If and when Texas Governor Rick Perry declares his candidacy for president, he will stake out a position on foreign policy and national security issues that one foreign policy hand familiar with his thinking described as a "hawk internationalist" profile.
Perry, who has no formal campaign policy team because he has not yet announced that he is running, has however held an increasing number of meetings with foreign policy experts of all stripes. These meetings, which have sometimes gone on for hours, have helped Perry brush up on a range of issues, from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to proliferation, from Middle East policy to international trade, according to those familiar with the meetings. The experts that he has reached out to include former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Doug Feith, former NSC strategy guru William Luti, former Assistant U.S. Attorney and National Review columnist Andrew McCarthy, former Pentagon official Charles "Cully" Stimson, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe Daniel Fata, former Pentagon China official Dan Blumenthal, the Heritage Foundation's Asia expert Peter Brookes, and former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalizad.
Politico reported that Donald Rumsfeld helped Perry set up the initial meeting with Feith, Luti, McCarthy, and Fata (Stimson was invited but couldn't attend), but there have been several more since then and the Perry team is continuing to fly in experts to meet with the governor in Texas.
Foreign policy hands with knowledge of the prospective candidate's identity, which is still taking shape, told The Cable that Perry is planning to stake out political territory as a defense-minded but internationally engaged candidate, contrasting himself with the realism of Jon Huntsman, the ever-changing stance of Mitt Romney, or the Tea Party budget cutting focus of Michelle Bachmann and Ron Paul.
"He will distinguish himself from other Republicans as a hawk internationalist, embracing American exceptionalism and the unique role we must play in confronting the many threats we face," one foreign policy advisor with knowledge of Perry's thinking told The Cable. "He has no sympathy for the neo-isolationist impulses emanating from some quarters of the Republican Party."
If that sounds like the foreign policy stance of Tim Pawlenty, that's because it is. Pawlenty also supports an unapologetic and assertive foreign policy that rejects calls for retrenchment. But Perry is also planning to add his record on international trade to that set of ideas.
"He is a free market, free investment, free trade governor who has had tremendous success as governor of Texas attracting investment into Texas from all over the world," the foreign policy hand said, pointing out that Perry has traveled to China, Mexico, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Qatar, Turkey, France, and Sweden as governor.
As for Middle East politics, during his 2009 race against Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX), Perry told a group of journalists, "My faith requires me to support Israel." He also said that the Obama administration is "out of tune with America" on the question of Israel.
Perry also talked about his time working with the Israel Defense Forces when he was in the Air Force. In August 2009, he traveled to Israel to receive the "Defender of Jerusalem Award."
Back in 2009, Perry also was forced to defend his decision to entice Citgo, Venezuela's state-controlled oil firm, to relocate its U.S. headquarters from Oklahoma to Texas. "Dictators come and dictators go," Perry said at the time, but "Citgo will be around long after Chavez is gone."
As FP's Passport blog pointed out, Perry recently disparaged President Barack Obama's speech on the Middle East, called for higher defense budgets, warned about the rise of China, criticized the effort to reset relations with Russia, and said that North Korea and Iran represent "an imminent threat with their nuclear ambitions."
For Republicans outside the Perryverse, his approach to foreign policy and national security appear to be a natural extension of his personality: aggressive, unapologetic, and instinctive... all of the traits Republicans see as lacking in the Obama's foreign policy.
"He's a cowboy," said Michael Goldfarb, former senior staffer on John McCain's presidential campaign. "You have to assume he'd shoot first and ask questions later -- which would be nice after four years of a leading from behind, too little too late foreign policy."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.