Rick Perry: Know-Nothing Neoconservatism Reincarnated?

George W. Bush has been reborn.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has leapt to the top in the Republican presidential race. His domestic policy looks standard-issue conservative. But his foreign policy veers neoconservative—even after George W. Bush and Barack Obama together launched two full-scale wars, one “kinetic military action,” and two deadly drone-campaigns.

With the economy stuck in the doldrums, President Obama faces a potentially difficult reelection fight. However, it will take someone to beat him, and so far the leading Republicans do not impress. In a party that tends to practice political primogeniture, Mitt Romney was early anointed the front-runner. Yet dissatisfied GOP voters rushed to embrace an unknown new entrant, Rep. Michelle Bachman. Now Republicans are flocking to Gov. Perry, who a couple years ago declared that “I have no interest in coming to Washington.” Perry’s political opening looms large.

What would a Perry victory mean for America’s role in the world? Like most governors, including his predecessor, Rick Perry hasn’t talked that much about international issues, even though he has traveled far more extensively than had George W. Bush. But the early signs are not encouraging. In the 2008 race Perry endorsed Rudy Giuliani—notable mostly for his know-nothing militancy—as the candidate who “will make America safe.” Perry’s current campaign advisers range from hawkish conservative to Bushian neoconservative. To paraphrase the Bible, where a candidate’s advisers are, there will his policy be.

The hyper-hawks, whose affiliations include the American Enterprise Institute, National Review online, and Heritage Foundation, suggest Perry’s general commitment to an imperial foreign policy and force structure. Worse is the role of Bush cabal, highlighted by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who apparently put Perry in touch with several of the others, Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith, and NSC staffer William Luti—all architects of the catastrophe known as George Bush’s foreign policy. Gov. Perry’s reliance on these people suggests a proclivity for promiscuous and reckless war making.

One unnamed Perry adviser told Foreign Policy online’s Josh Rogin that Perry “will distinguish himself from other Republicans as a hawk internationalist, embracing American exceptionalism and the unique role we must play in confronting the many threats we face.” Michael Goldfarb, who worked for uber-hawk John McCain, approvingly termed Perry “a cowboy,” and said “you have to assume he’d shoot first and ask questions later.”

Obviously, the president who inevitably comes to mind is George W. Bush, who knew little of the nations he was invading and the societies he was destroying. Bush twinned recklessness with hubris, the belief that Washington could easily override differences in history, tradition, culture, ethnicity, religion, and more and quickly remake the world.

Years later the U.S. remains far short of its goal of creating liberal, democratic allies in Afghanistan and Iraq. The situation in Pakistan is worse than ever, while conflict rages in Yemen and Libya. The only policy the U.S. appears to know is war.

Unfortunately, Perry’s simplistic worldview applies to more than just Islamic lands. He opposed the “reset” of relations with Russia, which, he said, is “increasingly aggressive and troublesome to its neighbors and former satellite nations.” He worried about the rise of China and India. He warned that Iran and North Korea represent “an imminent threat with their nuclear ambitions.” He argued that “leftists in Latin America are threatening democracy, and Hugo Chavez is harboring communist rebels in Venezuela.”

It’s quite a list, and Perry concluded that “All of these issues require our attention and investment in defense capabilities.” Naturally he advocated increasing military spending and even talked about sending U.S. troops to Mexico. Rogin’s assessment was that Perry’s “approach to foreign policy and national security appears to be a natural extension of his personality: aggressive, unapologetic, and instinctive.” Again, this sounds just like George W. Bush.

No doubt, Washington faces international challenges. But America still enjoys unparalleled dominance, with the world’s largest economy and most powerful, even overwhelming, military. The U.S. also continues to possess enviable political stability and an extraordinary appeal to people around the globe. Nor does America face threats alone: Washington is allied with every industrialized state save China and Russia as well as the most powerful nation in the Middle East, Israel. The U.S. is improving its relationship with India, the second potential emerging superpower. And Washington continues to overspread the Americas.

In such a world the U.S. need not confront every threat, and especially need not do so militarily. Russia is determined to regain lost influencealong its borders, not challenge the U.S. for global preeminence. China is building a military to deter the U.S. from attacking it, not to attack America.

Pages