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Rick Perry’s Odd And Alarming Critique Of U.S. Mideast Policy

Yesterday, surrounded by American Jewish supporters and others, Rick Perry delivered a speech in which he essentially held the President responsible for the fact that the Palestinian Authority is seeking to make an end run around peace negotiations by seeking statehood via the United Nations:

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) assailed the Obama administration Tuesday for “appeasement” over its policy on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Governor Perry was speaking in New York City alongside a group of conservative Jewish leaders from the United States and Israel, as President Obama attended meetings at the United Nations elsewhere in the city. The Palestinian bid to receive UN recognition of statehood has put the Obama administration on the spot as it tries to head off the effort.

“Simply put, we would not be here today at the very precipice of such a dangerous move if the Obama policy in the Middle East wasn’t naive, arrogant, misguided, and dangerous,” said Perry, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination.

He continued: “The Obama policy of moral equivalency, which gives equal standing to the grievances of Israelis and Palestinians, including the orchestrators of terrorism, is a very dangerous insult.”

Perry accused the Obama administration of encouraging the Palestinians to abandon direct talks with Israel, in a “policy of appeasement.” The Palestinians have said they will resume talks only after Israel stops building settlements on disputed land. Perry also criticized Mr. Obama for suggesting the 1967 borders as a starting point for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, saying the statement demonstrated “a willingness to isolate a close ally.”

Perry is referring, of course, to President Obama’s May 2011 speech in which he waded back into the Middle East quagmire by calling on both parties to begin negotiations toward a final settlement. That speech created controversy on the right, both in Israel and the United States, due to President Obama’s reference to the basis for such negotiations being “based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.” Obama had stated a position that had been part of United States Middle East policy for more than a decade, and that it had been advocated by Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and even a chief aide to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Despite this, the myth has grown on the right that the President had “sold out” Israel, and it’s been reinforced by the intransigence of the Likud government of Benjamin Netanyahu on settlements in the West Bank and related issues.

On it’s face, Perry’s claim that the President is responsible for the Palestinian decision to pursue this statehood resolution through the United Nations is simply absurd. While conservatives continue with the claim that the President has sold Israel out, the truth is that the United States under Barack Obama has been the best friend Israel could ask for:

Again and again, when Israel has been embroiled in international dustups—over its attack last year on a flotilla filled with activists headed from Turkey to Gaza, to cite but one example—the White House has had Israel’s back. The security relationship between the countries, on everything from intelligence sharing to missile-­defense development to access to top-shelf weapons, has never been more robust. And when the Cairo embassy was seized and Netanyahu called to ask for Obama’s help with rescuing the last six Israelis trapped inside the building, the president not only picked up the phone but leaned hard on the Egyptians to free those within. “It was a decisive moment,” Netanyahu recalled after the six had been freed. “Fateful, I would even say.”

To that you can add the numerous times the President has said that both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas must recognize Israel’s right ot exist as a Jewish State as a pre-condition to negotiations. Of course, at the same time that the United States has stood by Israel, the President has also made some requests of Israel as a show of good faith. Primarily, this involves attempting to get the Israelis to agree to new settlement construction in the West Bank. Considering that these areas are the subject of the parties’ dispute and likely to be part of the “mutually agreed swaps” that would occur if there ever was a final resolution of this dispute, this strikes me as a perfectly reasonable position to take. While the Israelis did agree to freeze construction for a time, that time passed and resumption of construction activity in some areas has led to an impasse between the parties that the Palestinians at least have cited as a reason not to return to the negotiating table. How the President is responsible for creating this impasse which has led to the Palestinian’s U.N. initiative is beyond me.

During the question period that followed his speech, though, Perry said the following:

Well, obviously, Israel is our oldest and most stable democratic ally in that region. That is what this is about. I also as a Christian have a clear directive to support Israel. So from my perspective, it’s pretty easy. Both as an American and as a Christian, I am going to stand with Israel.

Will Saletan finds Perry’s comments here alarming, and a substantial change from Bush Administration positions:

Go back and look at Bush’s comments about Israel. In eight years, he never mentioned his Christianity as a basis for his policies there. He defended Israel as a democracy and an ally. When he mentioned Judaism and Christianity in this context, he always included Islam. “The Middle East is the birthplace of three great religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam,” Bush said in a speech to the American Jewish Committee a few months before 9/11. “Lasting peace in the region must respect the rights of believers in all these faiths.” In 2007, Bush told Al Arabiya: “I believe that all the world, whether they be Muslim, Christian, or any other religion, prays to the same God. … I believe that Islam is a great religion that preaches peace.” Again and again, Bush affirmed: “If you’re a Jew or a Christian or a Muslim, you’re equally American.”

Perry has trashed this legacy. By declaring that “as a Christian, I am going to stand with Israel,” he has vindicated Bin Laden’s narrative. Across the Muslim world, Perry’s policies—starting with his declaration that “it was a mistake to call for an Israeli construction freeze” as a precondition for talks with the Palestinians—would be seen as a Christian-Jewish alliance against Islam.

In the age of Bin Laden, this kind of sectarian bluster would have been bad enough. In the age of the Arab Spring, it’s catastrophic. Country after country is grappling with Islam, democracy, and anti-Americanism. The last thing we need is a crusading president who turns the Muslim world against us.

To some degree, Saeltan’s alarm may be just a bit over-stated. Perry isn’t the President of the United States yet, and even if he does get elected he’s going to find himself surrounded by a host of State Department, Defense Department, and National Security Council advisers who are going to be warning him about the inherent dangers that exist in turning American policy in the most volitile part of the world into some kind of religious crusade. Nonetheless, he does have a point here. At the very least, it’s of no small concern to me that Perry apparently views foreign policy through a theocratic lens, at least in this particular case. The idea that United States foreign policy in any area should be guided by religious doctrine is bizarre. The idea that United States foreign policy in the Middle East of all places should be guided by religious doctrine is simply insane. The only relevant considerations for an American President should be what is in the interests of the Untied States, and how can the peace be preserved. Helping to create the conditions for Armageddon, or whatever it is that Perry has in mind here, simply don’t belong in the thought process.

This isn’t something new for Perry, he said pretty much the same thing in 2009. It’s fine if his faith requires him to support Israel but if he becomes President of the United States, his Oath Of Office requires him to support, protect, and defend the United States. That’s going to mean choosing what’s more important, American interests or Israeli ones, and if he’s going to let some weird interpretation of the Book of Revelation be his guide there, then we’re going to have a huge problem.

Saletan points to another part of Perry’s speech that raises eyebrows:

Perry seems eager for such a confrontation. “We have been slow to recognize the risks posed by the new regime in Egypt,” he warned yesterday in his prepared remarks. “We must signal to the world, including nations like Turkey and Egypt whom we have considered allies in recent years, that we won’t tolerate aggression against Israel.” Considered allies? Is that a declaration of separation? And in case Perry’s blasts at Turkey and Egypt weren’t enough, he threatened to cut off the United Nations: “America must make it clear that a declaration of Palestinian Statehood in violation of the spirit of the Oslo accords could jeopardize our funding of U.N. operations.”

Bashing the United Nations has been popular since the rise of the conservative movement, so that’s not particularly shocking. The comments about Egypt and Turkey, though, are interesting to say the least. Egypt has been an ally for 30 years, and that alliance has helped maintain the peace between Israel and Egypt and make Egypt a partner in the peace process. Turkey isn’t just another ally, they’re a member of NATO and, notwithstanding the changes going on there, still an important ally. Throwing such relationships under the bus at a time of massive change doesn’t strike me as wise.

Now, it’s possible, even likely, that most of Perry’s speech was just a sop to the American right, which sometimes seems more fanatically pro-Israel than the Likud Party itself. It’s also a fairly naked play for Jewish support in the election, a strategy that Jonathan Tobin for one doesn’t think will work very well if Perry is the nominee. As I said, if Perry did become President he’d be surrounded by advisers who would likely work to temper some of this rhetoric. Nonetheless, if this is the way the Rick Perry views the world, then someone needs to ask him some more questions about it.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Ben Wolf says:

    I also as a Christian have a clear directive to support Israel. So from my perspective, it’s pretty easy. Both as an American and as a Christian, I am going to stand with Israel

    The problem here is if Perry becomes president, that quote will be a major propaganda victiry to our Islamist enemies. They’ve been saying for two decades that America is a crusader nation out to destroy Islam and cannot be trusted to fairly mediate the peace process. Now we have a major figure in American politics effectively saying they were right.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  2. MBunge says:

    “even if he does get elected he’s going to find himself surrounded by a host of State Department, Defense Department, and National Security Council advisers who are going to be warning him”

    I think the Presidency of George W. Bush killed the whole “he’ll be surrounded by good people” argument for at least a generation.

    Mike

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 22 Thumb down 1

  3. legion says:

    What MBunge said. Doug, have you been asleep for the last ten years? If Perry gets elected, he will be surrounded by a host of appointed sycophants that all tell him exactly – and only – what he wants to hear. That’s not even debatable, and it’s why seeing a candidate talk like this is so disturbing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

  4. Fiona says:

    Israelis should be nervous about anyone saying that, “as a Christian,” they’re compelled to support Israel because the Christian vision of Israel’s future is one where the Jews either convert or go to hell. Israel is ultimately a Christian nation for a Christian fundamentalist like Perry.

    Perry’s comments are reckless, the product of someone who knows little of the history of the area about which he speaks, and little about current American foreign policy. Of course, being an ill-informed Texas blowhard doesn’t seem to be a barrier to winning the presidency.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1

  5. ponce says:

    In the 44 years the Palestinians have been negotiating with Israel for their own state, the Israelis have only occupied 70% of their land in the West Bank.

    Clearly, it is in the Palestinians’ best interest to continue negotiating with Israel.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  6. The differences between what Perry is saying and Bush policy is fairly stark, as Saletan points out.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @MBunge: heh.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. @ponce:

    What else is there? This UN resolution route is nothing more than the road to further conflict

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Uhhhh, Continuing to do what you have always done and expecting different results is the very definition of stupidity, Doug. Israel has put themselves in this position with the land grabs. As to, “What else is there?” there is always war and violence and terrorism to fall back on. Won’t do any good, but it is an alternative and one that Hamas thinks is viable.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  10. ponce says:

    What else is there? This UN resolution route is nothing more than the road to further conflict

    I agree.

    Thousands of Islamic fighters are winding down their operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and are looking for a new front to fight Western hegemony over Muslim land.

    I think the U.N. bid for statehood is both a legitimate attempt by the Palestinians to end the Apartheid they are living under and an invitation to the fighters who have humiliated the U.S. military to try their hand against a much easier target: the hapless IDF soldiers enforcing the Israeli occupation and ghettoisation of the West Bank.

    Think of the U.N. Palestinian statehood vote followed by the expected U.S. veto as a well-timed targeting laser…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  11. @ponce:

    So you’re rooting for war. Got it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  12. Hey Norm says:

    You have to keep in mind that Perry, Palin, and the rest of the Christianists are angling for the End-Of-Days and the Rapture. Foreign Policy based on these kooky ideas are not going to make sense to anyone who is not in tune with them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  13. ponce says:

    So you’re rooting for war. Got it.

    Nope,

    But I think it will be inevitable if the U.S. vetoes Palestinian statehood.

    War being defined as IEDs, missile and drone attacks and suicide bombings targeting the IDF and West Bank settlers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  14. I’m no Liikudnik and even I’d veto the resolution. Trying to create a state without negotiating boundary issues and other matters that need to be dealt with first — such as the fact that 1/2 of the government that controls the territories has in its charter the goal of wiping the State of Israel off the map — accomplishes nothing and will do more to set back the peace process than anything Israel has done.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  15. ponce says:

    I’m no Liikudnik and even I’d veto the resolution. Trying to create a state without negotiating boundary issues and other matters that need to be dealt with first

    Doug, the Palestinians have been “negotiating boundary issues” with the Israelis for 44 years, and each day, the Israelis steal a little more of the West Bank.

    Thanks to Wikileaks, we have seen what kind of deal the Israelis (with U.S. blessing) have been trying to push on the Palestinians:

    The Palestinians give up the prime West Bank real estate around Jerusalem and in exchange, they get worthless tracks of the Negev desert.

    Do you really think that is the road to peace?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  16. JohnMcC says:

    Mr Mataconis writes “The idea that United States foreign policy in any area should be guided by religious doctrine is bizarre. The idea that United States foreign policy in the middle east of all places should be guided by religious doctrine is simply insane.”

    He does not know the present Repub party. This is exactly their position.

    And in any discussion of this issue, it is useful to remember the Treaty of Tripoli of 1797, ratified by a Senate full of founding fathers and signed by John Adams: Article 11 — As the government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity to against the laws, religion or tranquility of Mussulmen, and, as the said states never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mohametan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce and interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

    Damn secular humanists!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  17. @ponce:

    The road to peace starts when the Palestinians finally accept the fact that they are not going to march the Jews into the sea. I honestly don’t think they have.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4

  18. Jim Henley says:

    It’s not really accurate to say that Perry’s quote threatens to hand Arab and Muslim critics of the US a “propaganda victory by seeming to validate that US Mideast policy amounts to a religious crusade” (paraphrasing). Instead it’s accurate to say that Perry’s quote proves Arab and Muslim critics of the US correct on that score.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  19. ponce says:

    The road to peace starts when the Palestinians finally accept the fact that they are not going to march the Jews into the sea.

    That’s a weasel and you know it, Doug.

    Do you think the current state where the Israelis continue to steal West Bank land on a daily basis will lead to peace?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  20. @ponce:

    I think both sides need to back away from their extreme positions, Hamas needs to either renounce terrorism or be destroyed, and negotiations on a final status need to begin.

    I also don’t think this is something that the United States either can or should force upon the parties.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

  21. ponce says:

    I think both sides need to back away from their extreme positions, Hamas needs to either renounce terrorism or be destroyed, and negotiations on a final status need to begin.

    How about a straight answer, Doug?

    Do you support the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the military occupation it requires or not?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  22. Those settlements will be the subject of negotiations if and when the parties sit down and talk. That would be the “mutually agreed swaps” the President referred to in May. They will decide the issue themselves. It really isn’t up to me or you to decide it for them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  23. ponce says:

    It really isn’t up to me or you to decide it for them.

    Haha,

    I’m guessing you’re not allowed to say whether you’re for or against the West Bank settlements, Doug.

    Just in case you didn’t know, I am against the Israeli West Bank settlements and the military occupation they need to survive.

    As I said earlier, the Israelis’ immutable position is they can swap parts of the Negev desert for the land their settlements sit on.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  24. Ben Wolf says:

    @Jim Henley:

    Instead it’s accurate to say that Perry’s quote proves Arab and Muslim critics of the US correct on that score.

    That’s what propaganda is: the interested use of information to influence others toward a position and to benefit the issuer of the information.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  25. An Interested Party says:

    I also don’t think this is something that the United States either can or should force upon the parties.

    And yet we send billions of dollars to Israel and millions of dollars to the Palestinians…if we shouldn’t be in the business of influencing the parties than perhaps we shouldn’t be in the business of sending them any money…

    Funny how, on the one hand, Hamas has to renounce terrorism or be destroyed, but the Israeli land gobbles, which continue in the West Bank, must be “negotiated”…as if the latter hasn’t already created bad faith for any future negotiations…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  26. Ben Wolf says:

    Those settlements will be the subject of negotiations if and when the parties sit down and talk. That would be the “mutually agreed swaps” the President referred to in May. They will decide the issue themselves. It really isn’t up to me or you to decide it for them.

    The truth is negotiations are a joke. The Israelis will never accept a Palestinian state, and the Palestinians cannot guarantee every last member of the tribe accepts Israel’s right to exist. To my knowledge there hasn’t been a nation the borders of which weren’t demarcated in blood, and the Palestinians on their own don’t have the capability to push the IDF out of Palestinian territory. I think settling this issue would have been a far better use of NATO’s military power than bombing Libya.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  27. AIP,

    Personally I would have no problem with elimination of all military aid to Israel. I think they’ve proven they can defend themselves.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  28. @Ben Wolf:

    A NATO invasion of Israel and Palestine? Are you trying to start World War Three?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  29. Fiona says:

    The truth is negotiations are a joke. The Israelis will never accept a Palestinian state, and the Palestinians cannot guarantee every last member of the tribe accepts Israel’s right to exist.

    There was a point where Israelis might have accepted a Palestinian state, but the large influx of ultra-conservative Soviet Jews in the 1980s and 90s has altered Israel’s political universe and made such acceptance a lot more unlikely. However, it’s a bit more complicated than the Palestinians “guaranteeing” every last member of the tribe accepts Israeli statehood. A significant portion of their leadership refuses to renounce their desire to push Israeli Jews into the sea.

    So yes–the possibilities for future negotiations bringing about a peaceful solution are awfully darned small. But to paint the Israelis as the only bad guys in this scenario is misleading at best.

    I have to agree with Doug here–the issue of statehood and land swaps are something the parties involved will have to agree to themselves. Forcing a “solution” will only exacerbate existing hostilities.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  30. @Doug Mataconis:

    Trying to create a state without negotiating boundary issues and other matters that need to be dealt with first…

    Isn’t that pretty much how the US got started?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  31. Ron Beasley says:

    The really frightening thing here is that a presidential candidate openly says his mythology will determine his foreign policy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  32. Ben Wolf says:

    @Doug Mataconis: We’re going to have a regional war when the Israelis decide to finish the Palestinian problem for good. It’s coming, the question is on what terms.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  33. ponce says:

    The really frightening thing here is that a presidential candidate openly says his mythology will determine his foreign policy.

    And it’s probably a mistake for the Israeli religious fanatics to tie their hopes of continuing their land grab to a fading buffoon like Rick Perry.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  34. A voice from another precinct says:

    @Doug Mataconis: “will do more to set back the peace process than anything Israel has done.”

    Of course, that statement presumes that there is an actual peace process at work in the ME. Do you REALLY believe that is true, Doug? If so, would you tell me where I can buy a container-load of whatever you have been smoking? (It is much better than anything I can get here.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  35. Bob says:

    @ponce:

    ponce says:

    Wednesday, September 21, 2011 at 14:51

    The road to peace starts when the Palestinians finally accept the fact that they are not going to march the Jews into the sea.

    That’s a weasel and you know it, Doug.

    Do you think the current state where the Israelis continue to steal West Bank land on a daily basis will lead to peace?

    There is no Palestian Land, the ownership of the West Bank is Jordan which got its ass kicked in the 1967 War and its land occupied.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0