While the majority of Rick Perry’s speech in New York last Monday dwelled on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he also had harsh words for President Barack Obama’s policies in the Middle East. He argued that, “We have been complacent in encouraging revolt against hostile governments in Iran and Syria and we have been slow to recognize the risks posed by the new regime in Egypt ...” Why does Perry praise the former revolts yet denigrate the latter?
This discrepancy illustrates that the governor supports democracy in theory but not how it is actually practiced in the Middle East. This close mindedness, this unwillingness to accept and negotiate with reality, will further imperil American national security if Perry is elected.
As it stands, other facets of his character already constrain what he can do. In the Q&A after that same speech, Perry managed to paint himself as a religious crusader by saying that “as a Christian [I] have a clear directive to support Israel.” This attitude will simply not fly in places where the Bible is not valued and confirms the darkest suspicions many already possess. At this point, if Perry were to be elected he would swiftly attract more opposition in the Arab world than Obama, and his policies would stall even faster regardless of his stance on the relationship between Islam and democracy.
But the problem does not stop there. Perry is unable to accept the inconvenient truth of the Middle East, that Islam is the faith of the majority of people who live there and that many wish to use that faith to instill moral rectitude in public and private life. Perry’s stated wish to cultivate better relations with moderate Muslims in the Middle East is conditioned upon the extent to which Muslims ignore their own beliefs about the purpose of government and their moral life.
His unwillingness to compromise and to acknowledge the existence of alternate, legitimate voices essentially translates extremist conservative attitudes from the domestic sphere to international politics. Such inflexibility has already wreaked havoc on the budget process in the U.S., but to extend it overseas would doom any initiative Perry proposes given how influential religious parties are in the more democratic states of the Middle East – Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, and perhaps Libya and Syria in the future.
Moreover, Politico has reported that Perry is not a detail-oriented individual; that “if [an issue] is not on his schedule, it’s irrelevant to him.” Besides the worrying implications of this fact should radicals like the neocons appear, it is unlikely that Perry will come to understand the nuances of the region’s politics after being swamped with all of the other innumerable issues that presidents must confront. Presidents do not have time to gain intellectual capital while in office. Given the likelihood that foreign affairs will drop off his schedule thanks to the economic recession, any mistakes Perry makes will likely last a long time.
The conditions are consequently ripe for diplomatic isolation. Any president who wants to accomplish something in the Middle East, yet assumes a theological stance towards Israel and is unable to respond quickly to changing events, must be accepting of other denominations and alternative visions of democracy in the post-Arab Spring world. If you don’t castigate others for what they’re doing, they may give you a margin of error if you do something they disagree with. As it stands, it is plain that Perry’s foreign policy cannot successfully deal with foreign nations, would inflame world opinion, and would likely eliminate whatever legitimacy the U.S. had left. While Perry denies any connection to his former boss, this situation would mimic President George W. Bush’s own.
Some might argue that Perry is appealing to his base and is not really as extreme as he sounds. He would not actually implement the policies he is espousing. While there is evidence that he holds more liberal views on immigration and (possibly) reproductive health, there is nothing to suggest that he is dishonest about his belief in the self-evident righteousness of the American way-of-life and the Christian faith. If anything, of all of the current presidential candidates he is the least likely to discern or resolve the problems this could potentially create in a foreign context.
With his comments in New York, it is obvious that Perry’s Middle East policy is a disaster in the making. Perry’s election would instantly sacrifice any willingness amongst the Arab states to cooperate with the U.S., and given his views on the incompatibility of Islam and democracy, the animosity would be mutual. A Perry win in November would return America’s standing to the nadir of the Bush years and foreclose whatever opportunity exists to recast our relationship with the Middle East for years to come.
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