Peter Feaver does his best to redeem Perry’s Pakistan answer:
Even though he seemed to misstate who rejected whom on the India-F-16 deal, Perry was right that U.S.-India relations are intimately affected by, and themselves affect, U.S.-Pakistan relations. The effects are often pernicious, and improving relations with India does not always improve relations with Pakistan, but it would be folly to pretend that one can deal with Pakistan without factoring in how India affects Islamabad’s strategic calculus.
Perry didn’t “seem to misstate” this. He got it flat wrong. He said that “we had the opportunity” and that “we chose not to do that.” There was an opportunity, but it wasn’t one that “we” squandered or chose not to pursue. The American bids were rejected partly because of our relationship with Pakistan, but that goes against Perry’s approach to the question, which is that “our allies need to understand clearly that we are their friends.” All right, which ally in South Asia is Perry choosing to support more, and which one is he willing to risk alienating? His answer suggests that he doesn’t see the trade-offs inherent in trying to having close relationships with two regional rivals.
Because he had things backward on India and the fighter jets, he made a second, even more irrelevant leap to complain about the decision not to sell advanced fighters to Taiwan. Perry’s confusion continued as he concluded that selling fighter jets to India and Taiwan would be of some use in responding to the disastrous Pakistan hypothetical. Was Perry suggesting that the U.S. ought to encourage an Indian attack on Pakistan in the event that Pakistan’s arsenal were compromised? Is that supposed to make us have more confidence in Perry’s judgment?
It would be folly to pretend that Pakistan and India can be engaged independently of one another, but Perry never came close to saying anything like this. We can’t credit Perry with being right about the effects policies toward India and Pakistan have on one another, because he never said anything like this. To the extent that his simplistic “stand with our allies” mantra means anything, he was saying the opposite. Feaver has read something into Perry’s remarks, and then congratulated Perry for his insight. I am reminded of the exertions of some Republican pundits back in 2008 to try to make sense of Sarah Palin’s half-baked answers on foreign policy and security issues by crediting her with a level of understanding that she clearly didn’t have. Perry was repeating a mantra that the U.S. must stand with its allies, which is something no one denies, and he concluded by saying that “we don’t have those allies in that region that can assist us if that situation that you talked about were to become a reality.” In fact, the allies are still there, but it’s not clear how India would be able to assist the U.S. directly in responding to such a scenario. If India intervened, they would be risking full-scale war and the possibility of a nuclear exchange.
It is difficult to debate foreign policy in a “sound-bite campaign,” but it becomes impossible when some of the candidates are clearly unfamiliar with the issues.