Sunday, December 23, 2007

The GOP and American Foreign Policy

Today's Los Angeles Times has an interesting article on the GOP's foreign policy debate.

A common theme among the candidates is the need to distance themselves from the Bush administration's agenda of preventive war and democracy promotion. The debate's taken an interesting turn in the last couple of weeks, however:

Last week, after Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee criticized the Bush administration for an "arrogant bunker mentality" toward the world, rival Mitt Romney rose to George W. Bush's defense. "Mike Huckabee owes the president an apology," Romney said.

But Romney too has criticized the Bush administration, saying the occupation of Iraq was "underplanned, understaffed [and] under-managed," resulting in "a mess."

Other GOP candidates have also found things to dislike in Bush's foreign policy: Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani has dismissed the president's campaign for democracy in the Muslim world as naive and opposed his drive to establish a Palestinian state. Sen. John McCain of Arizona thinks Bush hasn't sent enough troops to Iraq and has been too easy on Russian President Vladimir V. Putin.

One by one, the Republican candidates have been sketching out the lines of a post-Bush foreign policy. Their prescriptions are not identical, and they have been careful to avoid antagonizing Bush loyalists in the GOP base. But all four have edged away from the most ambitious part of Bush's worldview - the idea that the main goal of U.S. foreign policy should be spreading democracy overseas.

"Republicans are drifting back to a less-exuberant position on global intervention -- for obvious reasons," said Peter Rodman, a former Bush administration official who supports McCain.

"They're saying: 'I'm for all the things in the Bush policy that you liked and that worked -- and as for the other things, I'll do those differently,' " said Michael Mandelbaum, a foreign policy scholar at Johns Hopkins University. "It's a very tricky task. . . . On the one hand, they want to put some distance between themselves and the president because he isn't very popular. But he is popular among the Republican electorate that they are appealing to now, in the primary campaign. It's like walking between raindrops."

All of the leading GOP candidates support the most visible planks of Bush's foreign policy: continuing the war in Iraq, tightening sanctions on Iran and pursuing terrorists in every corner of the globe. But all have said - at least in tone and style - they would approach the world differently than Bush.

Read the whole thing.

The candidates are not so much edging away from democracy promotion - an element of American foreign policy dating back to the Woodrow Wilson administration, if not the days of George Washington - but from democracy promotion through military force.

But the current focus among the Republican candidates has been generated by Mike Huckabee:

Huckabee supported Bush's decision to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq and to step up the military offensive in Baghdad. But he has criticized the administration on other grounds.

"American foreign policy needs to change its tone and its attitude," he wrote in an article in Foreign Affairs magazine. "The Bush administration's arrogant bunker mentality has been counterproductive at home and abroad."

Huckabee called for more diplomatic conversations with hostile countries such as Iran. "When one stops talking to a parent or a friend, differences cannot be resolved and relationships cannot move forward. The same is true for countries," he wrote.

And he appeared to put some blame on the White House for the increasing tension between Washington and Tehran: "After President Bush included Iran in the 'axis of evil,' everything went downhill fast," he said, referring to a Bush's 2002 State of the Union address.

Bush, asked at a news conference last week about Huckabee's remarks, declined to comment. But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has helped nudge the Bush administration into a greater reliance on diplomacy, said: "The idea that somehow this is a go-it-alone policy is just simply ludicrous."

Huckabee has not backed down. "His principal statement was: 'Let's work on engagement,' and he thinks there's more we can do there," said Huckabee's main foreign policy advisor, former Treasury Department official J. French Hill, who helped draft the magazine article. "His comment about the administration was not directed at President Bush."

Until Huckabee spoke out, Romney had been the Republican candidate who seemed most intent on gingerly establishing a little distance from the administration. U.S. diplomacy in the Muslim world, Romney said, had been inadequate, with "nowhere near the degree of attention, resources and commitment necessary." He initially took a wait-and-see position on the success of the "surge" of U.S. military forces in Iraq, only to draw criticism from McCain and others for his hesitance.

At a debate this month, Romney joined most of the other GOP candidates in declaring the buildup a success. And he responded sharply to Huckabee's apostasy, issuing a statement that compared Huckabee to White House hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.). Then Romney said: "We can be thankful that President Bush has kept us safe."

He said his own critique was not as bad as Huckabee having called Bush policy arrogant.

I've been paying close attention to the series of essays in Foreign Affairs' "Campaign 2008" feature.

In fact, I'm planning a post on Huckabee's essay, "America's Priorities in the War on Terror," although I can say right now that Huckabee's homespun charm doesn't translate well into foreign policy dialogue.

Until later, check out Daniel Drezner's Huckabee post, as well as this James Joyner entry at Outside the Beltway.

See also my earlier posts on the "Campaign 2008" series, in order of publication: Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, John Edwards, Rudy Giuliani, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain.