Why Huckabee's Foreign Policy Should Scare You

The fact that Republicans jumped on him for his remarks on Bush's "arrogant" foreign policy overshadows what is otherwise an empty and unremarkable plan to restore America's footing abroad.
12/18/2007 10:27 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Mike Huckabee has so little foreign policy experience it's scary. You know he has little to show for himself when he brags that he was the first among his Republican rivals to come out against the Law of the Sea Convention. I'm sure Iowa voters were impressed when they heard that crowning achievement.

He goes on in the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs to make a series of vague Reagan-sounding proclamations, to echo the current administration's policy in many areas (Iraq, Israel), and to give not one but two shout-outs to Sun Tzu, a favorite among foreign policy hacks to quote (thank God de Tocqueville was spared). The fact that Republicans like Romney jumped on him for his remarks on Bush's "arrogant" foreign policy overshadows what is otherwise an empty and unremarkable plan to restore America's footing abroad. He stumbles out of the gate:

Very few Americans are familiar with the writings of... the Muslim Brotherhood, whose call to active jihad influenced Osama bin Laden and the rise of al Qaeda ... America's culture of life stands in stark contrast to the jihadists' culture of death.

In fact, today's Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has more or less renounced violence and global jihad. To lump it in with al-Qaeda shows his ignorance of the Muslim world. His plan to weed out terrorism is also wobbly and vaguely reminiscent of George W. Bush's:

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.

How then would Huckabee explain the rise of homegrown terrorism in places like London, where all of the above is abundantly present? How does he account for the striking number of middle-class, educated suicide bombers? Is he blind to other conditions that might breed terrorists, like, say, the presence of American troops in Iraq, our support for secular dictatorships in the region, or the waterboarding of Muslims in places like Gitmo?

To sound a note of toughness, he says we need to beef up (read: spend more dough on) our armed forces:

Right now, we spend about 3.9 percent of our GDP on defense, compared with about six percent in 1986, under President Ronald Reagan. We need to return to that six percent level.

No, Mike, we don't. It was wrong then and it would be wrong now (plus, good luck balancing the budget with that 6 percent figure). Maybe if we spent less money on defense and stopped meddling in everyone's affairs, we'd be safer. See Osama's comments on Sweden, governor.

He then hectors Democrats on Iraq:

Despite what the gloomy Democrats in the United States profess, reconciliation is happening in Iraq, only it is bottom up rather than top down, and since it comes directly from the people, it can end the violence faster.

Who among Democrats is saying there is no progress being made? Calling for a withdrawal date is not the same as saying all is doom and gloom.

Huckabee then goes on to tackle Turkish-Kurdish relations:

[W]e must encourage the Turkish Kurds to address their grievances through the political process, including through the 20 deputies currently representing them in parliament.

The trouble is those 20 deputies are members of the DTP, which Turks consider a front for the PKK and is trying to outlaw. Huckabee might also have noted that Kurds are increasingly throwing their support behind the AK party in power, whose roots lie in political Islam. How would Huckabee lean on Ankara to allow greater Kurdish representation in Turkish politics?

He is no fan of Russian President Vladimir Putin either:

Putin opposes an antimissile system in the former Soviet satellite states (even though we have offered to share the technology with the Russians) and our potential use of Azerbaijan, a former Soviet republic, as a staging ground for an attack on Iran.

Not quite, governor. It was Putin who proposed we stage a joint anti-missile shield in Azerbaijan, not the other way around.

He comes off mostly reasonable on our dealings with Iran:

Whereas there can be no rational dealings with al Qaeda, Iran is a nation-state seeking regional clout and playing the game of power politics we understand and can skillfully pursue.

No argument there. But we must be tougher on Pakistan, he says:

When we let bin Laden escape at Tora Bora, a region along the Afghan-Pakistani border, in December 2001, we played Brer Fox to his Brer Rabbit.

Er, ok. Huckabee then sounds very Obama-esque on how he would precede to hunt al-Qaeda.

[A]ccording to a July 2007 article in The New York Times based on interviews with a dozen current and former military and defense officials, a classified raid targeting bin Laden's top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in Pakistan was aborted in early 2005. Then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called off the attack at the very last minute...because he felt he needed Musharraf's permission to proceed...did he ask for Musharraf's permission or assume he would not get it? When I am president, I will make the final call on such actions.

OK, so then why did all the Republicans pile on Obama when he said virtually the same thing last summer? He goes on:

Rather than wait for the next strike, I prefer to cut to the chase by going after al Qaeda's safe havens in Pakistan.

Whoa, is Huckabee saying that U.S. troops should invade Pakistan? If so, would he invoke the Powell doctrine, calling for overwhelming force, as he mentions in his piece, or just special forces raids? Just curious.

Interestingly throughout his foreign policy treatise, he likens the relationship between states to that between a parent and child, as well as that between a top high school student and his fellow classmates--this is not exactly the stuff of Henry Kissinger or George Kennan. This kind of gee-whiz foreign policy might not cut it in today's world, not when candidates like Hillary Clinton seem like they could rattle off names of neighborhoods in Ramala. Still, though Huckabee might not have a grasp on global affairs--incidentally, nor did another presidential hopeful from Hope, Arkansas--at least he recognizes, unlike most of his Republican rivals, that the last seven years have damaged America's standing in the world.

He concludes his Foreign Affairs article sounding again very Obama-esque:

It is easy to be a peace lover; the challenging part is being a peacemaker.

Amen, reverend.