Permalink | Date posted: July 22, 2011
Compared to past election cycles, this year’s Republican presidential field has thus far offered an unusual level of diversity on foreign policy. While the field does not fully reflect the level of war-weariness that has crept gradually into segments of the GOP congressional caucus (to say nothing about the weariness of war spending), it has nonetheless accommodated certain deviations from the party’s nationalist-neoconservative bent of 2004 and 2008.
In the extreme, libertarian candidates Ron Paul and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson have called for significant rollbacks in U.S. foreign adventures, as well as a tightening of the spigot of military spending that nourishes them.
Less extreme – but still arguably more dovish than President Obama – has been Jon Huntsman, the former ambassador to China whose foreign policy advisors have come overwhelmingly from the realist school of the George H.W. Bush era. Huntsman has advocated a much more rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan than the president has.
Other candidates, notably Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, and Herman Cain, have with varying degrees of success attempted to blend tea party populism with strands of Christian Zionism and Islamophobia. The result has been mixed messages on the war in Libya but a decidedly hawkish tenor overall.
Of all the candidates, it has been Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty who have most closely embraced traditional GOP hawkishness, although also to differing degrees. Romney, while calling for increases in military spending and aggressively promoting American exceptionalism as a basis for U.S. foreign policy, has also acknowledged a desire to “bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can, consistent with the word that that comes from our generals.” An advisor described Romney’s orientation as “American primacy with a heavy dose of selective engagement.” Pawlenty, meanwhile, while eschewing the label “neoconservative,” has assiduously rehashed neoconservative talking points on Israel, Iran, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, and Russia, earning plaudits from the likes of Michael Ledeen and the Weekly Standard.
Still, whether for policy reasons or because none of these candidates has yet proved particularly strong, the GOP foreign policy establishment in Washington – much like the GOP establishment at large – has yet to line up behind any particularly candidate. Indeed, there remains a palpable appetite for new candidates.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, George W. Bush’s successor in Austin and the longest-serving governor in the country, has received the brunt of recent attention from Republicans seeking out new standard bearers. Certainly, Perry’s telegenic style and well documented conservatism on social and fiscal matters would make him an appealing choice for GOP activists searching for a “bridge” candidate between the tea party and the traditional Republican establishment.
Given the rather unusual political environment, however, one might wonder whether Perry’s right-wing views extend to matters of foreign policy. But by all available accounts, they do.
Indeed, Perry’s recent overtures on foreign policy have played a significant role in indicating that he is serious about considering the race in the first place. It started at least as early as May, when Perry came out against President Obama’s assertion that Israel’s 1967 borders should be a starting point for negotiations about the contours of a future Palestinian state. “As someone who has visited Israel numerous times,” he said, “I know that that it is impracticable to revert to the 1967 lines. President Obama is asking our Israeli friends to give up too much security and territory as a prelude to a renewed peace process.”
The following month, Perry wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder advocating the investigation and prosecution of any American participants in the international Gaza Freedom Flotilla. “I respectfully request that the U.S. Department of Justice take immediate steps to investigate, enjoin and bring to justice all parties found to be in violation of U.S. law by their participation in these efforts,” Perry wrote.
The letter earned him praise from the conservative blog Red State. “It appears that if Perry is elected President,” wrote one blogger, “the American left will no longer be allowed to spread their leftist agenda abroad in violation of U.S. law and in support of terrorist organizations.” The blogger also praised Perry’s refusal to stay the execution of Humberto Leal, an undocumented Mexican resident of Texas who was denied consular access when he was charged with the rape and murder an of a Texas girl. In so doing, Perry defied the entreaties of President Obama and U.N. officials, as well as the United States’ obligations under the Vienna convention, which calls for foreign nationals to be offered assistance from their home consulates when arrested abroad. Red State lauded Perry for resisting what it called “a clear attempt by the Obama administration to subordinate American laws and the legal system to international opinion and the scrutiny of foreign governments.”
Behind the scenes, Perry has apparently been seeking the advice of a number of prominent neoconservatives and nationalist hardliners. According to the National Review, Perry held a recent briefing with Douglas Feith and William Luti, neoconservative veterans of the Bush-era Office of Special Plans, the Pentagon intelligence center that churned out alleged misinformation about the connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda in advance of the Iraq War. The briefing apparently also included Andrew McCarthy, a National Review columnist and co-chair at the right-wing Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Even the often-hawkish New Republic called McCarthy “a crazy man” and wondered why Perry would take any advice from him. Topping it all off was the revelation by Politico that the meeting had been convened by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Of course, candidates often seek advice from anyone who will offer it, and Republican foreign policy voices will likewise offer it to any candidate who asks for it. But the Texas governor’s early moves suggest that a Perry administration would share much more with the Bush administration than a home state.
-- Peter Certo
A former Pentagon official whose office generated faulty information that was used to push the United States toward war with Iraq, Feith is now at the neoconservative Hudson Institute, where he advocates hawkish strategic weapons policies.
A former Bush administration foreign policy operative and veteran of the Pentagon’s controversial Office of Special Plans, Luti is now a VP at defense contractor Northrop Grumman...
A neoconservative pundit and former federal prosecutor, McCarthy argues that Islam is inherently radical and thus a threat to the United States.
The Office of Special Plans was a controversial Pentagon policy outfit that was widely accused of providing the George W. Bush administration with inaccurate, skewed intelligence linking Iraq and al-Qaeda in an effort to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has kept a low profile since leaving office in the midst of the unpopular Iraq War, but he has periodically reemerged to champion torture, defense appropriations, and an expansive war on terror.
Many have hailed the midterm elections as a victory for the Tea Party. The dramatic Republican Party gains in the…
Patrick Michels, For foreign policy pointers, Rumsfeld pointed Perry to Bush-era neocons, The Texas Independent, July 20, 2011
Some home-state coverage of Perry’s neocon gathering.
Chris Cillizza, Rick Perry’s ace in the hole: Rudy Giuliani, The Fix, July 19, 2012
Washington Post blogger Chris Cillizza examines the relationship between Perry and Rudy Giuliani, whose campaign Perry backed in 2008. If Giuliani passes on the race and Perry jumps in, an endorsement from the prominent GOP hawk may be waiting in the wings.
Ewen MacAskill, Rick Perry is hot button topic at Republican conference, The Guardian, July 19, 2012
A Guardian reporter digs into the enthusiasm some Republican activists harbor for a Perry candidacy.
Josh Rogin, The 2012 Horse Whisperers, Foreign Policy, July 5, 2012
Perry is not included here, but Josh Rogin’s piece digging through the foreign policy advisers to other leading GOP candidates is well worth the read.
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Ben Wattenberg is an author and demographer who was based at the American Enterprise Institute for many years. He was also the host of Think Tank, a PBS talk show that aired during 1994-2010. A veteran of the Coalition for a Democratic Majority and the Committee on the Present Danger, Wattenberg was part of a vanguard of neoconservative figures who in the 1970s drifted from the Democratic Party to the hawkish right. Alongside his foreign policy advocacy, Wattenberg has written numerous alarmist tracts on social issues, including worrying about declining birth rates in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, and warning that “Divorce, legalized abortion, and easy-to-use contraceptives have all contributed to the numbers of ‘never-born babies,’” creating a “social deficit’ that plagues nations across the world.”
Brigette Gabriel, a Lebanese-born anti-Islamic activist and founder of the right-wing group ACT! for America, is notorious for making fear-mongering claims about terrorism and Islam. She has called the Islamic faith “not compatible with Western civilization” and insisted that a practicing Muslim “cannot be a loyal citizen of the United States.” At a Heritage Foundation event earlier this year, Gabriel drew scrutiny after she verbally attacked a Muslim American law student, questioning whether the student was an American. More recently, capitalizing on right-wing hysteria over immigration and extremist groups in the Middle East, Gabriel alleged that ISIS members were crossing into the U.S. from Mexico, citing reports from unnamed “members of the Department of Homeland Security.”
As a director of the Project for the New American Century in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Gary Schmitt helped spread inaccurate information about Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction and promote the invasion of Iraq. Schmitt subsequently supported U.S. intervention in Syria, whose own civil war was directly linked to the fallout from Iraq. Schmitt has also been a vocal advocate of NATO expansion, which many observers think has contributed to the current tensions between the West and Russia. Schmitt has also advocated revoking U.S. security guarantees for Western European countries unless they increase their military budgets and adopt a more controversial approach to Russia.
AIPAC’s failed efforts to force U.S. intervention in Syria’s civil war and to scuttle U.S. nuclear negotiations with Iran, along with its increasing alienation from younger Jewish Americans on the Palestinian issue, have led many critics of the lobby to conclude that its formidable influence is slowly eroding. “Today, a growing number of American Jews, though still devoted to Israel, struggle with the lack of progress toward peace with the Palestinians. Many feel that AIPAC does not speak for them,” reported The New Yorker in a lengthy profile last August. On the other hand, the group was still able to push through emergency funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, prompting one GOP Senate aide to complain, “The worst part was having to vote for this at a time we are all so upset by the killing in Gaza. It's as if AIPAC knows how angry we are so the whole Senate has to take their test. They will make us cast a totally symbolic vote, just to show who's in charge.”
Despite the origins of the terrorist group ISIS in the fallout of the Iraq War, leading Iraq hawk Bill Kristol has no qualms about potential blowback from sending U.S. troops back to the country. “Intellectuals overthink things,” he said in August. “We got involved in Afghanistan to bring down the Soviet Union and probably helped create, indirectly, some of what came about in Afghanistan and ideas that led to 9/11. That’s life. Maybe we could have been cleverer in all these cases, but often, when you mess around in the real world, you have unintended effects and some of them are bad.” Seeming to forget his previous point, Kristol concluded by wondering, “What’s the harm of bombing [ISIS] at least for a few weeks and seeing what happens? I don’t think there’s much in the way of unanticipated side effects that could be bad there. We could kill a lot of very bad guys.”