After Turkey's Foreign Ministry lashed out at GOP presidential hopeful Rick Perry for saying that Turkey is led by "Islamic terrorists," the Perry campaign doubled down on those remarks and told The Cable the incident shows why Perry is bolder than President Barack Obama and GOP rival Mitt Romney on foreign policy.
"Governor Perry will not apologize because he doesn't think the comments merit an apology. He will not back down from the comments," Perry's top foreign policy advisor Victoria Coates told The Cable on Tuesday.
Coates was reacting to the Turkey's statement that it "strongly condemned" Perry's comments at Monday's GOP presidential debate, when Perry said Turkey was ruled by "what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists." He continued by saying, "Not only is it time for us to have a conversation about whether or not they belong to be in NATO, but it's time for the United States, when we look at their foreign aid, to go to zero with it."
"Turkey joined NATO while the governor was still 2 years old," the Turkish Foreign Ministry statement said. "It is a member that has made important contributions to the trans-Atlantic alliance's conflict-full history. It is among countries that are at the front lines in the fight against terrorism."
Perry himself defended the comments Tuesday afternoon. "This is a country that's got some explaining to do to the United States," Perry told CNN's Wolf Blitzer, "The idea that [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan's regime has somehow or other earned our respect is not correct."
Coates pointed to the question by Fox News Channel's Bret Baier, which referred to the increased murder rate of women in Turkey, the lack of press freedom, and Turkey's support for the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
"The key to the whole business is to look at the question and the way it was asked," she said. "It's an important distinction that what [Perry is] saying is that the Turkish leadership is engaging in behavior that many people would associate with Islamic terrorists."
She added that Perry, who lived in Turkey as an Air Force pilot decades ago, would prefer to have a good relationship with Ankara, but "the governor's point is that [Turkish bad behavior] is not going to get better if we ignore it."
So would Perry, if elected president, put Turkey on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism, along with Hamas supporters Iran and Syria? Not exactly.
"No, we would not list Turkey as a state sponsor of terrorism. We don't have any evidence of them engaging in international terrorist acts," Coates explained. "I think we know they are extremely supportive of Hamas, but these things go in stages."
But what about the new U.S. missile defense installation in Turkey and the Obama administration's efforts to encourage Turkey to push for positive change in Syria?
"We need to be very mindful of how much responsibility we hand over for something as important as the missile defense sites," said Coates. "And up until recent days, Turkey has been quite close to Syria."
Coates then called out the Romney campaign for not yet weighing in on the issue.
"It is not untypical for Gov. Perry to be more forthright about situations like this than Gov. Romney. He has less concern for niceties and is more concerned with the national security of our country," she said.
The Obama administration is ultimately responsible for "appeasing unfortunate Turkish behavior" -- part of its larger foreign-policy flaw of pursuing engagement at all costs, according to the Perry campaign.
"It is a pattern of the Obama administration that [Gov. Perry] finds deeply concerning, that outreach and engagement is the goal, whereas Gov. Perry feels that furthering American interests is the goal."
State Department spokesman Mark Toner defended Turkey at Tuesday's press briefing and said Turkey is not run by Islamic terrorists.
"We absolutely and fundamentally disagree with that assertion," Toner said. "Turkey, as I said, is a strong partner in the region. We've seen it make a very courageous stand against what's going on in Syria, for example. It continues to play a very positive and constructive role in the region. And it is, as often cited, an example of so-called Islamic democracy in action."
The Romney campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
Foreign policy turned out to be a prominent part of Thursday night's GOP primary debate. The questions covered a range of countries -- and the accuracy of the candidates' responses was similarly all over the map.
Almost all the candidates committed unforced errors when talking about foreign policy and national security. Tim Pawlenty made the first mistake, when he referred to Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as a "general." Mullen is an admiral in the U.S. Navy. Pawlenty also said that Gen. David Petraeus told him that it would take "two years from last summer to have an orderly and successful wind down of our mission in Afghanistan, at least in terms of our troop withdrawal, and President Obama has accelerated that."
"Two years from last summer" would mean that Petraeus was calling for significant troop withdrawals by the summer of 2012. That's exactly the timeline that Obama has set for the withdrawal of the 30,000 surge troops. Pawlenty is correct that Obama wants to withdraw U.S. forces faster than what Petraeus recommended, but his explanation of Petraeus's timeline was off.
Mitt Romney tried to clear up the confusion over his comments on Afghanistan in the last debate, when he said, "It's time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can -- as soon as our generals think it's okay.... One lesson we‘ve learned in Afghanistan is that Americans cannot fight another nation's war of independence." Some Republicans interpreted that statement as Romney calling for a quick exit.
Last night, Romney said he always supported a slower exit than what Obama has announced, but he incorrectly stated that U.S. military leaders "recommended to President Obama that we should not start drawing our troops down until after the fighting season in 2012." But nowhere in congressional testimony have Mullen and Petraeus ever said the drawdown should begin after the 2012 summer fighting season, nor have they said that in any other public forum.
Adding to the inaccuracy, Jon Huntsman called for more engagement with the Chinese government. "We need a strategic dialogue at the highest levels between the United States and China," he said. "That's not happening."
As Obama's former ambassador to China, Huntsman surely must know that there have already been two rounds of the "U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue," which was initiated in 2009, led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and included over 200 U.S. officials and a similar number of Chinese government representatives.
In fact, Huntsman even participated in the dialogue in Beijing in May 2010 and wrote a blog post about it, where he said that Clinton and Geithner "both told me they viewed the dialogue as a broad success. I couldn't agree more."
That's not to mention that Obama and President Hu Jintao have met personally 9 times, Clinton meets with her counterpart Yang Jiechi on a regular basis, and Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Beijing next week to see Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping.
Newt Gingrich was called on in the debate to clear up what many saw as his changing position on Libya: he called for a no-fly zone on March 7, just before the Libya war began, and then said after the operation began, "I would not have intervened."
Gingrich accused the debate moderator, Fox News's Bret Baier, of using a "gotcha" question for asking him to clarify his position and then said that he called for the no fly-zone on March 7 because Obama "that day had announced gloriously to the world as the president of the United States that Qaddafi had to go." But, in fact, Obama first called for Qaddafi's departure on March 3, four days earlier.
Gingrich then said Obama reversed his position on Libya, claiming that the president shifted away from his call for Qaddafi to leave power in favor of a humanitarian intervention. In reality, Obama has always maintained that Qaddafi must go, although he is clear that the mandate of the military intervention in Libya does not include the mission to oust Qaddafi,
On Syria, Pawlenty mischaracterized Obama and Clinton's statements on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. "Until recently, [Obama] and Hillary Clinton suggested that Bashar Assad was a reformer. He's not a reformer, he's a killer." In fact, Obama has never referred to Assad as a reformer. Clinton said in March that she had heard from "lawmakers" who had visited Damascus that the Syrian president was a reformer.
A good portion of the foreign policy section of last night's debate featured a battle over Iran policy between Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, and others. But that debate was riddled with factual errors and mischaracterizations.
Paul, who has taken the mantle of the Tea Party isolationist wing of the GOP, said that the CIA had confirmed they have no evidence that Iran was working on a nuclear weapon. Although a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate concluded that Iran had halted its drive to produce a nuclear weapons, in March 2010, a CIA report to Congress concluded that "Iran continues to develop a range of capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons, if a decision is made to do so." In June of that year, CIA chief Leon Panetta said that the Iranians "are developing their nuclear capability and that raises concerns," and "[w]e think they have enough low-enriched uranium right now for two weapons."
Santorum contended that Iran "has killed more American men and women in uniform in Iraq and Afghanistan than the Iraqis and the Afghanistanis [sic] have." Yes, Iran has supplied al Qaeda in Iraq with weapons and supported militant groups such as the Mahdi Army, resulting in the deaths of many U.S. troops, but the link to Afghanistan is extremely tenuous. Put simply, there are no statistics that support Santorum's claim.
Whether foreign policy becomes a key part of the GOP primary debate remains to be seen. But so far, the accuracy and command of details on foreign policy issues leaves a lot to be desired.