SAN DIEGO — It will take more than a new pair of glasses to allow Texas Gov. Rick Perry to see his own hypocrisy as he ponders what should be America’s role in the world.
Think of it as a high-stakes game of Texas hold ‘em.
If we limit our definition of the world to faraway places such as Iraq, Afghanistan or the Middle East, Perry is “all in” on the idea that the United States is what former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and others have referred to as the “indispensable nation.” When you still have designs on running for president, and are hoping a new pair of specs will make you look more intelligent, cozying up to voters who are pro-military and pro-Israel might seem smart.
But if we look closer at Perry’s home turf and the humanitarian crisis involving child refugees that is turning South Texas upside down, and define the world as including Mexico and Central America, the governor seems ready to fold on the idea that America has the duty to be not only tough but compassionate. What about the promise beneath the Statue of Liberty to serve as a safe haven for desperate souls who honor us by seeking refuge under our roof?
So, as Perry sorts through this inconsistency over the next few months, which creed is likely to win out: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” or “Don’t mess with Texas”?
When he feels like going all in, Perry challenges those who would retreat from the world. He recently fired a shot at a likely rival for the 2016 GOP nomination – Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky – with an op-ed in The Washington Post taking apart Paul’s prescription for isolationism in dangerous parts of the world such as Iraq. This course of action, Perry insisted, “would only endanger our national security even further.” This is especially so given that, as Perry rightly pointed out, “the world is confronting an even more radicalized version of Islamic extremism than al-Qaida” that threatens our national security in ways “to which Paul seems curiously blind.”
Here’s the money line from Perry: “Paul is drawing his own red line along the water’s edge, creating a giant moat where superpowers can retire from the world.”
Really? We can assume that, by “water’s edge,” Perry doesn’t mean the water in the Rio Grande, the river that separates the United States from Mexico. It’s also odd that the governor, in discussing foreign policy, used the word “moat.” The last time I heard that word from an elected official was May 2011, when President Barack Obama visited El Paso to dangle the prospect of immigration reform before Latino voters and warn that Republicans wanted to build a moat on the border filled with alligators.
But when Perry feels like tossing in his cards, and doing a little retreating of his own, he is apt to engage in lame stunts such as donning a flak jacket and posing with a machine gun alongside right-wing talk show host Sean Hannity, aboard a patrol boat from the Texas Department of Public Safety.
This week, as he continues to vie for the unofficial title of border security czar, Perry announced that he will send up to 1,000 National Guard troops to help secure the Texas southern border where, since October 2013, tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America have crossed into the United States. Consistent with a model that George W. Bush used twice during his presidency, and part of what Perry is calling “Operation Strong Safety,” the troops will not go out on patrol. They will simply take over administrative duties from the Border Patrol agents who do them now, and thus free those agents to go out into the field. Perry also wants the federal government to dispatch an additional 3,000 Border Patrol agents to Texas, after which time the troops could be removed.
Let me get this straight. The United States can’t draw a line and close off the world, but Texas can? Americans can’t run away from the effects of “Islamic extremism” in Iraq, but we can skirt the spillover effects of poverty, violence and desperation in Latin America?
If Perry wants to be taken seriously as a presidential candidate, he’ll have to resolve this contradiction and clearly articulate what he believes are America’s responsibilities in a world that remains unsafe, unstable and unpredictable.
Ruben Navarrette is a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Reach him at [email protected]