Texas Gov. Rick Perry had not planned on going to the Texas meeting of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Then on Aug. 22 a press release appeared on the group’s Web site, criticizing the president for not attending. It also included this blast at Perry:
“The VFW also has a tradition of inviting the governor of the host state where its annual convention is being held to come and welcome and greet our convention delegates. Although Governor Perry was similarly sent an invitation 3 months ago, apparently our invitation was deemed not important enough for the governor’s office to at least accept or decline the invitation. Governor Perry’s candidacy for president does not provide him an excuse for bad manners. The White House and Governor Perry can rest assured that the 2 million members of the VFW and its Auxiliaries will remember this discourteous treatment for a very long time to come.”
The next day Perry was able to “readjust” his schedule and the old press release disappeared from the VFW Web site. Well, give him credit for rethinking things.
But perhaps in the change of schedule and the rush of the new campaign not much attention was given to the speech. Let’s take a look at what he said:
“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 and we should always look to build coalitions among the nations to protect the mutual interests of freedom loving people,” Perry told thousands of veterans today.
“It’s not our interest to go it alone. We respect our allies, and we must always seek to engage them in military missions. At the same time, we must be willing to act when it is time to act. We cannot concede the moral authority of our nation to multi-lateral debating societies, and when our interests are threatened American soldiers should be led by American commanders.”
Huh? Let’s take “military adventurism” for starters. Is someone in favor of that, and is he accusing President Obama or former President George W. Bush of such a thing? He doesn’t say. They he says we should shed blood only for “our vital interests.” Is that different from our plain old interests? Really, the issue is how one defines national interests or vital national interests. Does that include Libya? What about Afghanistan? Again, there is no hint at what he means. Then comes a tangle of statements. “Always look to build coalitions” and don’t “go it alone.” But then again, we must be willing to act “when it is time to act.” Got that? Me neither.
I asked Perry spokesman Mark Miner what Perry meant by “military adventurism.” He e-mailed me: “The military adventurism comment in the VFW speech was a statement of the Governor’s philosophy and not intended to be a specific reference to previous or ongoing military operations.” But, you know, what does that mean in Perry’s mind? He responded, “Military adventurism amounts to an aimless foreign policy that involves America in parts of the world where we don’t have vital interests. The Governor is mindful of the sacrifice our soldiers make and that one day, he may be the one to send them into battle. He takes very seriously the decision to do so.” Um, then a “vital national interest” would be something that is not “military adventurism”? If someone has thought seriously about these issues it is not apparent.
Tossing around some catchy phrases without meaning or specificity isn’t very enlightening or comforting. To the contrary, it suggests a “whatever” attitude toward serious policy issues. We certainly have gone through a campaign when the candidate got by on pablum, but that turned out to be a disappointment to conservatives and liberals alike.
Perry and his advisers are drinking from the proverbial fire hose right now. They have to find advance men, fund-raisers, organizers and attend to a million details. But if he is going to dispel the idea that he is light in the policy department he’ll have to, well, show he’s not light in the policy department. That means setting out at least some general foreign policy views, for example, on Iran, the Russian reset, Hugo Chavez, China, Cuba and human rights.
On domestic policy it means not simply suggesting a “conversation” on the “Ponzi scheme” better known as Social Security, but telling voters what he wants to do on Social Security reform as well as tax reform, Medicare, the debt, immigration and the rest. We currently don’t have a president who is insufficiently interested in politics; we have one who is obsessed with it. It would be good if the American people had at least one candidate on the ballot in 2012 who has thought about our big challenges and is willing to level with voters and tell us what he wants to do. Perry could be that candidate, but right now he isn’t.