A Hawkish Rick Perry addresses the Heritage Foundation

Gov. Rick Perry stopped off in Washington today, on his way to New Hampshire, to give a speech at the Heritage Foundation. His address came at the conclusion of a panel discussion (which Perry did not participate in) called “The Border Crisis and the New Politics of Immigration.”

Perry talked for a while about immigration but, exercising potential presidential candidate’s prerogative, his speech focused primarily on a different topic — the threat posed by ISIS. (In fairness, the two subjects aren’t entirely unrelated; as Perry noted, lack of border security makes it easier for ISIS to attack the U.S. homeland).

Perry took a hard line on ISIS. He stated: “We better get on top of this [the threat posed by ISIS] with whatever means are necessary.” He called on the administration to “confront ISIS with overwhelming force,” not just in Iraq but in Syria too.

During the brief period for questions, an NBC reporter followed up by asking Perry whether the U.S. response to ISIS should include “traditional ground troops” in addition to special forces. Perry answered that “all options should be on the table.” He added that we should not tell our enemies in advance what we won’t do.

Perry’s aggressive position on ISIS goes further than what I’ve heard most “hawks” express. For example, at a Heritage event last week, the panel — consisting of Steven Hadley, Mary Habeck, and Steven Bucci –seemed to agree that the “boots on the ground” in the fight against ISIS in Iraq should not (with the exception of some advisers and special forces) be American boots. And I don’t believe the idea of the U.S. attacking ISIS in Syria was raised.

I suspect that many conservatives would, by now, support the use by the U.S. of conventional forces in the battle against ISIS, even perhaps in Syria. But few want to publicly advocate this or even talk about it as a possibility.

Perry didn’t advocate such a deployment. But his remarks made it clear, even before he was questioned, that this option should be on the table.

Is it wise politically for Perry to be so publicly hawkish? It’s not clear yet. If Obama’s more dovish approach halts ISIS and if ISIS doesn’t successfully attack America, Perry’s presidential ambitions (to the extent he has them) probably will have been ill-served. Otherwise, Perry will likely have helped himself by being an early exponent of going after ISIS hard.

I don’t mean to say that Perry’s position on ISIS is driven by presidential politics. In fact, I assume he is completely sincere.

Interestingly, though, Hillary Clinton, whose position almost certainly is politically driven, takes a relatively hawkish stance on ISIS too. Throw in the recent comments of Chuck Hagel, and it looks like rational figures across the political spectrum see big trouble ahead from these terrorists.

Finally, a note on Perry as a public speaker. He’s not bad, but he’s not inspirational either, at least not today. The Heritage audience was quite sympathetic, especially given Perry’s persecution in Texas. But, although his speech was received well, it didn’t seem to generate great enthusiasm.

In person, even more so than on television, Perry reminds me of George W. Bush whom he succeeded as governor but with whom, reportedly, relations weren’t great. The resemblance includes speaking style, speech patterns, and mannerisms. It even extends, I thought, to banter. Perry’s joking references to the youthful appearance of Rich Lowry (who introduced the governor) seemed very Bush-like.

How far can a Texas hawk with a resemblance to George W. Bush go in 2016? We may well have the opportunity to find out. For better or for worse, he has piqued my interest.

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