While potential 2016 competitors are wrangling over a border security bill in the Senate or worrying about their gubernatorial reelection or otherwise playing small-ball politics in statehouses, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has his eye on the big picture, demonstrating that he understands the importance of international events and the necessity of demonstrating fitness as commander in chief.
Yesterday he appeared in Dallas at a unity rally for Israel. He has long been a strong Zionist and has traveled to Israel multiple times. Like President George W. Bush, he seems to “get” what Israel is all about. Perry told an enthusiastic audience: “Israel is the oldest democracy in the Middle East, a strategic security partner, tremendous ally.” He then went right after the Obama administration’s notion that it stands as a broker, a compromiser between terrorists and Israel. “It is time to end our policy of calculated ambivalence and renew our commitment to a strong Israel. America must be very clear … Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish State,” he declared. “On this point there can be no negotiation. America cannot negotiate a middle ground when one party seeks the wholesale destruction of the other. And America cannot be ambivalent when it comes to the terrorist tactics of Hamas and the security tactics of the legitimate and free state of Israel.” Take that, John Kerry.
Perry then did what President Obama never does — describe Israel’s plight in an empathetic way that relates to Americans’ own experience: “It is hard for most of us to imagine what life must be like, living in a world where a child’s walk to school is diverted by a rocket siren, where terrorists tunnel just below your city streets, where your neighbor dreams of the day when your nation is literally wiped off the map.” Evidencing none of Obama’s moral equivalency and strained cultural relativism, Perry asserted, “The Jewish values that have transcended time guide Israel and America today, informing our law, our morality and conduct between people of every tribe and tongue. Our forefathers drew inspiration from the ancient Israelites as they sought a new Promised Land, free from the bondage of their oppressors. We live in a land of promise today and we helped re-establish Israel as the Promised Land that millions of Jews could newly call home free from oppression. It is these timeless values that we champion today and it is these timeless values that compel us to speak out for the dignity, security and safety for the free State of Israel.” His support for Israel is obviously deeply felt, not a pose adopted recently and calculated to curry favor with primary voters.
Moreover, he followed that up with an op-ed today in Politico. Showing a great deal more sophistication than Kerry or those on the right who think you can “stand with Israel” only by focusing on the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, Perry argued:
The United States must take the lead in bringing the international community together to demand the total removal of every missile in Gaza, as well as the complete destruction of the tunnel network being used by Hamas terrorists. To facilitate this, the United States must use the tools available to us diplomatically and continue to support the actions of the Israel Defense Forces. Should the international community fail to join us in sufficient numbers, the United States should block actions in the United Nations aimed at preventing Israel from defending itself.
Not only is this the right thing to do, it’s also imperative we send the message to Hamas, Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations that the free world will not tolerate their lawless behavior and that aggression toward Israel and its allies can only lead to negative consequences. That’s why it was disheartening last weekend to see the United States moving closer to Turkey and Qatar than to our traditional allies, pressing the Israelis for an immediate cease-fire instead of allowing them to finish the job.
There’s no doubt that America’s reaction to the Israeli-Gaza conflict is being watched and gauged by nations like Iran, and our failure to stand firmly beside our ally will only embolden the Islamic Republic to continue its criminal efforts to develop and build a nuclear device. Any equivocation or perceived weakness on our part will be noticed immediately not just in Tehran, but in Moscow and Beijing as well. It can only help usher in a new nuclear arms race, one that holds the potential of becoming infinitely more frightening than the one the free world endured decades ago. Hamas, Hezbollah and other terrorist groups have demonstrated time and again that they have no regard for human life – Israeli, Palestinian or American. The possibility of individuals like that gaining access to a nuclear weapon is something we simply cannot allow.
Perry’s efforts are noteworthy on a few levels. First, more than most potential 2016 candidates, he understands that foreign policy will be a critical part of the 2016 race. Second, he’s obviously gotten some advisers and taken some advice to help convert his gut instincts on Israel into policy goals. That is critical for a candidate and for a president. Without the right instincts, the policy is superficial and often wrong; without the policy, the good intentions are useless. (Had voters paid more attention to his worldview, they might have realized that Obama’s pro-Israel rhetoric was empty. As a garden-variety academic liberal, his hostility to Israel was predictable.) Third, where are the other 2016 contenders? Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) speak on the subject and introduce legislation and resolutions. But the others are largely mute. That’s a mistake, for it shows a lack of confidence and interest in what may be the most critical set of issues they would face if they got to the White House. And if they don’t master the material and begin showing their foreign policy bona fides, the only way they will get there is on a White House tour.