Rick Perry has come under fire for his remark at Monday's South Carolina debate that Turkey is run by what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists.
He made the remark in response to a question from moderator Bret Baier about whether Turkey should be allowed to stay in NATO:
BAIER: Governor Perry, since the Islamist-oriented party took over in Turkey, the murder rate of women has increased 1,400 percent there. Press freedom has declined to the level of Russia. The prime minister of Turkey has embraced Hamas and Turkey has threatened military force against both Israel and Cyprus. Given Turkey's turn, do you believe Turkey still belongs in NATO?
PERRY: 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 in NATO, but it's time for the United States, when we look at their foreign aid, to go zero with it.
His last line drew applause, and he segued away from Turkey into a discussion of his plan to zero out and re-evaluate all foreign aid. The Islamic terrorists part got little attention until the Turks woke up Tuesday morning.
TRT state television called Perry's comment very ugly, and Hurriyet Daily columnist Mustafa Akyol tweeted, Rick Perry: what an idiot. A spokesman for the Turkish foreign ministry declined to comment, saying the government would ask Perry's campaign to clarify his remarks before responding to them.
Victoria Coates, Perry's foreign-policy adviser, defended the Texas governor, emphasizing the what many would perceive to be part of his statement. Many people, she said, do see Turkish leaders as Islamic terrorists because of their support for Hamas and for the 2010 aid flotilla to Israel's Gaza Strip.
The governor was responding to the questioner's references to violence against women and to association with Hamas, I think, both of which are things that many people do associate, as he said, with Islamic terrorists, Coates said in the post-debate spin room. He was referring to those things, and while he would welcome the opportunity to work with Turkey on regional issues like Syria or Iraq, this kind of behavior on the part of that country is disturbing, and I think we should be concerned about it.
Perry -- who has between 5 and 6 percent support in South Carolina, according to recent polls -- has no room for slip-ups if he wants to remain in the race. As it is, his chances of winning the nomination are close to zero after his poor performances in Iowa and New Hampshire, and he is widely expected to drop out after the South Carolina primary unless he pulls off a miracle there. Inflammatory comments may not help him in that regard.