Texas Gov. Rick Perry chats with Maya Levine, 10, and her mother, Vikki Levine,… (Courtesy of Vikki Levine )
Reporting from Atkinson, N.H. — Saturday in New Hampshire, Texas Gov. Rick Perry got a question he wasn’t expecting. Well, it wasn’t the question that was surprising so much as the person who asked it.
During a morning meet-and-greet in the banquet room of the Atkinson Resort & Country Club, a public golf course in a bucolic part of southeast New Hampshire, a little red-headed girl raised her hand. Maybe it was the Perry sticker on her shirt that caught the candidate’s eye.
“What is your policy on the state of Israel?” asked 10-year-old Maya Levine, a fifth grader at Atkinson Academy, the second oldest co-educational school in America. Maya had come with her parents and little brother, Ilan, to hear the aspiring Republican presidential nominee.
“She asked a foreign policy question,” Perry told the audience of about 150, who were unable to hear Maya’s question in the big hall. “You 8? Oh, 10. ’Scuse me.”
Maya’s question gave Perry the chance to hold forth on a topic deemed his weak suit, given that his political experience has been confined to the state level (with the exception of border issues involving Mexico). He used harsh language to describe American foreign policy under President Obama, echoing charges made by his rivals for the nomination.
“Our allies do not know where America will be on any given day because of the muddled, aimless, wavering foreign policy that we have coming out of the White House today,” Perry said.
For example, in 2009, he said, Obama missed an opportunity to promote democracy in Iran when that country’s “green revolution” foundered.
“Iran is one of the great problems in the Middle East,” Perry said. “They are, I would suggest, the greatest threat to the future of Israel. And in ‘09, we naively were having conversations with the Syrian and the Iranian governments, rather than supporting that civil uprising in that country.…We should have been using everything that we had available -- our diplomatic abilities, our economic sanctions, overt, covert and civic -- to impact and help overthrow one of the most oppressive regimes that there is in the world, and we failed.” (Here is an AP story about the difficult position the Obama administration found itself in.)
That, however, was just a warmup for his take on Obama's position on the Palestinian Authority’s request for statehood last month at the United Nations. In an address to the U.N., Obama threatened to veto state membership for the Palestinians only a year after telling the U.N. that he looked forward to the day the world could welcome a Palestinian state to the U.N.
“The idea that the Palestinian Authority was at the U.N. last week was a failure of American diplomacy,” Perry said. “This administration has sent such weak messages about where America stands with the longest-serving democracy in the Middle East, our oldest friend in the Middle East: Israel.
“I will tell you one thing, that when I’m the president of the United States, our allies are not going to have to worry whether America is for them…We will be supporting them militarily, economically and otherwise, and particularly in Israel."
And he could not resist a dig at the administration’s treatment of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last year during a visit to Israel by Vice President Joe Biden. Biden was blindsided when Israel suddenly announced during his visit that it had approved new construction in a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem. He kept Netanyahu waiting for 90 minutes at a dinner while he worked on his response to the news.
Without going into details about why Biden felt provoked, Perry simply said, “When the prime minister of Israel comes to the White House to visit, he will not have to sit outside and cool his heels waiting to see the president of the United States.”
After posing for a photo with Perry, Maya pronounced herself satisfied with his answer.
“My mom has always been talking about Israel and how it’s less fortunate and we always try to help Israel and plant trees there,” she said. “I thought it was very interesting and he doesn’t want Israel to leave, not leave, but disappear, be wiped out.”
She said she remembered watching election returns in 2008 with her family, who supported Arizona Sen. John McCain against Obama. “He was Republican, and he also wanted to do stuff about Israel,” she said, “but we don’t think Obama wanted to do as much for Israel.”