Perry’s 3 a.m. question

It’s hard to predict what will be the dominant issues on voters’ minds a year from now, but it seems unlikely that foreign policy will be a driving factor in the 2012 presidential race. That said, for those who take the issue seriously, Rick Perry’s candidacy ought to be considered a bad joke.

In last night’s debate, this exchange was just remarkable.

The moderator asked the Texas governor, “[I]f you were president, and you get a call at 3 a.m. telling you that Pakistan had lost control of its nuclear weapons, at the hands of the Taliban, what would be your first move?”

It’s not that Perry hesitated; it’s that his response was, substantively, gibberish. “Well obviously, before you ever get to that point you have to build a relationship in that region,” he said. “That’s one of the things that this administration has not done. Yesterday, we found out through Admiral Mullen that Haqqani has been involved with — and that’s the terrorist group directly associated with the Pakistani country. So to have a relationship with India, to make sure that India knows that they are an ally of the United States.

“For instance, when we had the opportunity to sell India the upgraded F-16’s, we chose not to do that. We did the same with Taiwan. The point is, our allies need to understand clearly that we are their friends, we will be standing by there with them. Today, we don’t have those allies in that region that can assist us if that situation that you talked about were to become a reality.”

I’m not even sure what Perry was trying to say.

And as a factual matter, the governor didn’t even have his facts straight: “India made the decision to not buy F-16s and instead go with another military jet. It was not the U.S. choice. The Obama administration actually lobbied hard for the sale and the aerospace firm had assured India that its F-16s would be ‘much more advanced’ than the fighters provided to Pakistan.”

Sure, Perry is a fairly new candidate with no meaningful foreign policy experience, and maybe if he brushed up on the basics, he wouldn’t appear quite this incompetent. But at a certain level, that’s not reassuring — he’s been on the trail for over a month, and doesn’t appear to have invested any time in learning anything at all. Indeed, Perry has dabbled in foreign policy quite a bit lately, but with consistently ridiculous results. Hell, the other day, Perry blamed “instability in the Middle East” on President Obama “apologizing for America’s exceptionalism,” which is plainly idiotic.

I don’t imagine Perry is interested in my advice, but I’d recommend he take a couple of days to sit down with some books and foreign policy experts, so he can learn the basics. At this point, the notion of this guy playing a leadership role on the international stage is just laughable.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.