WASHINGTON, D.C. — If Rick Perry becomes commander in chief, don’t expect his foreign policy to focus much on democracy promotion like the last Texas governor-turned-president.
“I think this whole conversation about, you know, ‘Are we going to go over and bring Jeffersonian Democracy into this country?’ is not the right conversation to be having,” Perry, who officially entered the 2016 presidential race earlier this month, told The Daily Caller Saturday in an extensive foreign policy interview from his suite at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, where he just gave a speech at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s “Road to the Majority” conference.
“We need to be asking, ‘What is in the best interest of the United States?'” he continued. “And sometimes that may not be demonstrated in an individual that is delivering ‘Jeffersonian Democracy’ to that particular country.”
Contra what much of the media predicted back in 2013, the 2016 Republican foreign policy debate is not focused on a fight between hawks and non-interventionists, but rather a battle between varying degrees of hawkishness. A key element of that debate is what role should America play in promoting democracy abroad.
While taking the fight to America’s enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan, George W. Bush also sought to implant liberal democracies in those countries. So far, the success of those projects has not been resounding. Some 2016 Republican contenders, like South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, see this more as a failure of implementation. Others, like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, view the attempt as quixotic to begin with and not a good use of the U.S. military.
Perry is framing his foreign policy doctrine more around the latter view. While he says the “U.S. has a real role to play in maintaining world peace,” the former Texas governor says he doesn’t believe the U.S. should be using its military might to help spread democracy abroad. Indeed, Perry says that if Iraq and Afghanistan stabilized into non-threatening dictatorships, he could view that as a success of America’s missions in those countries.
“I think if you’ve got a region of the world that is supportive of America, where we’re not having to expend our treasure, either monetarily or in the blood of our soldiers, is a good thing,” he explained when presented with the scenario.
Ultimately, Perry says, American leaders must always keep in mind what the U.S. interest is in any given foreign policy challenge. Asked how he would have handled the 2011 Egyptian revolution, Perry sought to contrast that situation with the 2009 Green Revolution in Iran. In the former, Perry says President Obama should have stood more solidly behind Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, while in the latter he says the president should have more forcefully stood on the side of the Iranian protesters.
“So there are two like events from the standpoint of maybe an outside observer looking in,” he said. “There are thousands rioting in the street, both places. What’s in America’s best interest? Mubarak’s staying there, I will suggest to you was probably in America’s best interest. In Iran, having that regime fail would have been in America’s best interest, and America’s allies’ best interest.”
How a President Perry would have handled Libya is a bit murkier. Shortly after entering the 2012 presidential race in August 2011, Perry praised the fall of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s regime, but noted that the “lasting impact of events in Libya” would depend on whether the Libyan rebels could unify into a stable government and develop a cooperative relationship with the West.
Asked whether he thought the intervention in Libya was wise for President Barack Obama to launch in the first place considering the country has now became a failed state and a haven for terrorists, Perry gave a muddled answer, seeming to suggest the president’s decision to intervene was a “reasonable” decision to make at the time, but in hindsight was probably a mistake.
“I would have had a coalition, a coalition that the U.S. was substantially more engaged with than what we had in this case,” Perry said, before adding, “knowing what we know today, having the stability in Libya would have been better for that region than this chaos that we see today.” (READ: Full Transcript of Rick Perry’s Answer On Libya)
In 2012, Perry was ridiculed by the foreign policy establishment for saying during a Republican presidential primary debate that Turkey was a country run by “Islamic terrorists.” Since then, Israel’s defense minister has accused the Turkish government of supporting terrorism by hosting Hamas leaders in the country, while scholars have accused the government of aiding the Islamic State. Given this, does Perry feel vindicated?
“I might have been a little bit harsh in my wording,” Perry said. “Turkey is an ally when it comes to NATO. That’s not to say that we can’t be critical of countries that we do business with, that we have an interest in.”
Asked to sum up what the Perry Doctrine would look like should he make it into the White House, the Texas governor said it would be based around “clear messaging” to friend and foe alike.
“I would look at a clear messaging to both sides of the world out there,” he said. “That our allies would know, clearly, that the United States is going to be there with them when they’re being tested, when they’re being challenged, when they’re being threatened, that the United States is clearly there to support them and those Western values. And to the adversaries, a clear message there that when the United States does, in fact, draw a red line, and you cross it, that there is a cost.”