In May, after President Barack Obama called for Israel and Palestine to negotiate their borders based on "the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps," Texas Gov. Rick Perry's office sent around a statement of his own. "As someone who has visited Israel numerous times," it read, "I know that it is impracticable to revert to the 1967 lines." It was a departure from the Perry camp's usual missives, which are typically about how Texas has just created 40 new jobs by poaching a paper-clip company from California or something like that. And it was revealing -- but what it revealed, to this Perry watcher, was simply that he really was thinking of running for president.
This is the tricky thing about governors who would be commander in chief: Unlike members of Congress, who arrive on the campaign trail encumbered by voting records and committee-hearing transcripts, we have little idea what state-level chief executives think of the world beyond the borders of Texas, or Arkansas, or Alaska. In the case of Perry -- the longtime governor of Texas who before officially announcing his candidacy on Aug. 13 was better known in parts of the national media for carrying a gun while jogging than for his position on anything -- what little we know is as follows: This summer, he reportedly met with Douglas Feith and William Luti, neoconservatives who served in George W. Bush's administration. He also met with former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in Austin last month, though Musharraf explained that this was because he, like so many other observers, was curious to learn about Texas's economy. In his 2010 book, Fed Up!, Perry warns that Washington has lost its focus on its "fundamental defense mission." Perry dings Obama for indulging in the "utter fantasy" of a world without nuclear weapons and for having devoted more attention in his Quadrennial Defense Review to climate change than to China, Russia, North Korea, or Iran. (That last bit is probably especially vexing to Perry, who says he doesn't believe in man-made climate change.)
Going on these scant data points, Perry certainly looks like another Republican hawk, and possibly of the neocon variety. But rhetoric is one thing, and behavior another. Indeed, looking at his record as governor, there are indications that a Perry White House's foreign policy could be more pragmatic than his words and political associations might suggest.
Perry's record on foreign affairs, such as it is, suggests that business interests take precedence over more abstract concerns. Perry has been hawkish on border security, for example, and has even said that the United States should consider deploying troops to Mexico to stop the country's bloody drug war from spilling over the Texas border. But he also campaigned for Mexican trucks to be allowed on American highways -- a development that was promised in the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement and anticipated by Mexico, but held up by the United States until earlier this year, when the Obama administration lifted the ban.
Perry also riled the nativist wing of the Republican Party with his plan for a significant expansion of the state's overloaded infrastructure. The Trans-Texas Corridor, proposed in 2002, would have built a new network of roads and rail lines, including a major thoroughfare cutting through the middle of the Lone Star State, from Mexico to Oklahoma. Because the state budget was already strained and Texans are resolutely opposed to tax hikes, the plan called for the roads to be privately financed and tolled. A half-Spanish developer partnership, Cintra-Zachry, was contracted for much of the work; fringe commentators warned that the whole thing was a step toward the dreaded North American Union. The plan eventually met with less-paranoid criticism -- Texans were not enthused about large swaths of their land being seized by eminent domain for a for-profit enterprise -- and was scuppered. But Perry has been a pragmatic business-first internationalist on other issues as well, publicizing his willingness to do business with countries whose regimes he has criticized in other contexts. In 2004, he announced a $5 million grant to Venezuela-owned Citgo as it relocated its corporate headquarters to Houston, and last year he riled the cybersecurity community when he wooed Chinese telecom Huawei to set up its American headquarters in Plano.