Texas Gov. and fledgling GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry made the most stunning pronouncement of last night’s South Carolina Republican primary debate: Asked if Turkey should be kicked out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Perry said, “Obviously when you have a country that is being ruled by what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists, when you start seeing that type of activity against their own citizens, then, yes.” Perry went on to group the NATO ally — meaning that if someone attacks Turkey, the U.S. must respond — together with U.S. adversaries. He referred to “countries like Iran, and Syria and Turkey.”
The media both in the U.S. and Turkey reacted with incredulity. “You couldn’t make this stuff up,” wrote the New Yorker’s John Cassidy. A Turkish columnist called Perry an “idiot.” CNN’s fact-checking operation said Perry’s claim that Turkey is run by “Islamic terrorists” was “false.”
But the most geo-strategically significant fallout from Perry’s comments may have come from Turkey itself. Turkey’s foreign ministry released a statement on Perry’s remarks, reported the AP:
Turkey joined NATO while the governor was still 2-years old. It is a member that has made important contributions to the trans-Atlantic alliance‘s conflict-full history. It is among countries that are at the front lines in the fight against terrorism. [...]
Figures who are candidates for positions that require responsibility, such as the U.S. presidency, should be more knowledgeable about the world and exert more care with their statement.
The foreign ministry also took a dig at Perry’s low polling numbers in the primary race, citing them as a repudiation of his views on Turkey among Americans.
Here are a few — of many — items demonstrating, contra Islamophobic hyperventilation, neoconservative proclamations, and the opinions of some House Democrats, Turkey’s commitment to the alliance with NATO and the U.S.:
Turkish troops fight alongside U.S. troops in Afghanistan, running reconstruction projects and training Afghan forces. Turkey bankrolled the U.S.- and NATO-backed rebel forces that ousted Muammar Gaddafi from power in Libya. Turkey agreed recently to host a U.S. missile defense radar installation, drawing the ire of Iran. Turkey works the levers of diplomacy tirelessly to avert a military confrontation between the West and Iran over the latter’s nuclear program, recently extracting a statement from Iranian officials that the issue can be resolved through diplomacy.
Perry’s camp later walked back his statement, adding that the governor “would welcome the opportunity to work with Turkey on regional issues like Syria or Iraq.” But, judging from the Turkish foreign ministry’s statement, that sort of cooperation with a future Perry administration may already be off the table.