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On foreign policy, Perry is inconsistent, unclear

AP

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) at the NBC-Politico presidential debate at the Reagan Library.

Since 9/11, the United States has been embroiled in wars and nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as involved in military operations around the globe from Pakistan and Libya to Yemen and Somalia.

But the current front runner for the Republican nomination, Rick Perry, does not appear to have a clear foreign policy.

Looking at the Texas governor's statements on foreign policy over the past month on the campaign trail and in two debates reveals a foreign policy that is inconsistent, muddled, and sometimes contradictory. Perry's not the only one. His top rival, Mitt Romney, has also been inconsistent, especially when it comes to Afghanistan.

It's particularly striking that the two men most likely to lead the Republican Party next year -- a party that usually doesn’t mince its words -- do not appear to have a clear direction on foreign policy. And it reflects the tension in the GOP between the hawkish neo-conservatism of the Bush-Cheney years and a public that’s grown tired of war. (The prominence of a Tea Party that’s skeptical of any federal spending, even on the military, also plays a role here.)

Perry made extensive remarks on foreign policy Aug. 29 before the VFW National Convention. There, he spoke out against multilateralism.

"We cannot concede the moral authority of our nation to multi-lateral debating societies," he said. "And when our interests are threatened, American soldiers should be led by American commanders."

But yesterday, Perry seemed to suggest the opposite when he talking about engaging allies.

"Our response cannot be to isolate ourselves within our borders," he said, "but to engage our allies and the quest to build these enduring allies around the world for freedom."

In his VFW speech, He also has seemed to be for muscular interventionism -- "We must renew our commitment to taking the fight to the enemy wherever they are, before they strike at home."

But then in the very next sentence, he seemed to be against it -- "I do not believe that America should fall subject to a foreign policy of military adventurism. We should only risk shedding American blood and spending American treasure when our vital interests are threatened."

Asked about his "adventurism" comment at the NBC-Politico debate, and whether he thought former President George W. Bush had been rash in launching full-scale military interventions, like in Iraq, for example, Perry deflected.

"I was making a comment about a philosophy," Perry said, declining to say how as Commander-In-Chief he would put that philosophy into practice.

Pressed for specificity, Perry, reiterated, "[T]hat was a philosophical statement that Americans don't want to see their young men and women going into foreign countries without a clear reason that American interests are at stake, and they want to see not only a -- a clear entrance, they want to see a clear exit strategy as well."

But then instead of delivering a critique of the Iraq war, which never had a clear exit strategy under the previous administration, he pivoted to President Obama.

"We should never put our young men and women's lives at risk when American interests are not clearly defined by the president of the United States," Perry said, "and that's one of the problems with what this president is doing today."

In the subsequent CNN-Tea Party Express debate five days later, he was asked about Afghanistan.

"[I]t's time to bring our young men and women home and as soon and obviously as safely as we can," Perry said, in part.

But then, he added this -- "But it's also really important for us to continue to have a presence there."

And he seemed to advocate a narrower presence, that the U.S. should reverse course from fighting insurgents and nation-building.

"[I]s it best spent with 100,000 military who have the target on their back in Afghanistan?" Perry asked. "I don't think so at this particular point in time."

But then, in directing his answer to the original questioner, a female Afghani émigré, Perry seemed to advocate a position that would likely mean a broad U.S. presence, or at least significant funding.

The U.S. needs to "continue to help them build the infrastructure that we need, whether it's schools for young women like yourself or otherwise," he said.