted for nearly 5 months -- and escalated dramatically during the holy month of Ramadan -- none of these countries are yet calling for Assad's ouster, as France and the United States have done. Arab states are still signaling that the Syrian regime has a chance to stay in their good graces by carrying out those two favorite words of disingenuous tyrants everywhere: "dialogue" and "reform."

As Nabil el-Araby -- whose tenure as Arab League chief thus far has been characterized by toadyishness and willful naivete -- put it Monday, "Do not expect drastic measures but step-by-step persuasion to resolve the conflict."

Once you're done laughing at the notion that the League of Arab Dictators has any idea what will satisfy the Syrian people, consider this: Does anyone really still think Assad is capable of solving this thing? Not only is the Syrian regime pushing back against the external criticism, insisting it is responding to "sabotage acts" by armed Islamist gangs, but the crackdown has empowered the very elements of the regime least amenable to a democratic transition. Moreover, as Assad himself noted in his interview with the Wall Street Journal in January, it is fruitless to make changes under pressure:

If you did not see the need for reform before what happened in Egypt and in Tunisia, it is too late to do any reform. This is first. Second, if you do it just because of what happened in Tunisia and Egypt, then it is going to be a reaction, not an action; and as long as what you are doing is a reaction you are going to fail.

I expect that over the next few days, we might see fewer provocative moves -- like this weekend's bloody assault on the eastern city of Deir az-Zour, which seems to have provoked King Abdullah's ire -- from the Syrian regime. Perhaps Assad and friends will announce a fresh round of "reforms" -- always, of course, with trap doors and escape hatches that render them meaningless. But at this point, Assad seems doomed; after so much bloodshed and anger, any genuine political solution will inevitably lead to his ouster. His wisest course of action now is to find a safe place to spend his retirement (perhaps Vogue will give him a job?).

I imagine a loose coalition of France, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United States will now be working toward a soft landing for Syria -- looking for high-level defectors who could negotiate with opposition leaders and carry out what political scientists call a "pacted transition." But it's hard to imagine this working either, given that the military and security services are so tightly controlled by the Assad clan and that the opposition is so diffuse and fragmented. There is nothing comparable to the relatively upright Tunisian and Egyptian militaries in Syria, whose army has been shelling cities and towns across the country. And there is nobody for the regime to negotiate with who can guarantee calm on the streets.

The whole Baathist system has to come down, and it probably will. The only questions now are how long it will take, and how much more innocent blood will be shed in the process.