The manner of a man's arriving is not without consequence. Tom Enders, the
German-born and American-educated head of Airbus, the European aircraft
giant, likes to do it by parachute, if it is an open-air event. People
don't always remember what he says, but they sure remember how he got
Of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, it could be said that he parachuted into the
race for the Republican presidential nomination. The manner of his entry
will be remembered, as it was meant to be.
Perry orchestrated a drum roll of media speculation, leading up to his
announcement. He assessed, contemplated, debated, discussed, examined,
explored and weighed entry. The media followed: might he, should he, would
The drum roll, fed by leaks, grew louder as the declared candidates
traveled to Iowa for a debate and straw poll. Then Perry, with an
announcement in South Carolina, jumped and precision-landed on the parade
Poor Michele Bachmann, left like a performing dolphin that has had its
fish snatched away. She had won the straw poll, deserved a few hours of
party adulation and had her joy cut by this man, who dropped in from the
West, all swagger and handshakes.
Perry hit the ground campaigning, when she was hoping to savor a victory
moment or two. Those famed southern manners don't extend into Texas
politics. Ask fellow Texan, Kay Bailey Hutchison. He crushed her in a
Republican primary in Texas.
In Perry's political lexicon Texas, and things Texan, are at once policy,
ideology and creed. But Perry's Texas is not all of Texas, with its
alluring geographical and social diversity. It is the Texas of the
caricature — of barbecue, boots, swagger and can-do. It is not the Texas
of artists in Austin, of the symphony in Houston, ballet in Dallas or jazz
in San Antonio.
It is an inauthentic Texas, minted not on the ranches and the oil rigs,
nor the ugly, sprawling, low-income housing that surrounds the bustling
cities – a testament to an increasing chasm between rich and poor. It is
not the place where schools are failing, the prisons are overflowing, and
the execution rate is the highest in the advanced world.
Perry's projection of Texas, which he sees as a template for the rest of
the United States, is as inauthentic as tumbleweed — an invasive species
from Russia. Perry's Texas was created in novels, honed in Hollywood and is
part of the myth that Texas and Texans are imbued with qualities denied to
lesser breeds beyond the Lone Star State.
The problem with believing in myth, and elevating it to the the standing
of principle, is that myth is flexible and can be adjusted to reality.
Ergo the early revelation that Perry is happy to disavow difficult things,
like global warming. He says that there is a list of scientists, growing
almost daily, that say global warming is not the result of human activity.
This is cunning. It disavows responsibility without having to deny the
evidence. While the heads of most advanced governments worry about the
impact of greenhouse gases, a President Perry will not have to.
Perry has also laid down his marker as a man of faith, or at least a man
of public piety. He might want to note that the two most publicly
religious presidents of recent times, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush,
left office in low esteem and are not faring well in the first books of
history. He may want to ponder why the Founding Fathers were so anxious to
separate church and state.
Perry's political barbecue sauce, such as berating the Federal Reserve,
may be the precursor to a string of tired, old political nonsenses, like
returning to the gold standard; quitting the United Nations; and
abrogating treaties, in the belief that every commitment abroad is an
infringement of sovereignty.
Perry has made a dramatic entry. Now we wait in trepidation; even George
W. Bush's people are alarmed. Are we to be shown the real Texas, at the
same time proud and flawed, or the synthetic one, doctored for political
effect? — For the Hearst-New York Times Syndicate
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The scene is the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention in Reno, Nev. Enter Mitt Romney stage right, dressed as Rambo.
This typecasting goes with the territory for Republican presidential aspirants. None going back to Richard Nixon has been able to resist it because that is what the base wants. The base wants to believe that their man will bound on the world stage with a dagger between his teeth, swathed in belts of ammo, an assault weapon at the ready and a brace of grenades on his belt, ready to toss at anyone who does not toe the line
The most dangerous part of this metaphorical macho get-up for Romney is the one that is not seen. It is the script by the likes of John Bolton, George W. Bush’s U.N. ambassador, with editing by an assortment of Bush-era neo-cons, and some old-time Cold War warriors from the Bush and even Reagan era.
One of these men, a former secretary of defense, told me at the time of the Iraq invasion: “At least the Arabs will respect us now.”
In truth, the Arabs got quite a different lesson. It is one that all empires learn eventually: When you invade, you reveal yourself in ways you would rather not have.
One of the many sad lessons of the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions is how after brilliant military performances, we fell apart in both countries with inter-agency squabbling, a lack of planning and terrible naivety in the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department, and the Agency for International Development. Worse, the CIA either did not know or was not heeded about conditions on the ground in either country. Is it possible that no one told George W. Bush about the Sunni dominance of the Shia majority in Iraq? But that is true. Money, lives and respect have been lost.
Conservative foreign-policy thinking is, it seems to me after decades of talking with conservatives about foreign policy, unduly influenced by two aspects of history, both British.
The first is the British Empire. I was born into it and spent the first 20 years of my life in one of its last embers, Rhodesia. Conservatives are right to admire much of the British Empire. It was a great system of trade, education and, much of the time, impartial justice.
It rested on two planks: military superiority and huge confidence in British superiority. Call it British exceptionalism. Its unwinding in Asia and Africa had different causes that led to the same result.
In Asia, and particularly in India, which then included what are now Pakistan and Bangladesh, the end came when the idea of the British as a kind of super-race with their “show” of ceremonies, from tea to parades, plus military and civil skills died. Indians started traveling to Britain, particularly in Victorian times, and were appalled at the squalor they found in British slums. These people were not that super.
In Africa, the end came because of a general sense after World War II that self-determination was the way of the future.
What hastened everything was not only a change in moral perception but also the proliferation of small arms.
Churchill famously said: “I did not become the King’s first minister to preside over the dissolution of the British Empire.” But it was dissolving. Britain’s main loss, looking back, was to its pride.
The other British history lesson that is misread by conservative foreign-policy analysts in the United States is Munich.
Certainly when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain waved his piece of paper on Sept. 30, 1938 and declared, “peace for our time,” he was a hero. He was a hero because just two decades earlier, the British Empire had suffered 3.1 million casualties in World War I.
Churchill knew that this wound was open. He did not refer to the courage and sacrifice of that war when seeking courage and sacrifice in a new war. Also, Britain was not ready for war; rearmament, urged by Churchill, was still in its infancy.
Many old-line Republicans tell me that Romney is not a man who will be marched around by those who brought us Vietnam, Iran Contra and Iraq. He is smarter than that.
They believe that when the time comes, if it comes, President Romney will be Romney. Not Rambo. — For the Hearst-New York Times Syndicate
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