Rick Perry's Foreign-Policy Pandering

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Confronting a Republican Party that is divided on matters of war, the Texas governor is pretending to agree with everyone

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In the Republican Party, there are deep disagreements about foreign policy, and they're ultimately going to play a role in the GOP primary. The contrasting approaches at issue are perhaps best understood by comparing some recent statements offered on the campaign trail. Let's take a look.

Unilateralism or Multilateralism

GOP Candidate A: "It's not our interest to go it alone. We respect our allies and we must always seek to engage them in military missions"

GOP Candidate B: "We must be willing to act when it is time to act. We cannot concede the moral authority of our nation to multilateral debating societies, and when our interests are threatened American soldiers should be led by American commanders."

Interventionism or Restraint

GOP Candidate A: "I do not believe that America should fall subject to a foreign policy of military adventurism. We should only risk shedding American blood and spending American treasure when our vital interests are threatened."

GOP Candidate B: "As the 10th anniversary of the attacks of 911 approach, we must renew our commitment to taking the fight to the enemy wherever they are before they strike at home. We should always look to build coalitions among the nations to protect the mutual interests of freedom loving people."

Qualifications to be Commander in Chief

Candidate A: "I think the military men and women respect the commander in chief regardless of who it is."

Candidate B: "Go ask your veterans if they'd rather see somebody who's never served as the commander in chief. I think they really like to see a person who's worn the uniform in that office and, you know, I think that's just a true statement and I wouldn't back up off of it an inch."

Who are Candidates A and B? Forgive me for the misdirection, but the fact is that they're both Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who said all of the above Monday in the same foreign policy speech delivered to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. As Dan Foster put it at National Review, "the debate on the Right at the moment is, very roughly speaking, between the Bush Doctrine and good ol' fashioned realism, and Perry certainly sounds like he's trying to help himself to both."

Sort of like the way Perry wants to claim that it's great that people can vote with their feet to live in jurisdictions that reflect their values on issues like gay marriage and abortion, but it's also important that the federal government pass constitutional amendments on abortion and gay marriage.

Paleo-cons and neo-cons, libertarians and the religious right -- it's easy to see why so many on the right prefer Perry to Mitt Romney. The Texas governor may disingenuously pander just as often as his Massachusetts opponent, but he does it with so much more cowboy swagger and charisma!

Image credit: Reuters

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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