Texas Gov. Rick Perry talks to patrons of the Drive-In Restaurant in Florence,… (Emmanuel Dunand / Getty…)
Both the U.S. State Department and the government of Turkey have registered their dismay with Rick Perry, who claimed at Monday night's GOP presidential debate in South Carolina that the Middle Eastern nation and longtime NATO ally was run by "Islamic terrorists."
In responding to a question from Fox News’ Bret Baier, the Texas governor, who has struggled with foreign policy while on the campaign trail, suggested that all U.S. foreign aid to Turkey should be cut off, that the nation should be kicked out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and, for good measure, seemed to lump it with Iran and Syria as an existential threat to the United States.
“Well, 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. Not only is it time for us to have a conversation about whether or not they belong to be in NATO, but it's time for the United States, when we look at their foreign aid, to go to zero with it,” Perry said.
“And you go to zero with foreign aid for all of those countries. And it doesn't make any difference who they are. You go to zero with that foreign aid and then you have the conversation about, do they have America's best interest in mind? And when you have countries like Turkey that are moving far away from the country that I lived in back in the 1970s as a pilot in the United States Air Force that was our ally, that worked with us, but today we don't see that,” he said.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner was asked at his daily briefing about whether the U.S. considered the Turkish government to be populated by “Islamic terrorists.”
“We absolutely and fundamentally disagree with that assertion. You know, Turkey, as I said, is a -- is a strong partner in the region. We've seen it make a very courageous stand against what's going on in Syria, for example. It continues to play a very positive and constructive role in the region. And it is often cited -- an example of a so-called Islamic democracy in action,” Toner said.
“Turkey is one of the oldest members of NATO and it's been a stalwart member of NATO and a strong ally to the United States. And, you know, we stand by our relationship,” Toner said.
Turkey’s ambassador to the United States, Namik Tan, released a statement expressing his disappointment with Perry’s criticism, which he termed “misplaced” and “ill-advised.”
“Needless to say, the Turkey described in the debate simply does not exist,” Tan said. “Turkey is a secular democracy that has for decades been an essential and trusted partner of the U.S. Our bilateral relations are based on the common values of democracy and respect for human rights, rule of law, and free market economy. Whether in the fight against terrorism or violent extremism, in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria or against the proliferation of [weapons of mass destruction] we stand side by side to tackle the many common threats and challenges of our times. Through NATO and bilaterally, Turkey and the U.S. will continue to cooperate day in, day out to establish peace, security and prosperity around the world.”
And in a clear shot at Perry, Tan wrote that Turkey’s economy doesn’t need aid from the United States and in fact has helped create “thousands of jobs” in Perry’s home state of Texas through trade.
Turkey joined NATO in 1952 and was elected to a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council in 2008. The two countries have been partners in the war in Afghanistan. The nation, however, has yet to be admitted into the European Union in part because of concerns over its human-rights record, including the treatment of women and the Kurdish minority.
Some American conservatives have warned about what they see as a rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism in the secular nation because the ruling AKP government has more openly embraced the country’s Islamic-based culture.
Perry stood by his comments at a press conference Tuesday, saying in response to the Turkish government's criticism, according to CBS News: "When you see the number of actions against your citizens that we would consider to be terrorist acts, I stand by my statement."