Walter Shapiro describes Rick Perry’s confused answer on Pakistan during last night’s debate:

Asked a hypothetical about Pakistan losing control of its nuclear arsenal, Perry wisely ducked the explosive what-would-you-do-first part of the question. But then Perry veered off on an odd tangent that took him from the Haqqani terrorist network in Pakistan to our reputed reluctance to sell advanced F-16s to India, Pakistan’s historic enemy. Next, Perry drifted into our unwillingness to fully arm Taiwan. About all that was missing was a critique of our military posture towards Luxembourg.

Just don’t get him started on our appeasement of Wallonia. This is the sort of thing that Perry is liable to do when presented with a question on foreign policy: fall back on the usual tropes that the administration ignores allies and empowers or appeases enemies, regardless of whether that has anything to do with the question. He evidently doesn’t know much about international affairs, but he knows that he has heard conservative pundits repeatedly complaining about F-16 sales or the lack thereof, and he has some interest as the governor of Texas in having more F-16s sold. What’s worse than Perry’s meandering answer is that he may think his response was quite clever. After all, he said nice things about supporting two allies, and he wants to sell them weapons. Who could complain about that?

What really stands out in Perry’s response is how both issues have absolutely nothing to do with the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal (how would selling fighters to Taiwan give them the ability to intervene in Pakistan?), but his answer was even worse than most people think. Perry’s remarks on India managed to get the essential facts wrong. Perry said, “For instance, when we had the opportunity to sell India the upgraded F-16s, we chose not to do that.” In fact, what made the Indian decision to reject American bids for the new fighter jet contract so bothersome was that the administration had actively lobbied on behalf of the bids. The problem wasn’t that the U.S. chose not to sell jets to India. Despite the fact that it would have angered Pakistan, the administration was eager to sell them. Because the purchase was so large and will eventually make up half of their air force, India’s government didn’t want to buy from American companies because of a fear of what future administrations might do:

A major hurdle for the United States, Riedel said, was its perception in India as an unreliable arms supplier because of past embargoes imposed after various wars and nuclear tests.

“There is a belief that in a crisis situation, particularly if it was an India-Pakistan crisis, the U.S. could pull the plug on parts, munitions, aircraft — precisely at the moment you need them most,” he said. “Memories are deep in this part of the world.”

Most voters aren’t going to care that Perry doesn’t know what he’s talking about on foreign policy, but it should set off alarms that one of the two leading contenders for a major party nomination seems so poorly informed about one of the more important regions in the world. There were already reasons to dread the prospect of having Perry in a position to make foreign policy decisions, but it is worse than we thought. It appears that he is even more clueless on these issues than the last governor from Texas.

P.S. Perry’s performance as a candidate so far confirms that he was as overrated from the beginning as I thought.