Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Mike Huckabee and American Foreign Policy

I noted in an earlier post the increased media attention to foreign policy among the GOP presidential hopefuls. At lot of the focus is on Mike Huckabee, especially his essay in the January/February edition of Foreign Affairs.

Huckabee applies his famous "homespun" spin to international relations, although this approach might not work so well in the analysis of world politics. Here's the introduction:
The United States, as the world's only superpower, is less vulnerable to military defeat. But it is more vulnerable to the animosity of other countries. Much like a top high school student, if it is modest about its abilities and achievements, if it is generous in helping others, it is loved. But if it attempts to dominate others, it is despised.

American foreign policy needs to change its tone and attitude, open up, and reach out. The Bush administration's arrogant bunker mentality has been counterproductive at home and abroad. My administration will recognize that the United States' main fight today does not pit us against the world but pits the world against the terrorists. At the same time, my administration will never surrender any of our sovereignty, which is why I was the first presidential candidate to oppose ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty, which would endanger both our national security and our economic interests.

A more successful U.S. foreign policy needs to better explain Islamic jihadism to the American people. Given how Americans have thrived on diversity -- religious, ethnic, racial -- it takes an enormous leap of imagination to understand what Islamic terrorists are about, that they really do want to kill every last one of us and destroy civilization as we know it. If they are willing to kill their own children by letting them detonate suicide bombs, then they will also be willing to kill our children for their misguided cause. The Bush administration has never adequately explained the theology and ideology behind Islamic terrorism or convinced us of its ruthless fanaticism. The first rule of war is "know your enemy," and most Americans do not know theirs. To grasp the magnitude of the threat, we first have to understand what makes Islamic terrorists tick. Very few Americans are familiar with the writings of Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian radical executed in 1966, or the Muslim Brotherhood, whose call to active jihad influenced Osama bin Laden and the rise of al Qaeda. Qutb raged against the decadence and sin he saw around him and sought to restore the "pure" Islam of the seventh century through a theocratic caliphate without national borders. He saw nothing decadent or sinful in murdering in order to achieve that end. America's culture of life stands in stark contrast to the jihadists' culture of death.

The United States' biggest challenge in the Arab and Muslim worlds is the lack of a viable moderate alternative to radicalism. On the one hand, there are radical Islamists willing to fight dictators with terrorist tactics that moderates are too humane to use. On the other, there are repressive regimes that stay in power by force and through the suppression of basic human rights -- many of which we support by buying oil, such as the Saudi government, or with foreign aid, such as the Egyptian government, our second-largest recipient of aid.

Although we cannot export democracy as if it were Coca-Cola or KFC, we can nurture moderate forces in places where al Qaeda is seeking to replace modern evil with medieval evil. Such moderation may not look or function like our system -- it may be a benevolent oligarchy or more tribal than individualistic -- but both for us and for the peoples of those countries, it will be better than the dictatorships they have now or the theocracy they would have under radical Islamists. The potential for such moderation to emerge is visible in the way that Sunni tribal leaders in Iraq have turned against al Qaeda to work with us; they could not stand the thought of living under such fundamentalism and brutality. The people of Afghanistan turned against the Taliban for the same reason. To know these extremists is not to love them.

As president, my goal in the Arab and Muslim worlds will be to calibrate a course between maintaining stability and promoting democracy. It is self-defeating to attempt too much too soon: doing so could mean holding elections that the extremists would win. But it is also self-defeating to do nothing. We must first destroy existing terrorist groups and then attack the underlying conditions that breed them: the lack of basic sanitation, health care, education, jobs, a free press, fair courts -- which all translates into a lack of opportunity and hope. The United States' strategic interests as the world's most powerful country coincide with its moral obligations as the richest. If we do not do the right thing to improve life in the Muslim world, the terrorists will step in and do the wrong thing.
This is the first time I've heard the United States - the world's hegemonic power - compared to a "top high school student." Yet, while Huckabee's off-beat (even over-the-top) and strident his criticism of the administration, I thought his piece hit the right tone overall.

That said, let me share some other views on Huckabee's foreign policy.
Here's Daniel Drezner on Huckabee and the "bunker mentality" declaration:

Really, you just have to stand back and marvel at the contradiction of sentiments contained in that paragraph. It's endemic to the entire essay -- for someone who claims he wants to get rid of the bunker mentality, Huckabee offers no concrete ideas for how to do that, and a lot of policies (rejecting the Law of the Sea Treaty, using force in Pakistan, boosting defense spending by 50%) that will ensure anti-Americanism for years to come.
Drezner also hammers Huckabee on his call for a diplomatic opening to Iran.

But see also James Joyner's critique over at Outside the Beltway, "
Huckabee’s Sunday School Foreign Policy." Here's Joyner's response to the "top high school student" line, and how the U.S. needs more humility and generousity:

Apparently, Huckabee hasn’t read Machiavelli. While these platitudes sound nice and are befitting a Baptist preacher, they’re almost certainly wrong. Not so much that we ought to be modest and generous, which are worthwhile attributes for their own sake, but that the world’s only superpower is ever going to be loved. The world just doesn’t work that way.
Joyner's perhaps too eager to belittle Huckabee's statements, for example, in his attack on Huckabee's criticism of the Bush adminsration's inadequacy in explaining the terror threat:

Gee whiz, they’ve been doing this for more than six years now. Does Huckabee really think that Americans need to be convinced that the terrorists want to kill us?
That's a simple characterization of Huckabee's statements. I see Huckabee calling for better public relations overall - that is, not just hyping the terror threat, but a more clear and consistent effort at public relations in marketing our mission (see Melvin Laird on this point in relation to Iraq).

Joyner's also critical of Huckabee's call to increase the Pentagon budget, for example, where Huckabee notes defense spending - at 3.9 percent of GDP - is too low:

We already spend more than all the nations on the planet, combined, on national defense and we need to up it by a third? Or, actually, much more sense current military functions will be pawned off to other agencies?
I think Huckabee's right about this. If the U.S. hopes to continue with a robust defense of our interests overseas, we need to consider more public sacrifice, not less.

I would agree though - as both Drezner and Joyner stress - that Huckabee comes off soft at times, with his proposals sounding more like Democratic Party talking points than a vigorous GOP foreign policy. Still, Huckabee probably deserves more respect than ridicule (Joyner takes some cheap shots on otherwise reasonable points - for example, on how Huckabee would defer to commanders on the ground in Iraq).

Huckabee's foreign policy is far from my first pick - especially with regard to Iran - but his commitment to continuing the mission in Iraq is in line the preferences of the Republican voting majority.

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