Rick Perry has a well-earned reputation for shooting from the hip, but he played it safe yesterday when addressing the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in San Antonio. Sounding every bit the front-runner with more to lose than to gain by staking out specific positions on controversial topics, Perry chose instead to merely salute veterans and the military and to call for better care for them.
Even in those parts of his speech which were devoted to the use of military force, the Texas governor and GOP presidential candidate was extremely careful not to get too specific and to qualify his statements. So while Perry denounced “adventurism” in the use of American troops abroad, he omitted to say whether he thought our intervention in Libya could be categorized in that manner. Nor did he utter the word “Afghanistan” once. Similarly, he expressed strong support for the idea of America going it alone to defend its interests while praising the idea of consulting with our allies.
Perry did sound a somewhat aggressive note when he said ten years after 9/11, America should still be prepared to “take the fight to the enemy before they strike at home.” His dismissal of the notion of conceding the defense of U.S. security to “multilateral debating societies” should also play well with the Republican base. But it’s hard to take this as a coherent critique of the policies of the man he hopes to replace in the White House. Though Obama has been a champion of multilateralism, especially on issues such as Iran, it must be conceded he was willing to act without consulting allies in the pursuit of Osama bin Laden.
By contrast, Mitt Romney’s speech to the same group today made pointed attacks on Obama for “mission muddle” in Libya and the president’s plans to draw U.S. forces in Afghanistan. While Romney recently has at times sounded as if he was pandering to the isolationist wing of his party on Afghanistan, he was singing a different tune today, albeit by focusing his criticism on the president for ignoring the advice of the military.
Although Romney has been doing his best to ignore his chief rival on the stump, the contrasting styles of the two candidates at the same forum clearly shows which one is the frontrunner and which one has adopted the more combative tone of the challenger.