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August 16, 2011

Rick Perry: Tea Party Governor, Neocon Candidate
Posted by Jacob Stokes

Perry ConfusedWith his announcement on Sunday, Rick Perry rode into the 2012 presidential race. Relatively little is known about his foreign policy stances—a few first cracks have been taken by Josh Keating, Josh Rogin, and James Lindsay. Eli Lake also devoted a bit to Perry is his recent piece on the 2012 GOP field.

What are the takeaways? Seems to me that, broadly, while Perry was the archetypal Tea Party governor, his writings and advisors on foreign policy will place him squarely in the neocon camp when it comes to his positions as a candidate for president.

The fault lines in those two positions become manifest in this quote from Perry: “I'll work every day to make Washington, D.C., as inconsequential in your life as I can.” For domestic policy, that works for all stripes of conservative (at least rhetorically). For foreign policy, it creates a fissure as big as… well, Texas. As former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley tweets, “When @GovernorPerry says he wants #Washington to be ‘inconsequential,’ does he understand the global reach of the job he is now pursuing?” This is especially true for neocons, who have no interest in Washington becoming inconsequential in the world. 

Tea Party governor

First, Perry’s foreign policy actions as governor. The thing that demonstrates most clearly how Perry’s tendencies as governor reject neoconservative thinking are his actions to win business from Venezuela and China. Neocons would isolate those regimes, especially if the nature of said business carries national security concerns, as oil from Venezuela and communications technologies from China do. As Eli Lake notes (excuse the lengthy block quote; the piece is behind the wall):

On these issues, there is the intriguing possibility that Texas Governor Rick Perry, should he get into the race, could introduce yet another worldview into the already-complex GOP foreign policy mix. As governor of Texas, Perry has been identified with a sort of business-first approach to foreign affairs. This philosophy, too, could in its own way represent a new challenge to the neocon establishment. 

In 2004, Perry enticed Citgo—owned by the Venezuelan government, no friend of the United States—to expand refineries in Corpus Christi and move its corporate headquarters to Houston by putting together a grant and low-interest loan package worth $35 million. Perry also sought to persuade the Chinese telecom giant Huawei to expand its North American headquarters in Texas. Last year, the intelligence community quietly pressed Sprint not to use Huawei components in building a national 4G network, fearing the company’s close ties to the People’s Liberation Army would effectively give the Chinese government a listening post in every cell tower of the new wireless network. On August 18, eight Republican senators sent a letter to Obama administration officials warning that the deal could undermine national security. Sprint eventually complied. But, on October 1 of last year, Perry attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the company’s new headquarters in Plano, Texas. “Huawei has a strong, worldwide reputation as an innovator of quality telecommunications technology, with facilities spread across the globe,” Perry proclaimed. 

More on that story from the Washington Post this weekend here

Even more famously, Rick Perry has suggested that Texas secede from the Union—hardly a ringing endorsement of the American greatness and exceptionalism narrative that’s the lifeblood of neocon thinking. Why would one want to leave the greatest nation in the world? Via Steve Benen

Specifically, in April ‘09, he denounced the United States government as “oppressive,” arguing that it was “time to draw the line in the sand and tell Washington that no longer are we going to accept their oppressive hand in the state of Texas.” Soon after, he said he doesn’t want to “dissolve” the union of the United States, “But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that.”

Finally, Perry also defied—dare I say abandoned!—our ally Mexico, as well as the requests of George W. Bush, the Obama administration and the International Criminal Court, when he executed a Mexican citizen. Of course, neocons have no love for the  ICC, but what about our allies and former Republican presidents? Perry’s state-level record up until recently won him great admiration and support among the Tea Partiers. 

“Hawk Internationalist” 

Now that he’s running for president, Perry’s has turned to former Bush administration officials and prominent neocons to serve as his advisors, most prominently Donald Rumsfeld, Doug Feith and Dan Blumenthal. For them, it’s Tea Party be damned, especially when it comes to foreign policy. As Rogin’s story quotes an advisor saying, “He has no sympathy for the neo-isolationist impulses emanating from some quarters of the Republican Party." That advisor also issued the term “hawk internationalist.” Those comments are directly aimed at the Tea Party wing of the party, led by Ron Paul, who have argued consistently for a decreased American involvement in the world. 

To be fair, Perry first explained his thinking in his book (although his actions haven’t followed this thinking; it’s also conservative pabulum.) Via Keating

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 imminent, 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.

On foreign policy, Perry’s writings and his advisors don’t square with Perry’s actions as governor and the positions of his Tea Party backers. If advisors and campaign biographies are destiny, the Tea Party will have some real problems with Perry when as he begins to develop and explain his positions on foreign policy.

Photo: NY Daily News

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