POLITICS
10/14/2014 06:59 pm ET

Rick Perry: The West Must Aggressively Defend Its Values Abroad

WASHINGTON -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) ventured far from the Lone Star State Tuesday, delivering a foreign policy address in London that was widely interpreted as an attempt to burnish his credentials ahead of a 2016 presidential run.

Perry positioned himself as an advocate of strong U.S. intervention in regions like the Middle East, yet struck a slightly different tone than his predecessor in the Texas governor's seat, George W. Bush. Perry emphasized that Western nations should cooperate with one another when taking action.

"It's one thing to speak nobly about the international order that our nations have helped create and establish over the last 70 years. It's something else altogether different to see that it is defended. That once again is what is required of Western nations and the great alliances we have formed," Perry said at an event hosted by the Royal United Services Institute.

"We have a very strong right to judge [Islamic extremists] and every reason to act," Perry added, directing his comments at activists who say the West should fix its own problems before it intervenes abroad.

Though he did not specifically endorse or criticize President Barack Obama's campaign against the Islamic State -- an effort he has previously described as proof the president is "always playing catch up" -- Perry held up the organization as an example of the forces Western countries must counter because of their "twisted" views.

"We must never lose faith in the values that unite us to this day, the enduring moral inheritance that gives our nations their special strength and character. In the Islamic State and elsewhere, these values are mocked," Perry said. "Their contempt and rage testifies perhaps better than anything that you or I could say to the rightness and the truth of the values of the West."

The U.S., the U.K. and others, he said, must fulfill their crucial commitments to "the close friends that our nations have in the Middle East."

Perry, who is set to retire in December after 14 years in office, ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 and is seen as a likely candidate for the nomination in 2016. Two of his potential rivals for that nomination next time around -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) -- had their own public spat last year about the extent to which the U.S. should use its influence and military might to engage with the world.

With this speech, Perry made clear that his views align more with Christie's, and those of other Republican favorites for 2016 like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Paul, an opponent of foreign policy elements like aid and drone strikes, has said that though he supports Obama's air campaign to tackle the Islamic State, he is skeptical about arming Syrian rebel groups that the administration describes as key partners.

Looking back at the history of Western military involvement in the Middle East, Perry praised the role of the U.S., the U.K. and other members of the "coalition of the willing" in Iraq, particularly during the surge of 2007.

"Our troops and all the innocent people they were trying to defend were looking at the prospect of a complete collapse of security, and just about every bad actor in the area was ready to fill that void. That’s what the Iraqi people were spared, at least for a time," Perry said. "That was the achievement of a bold counterinsurgency that was carried out by the most ablest war fighters on earth, including some of the finest of Her Majesty's armed forces."

Though the wars launched by Bush have damaged the GOP's reputation on national security, Republicans like Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) have said President Obama helped create the current crisis in Iraq by trying to shift gears too quickly and removing all troops from that country.

Perry also commented on the role of Muslims in Western societies, a group other conservatives have condemned for not being vocal enough in their opposition to the Islamic State. Many Muslims living in the West are "people of conscience and character," Perry said. He commended Muslims like the British clerics who have vocally condemned ISIS.

But he offered a harsh reminder that Muslims in the West must be prepared to accept Western value systems.

"If you expect to live among us and yet plan against us to receive the protections and comforts of free society while showing none of its virtues or its graces, then you can have our answer now: no, never, not on our watch," Perry said. "You will live by exactly the standards that the rest of us live by, and if that comes as jarring news, welcome to civilization."

Many American Muslims have pushed back against what they call an unfair expectation to prove that they are integrated into Western culture and that they do not condone Islamic State actions like beheadings and the enslavement of women.

Over the summer, Perry was one of a handful of politicians who made unverified claims about extremists from Muslim countries entering the U.S. via the border with Mexico.

The governor was indicted by a grand jury earlier this year over an alleged abuse of power. He skipped a pre-trial hearing during his current visit to Europe, but he will appear in court on Oct. 31.

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