26 December 2007

Governor Huckabee’s Written Words

Two sentences from Governor Huckabee’s essay in the January/February 2008 edition of Foreign Affairs has gotten a lot of attention. While the reader might be able to take them with a grain of salt if they were only written once in the introduction summary, they cannot be ignored when Gov. Huckabee repeats them, though swapping the sentence order, in the second paragraph of the essay. The sentences, in the order presenting in the summary, are:

“The Bush administration’s arrogant bunker mentality has been counterproductive at home and abroad. American foreign policy needs to change its tone and attitude, open up, and reach out.”
While I’m not sure what an “arrogant bunker” is, I would have predicted these statements from one of the Democratic candidates. Perhaps Governor Huckabee is attempting to perform a shock-differentiation between his potential foreign policy and that of President Bush. However, his rhetoric sounds like gratuitous divisiveness; it is more than a bit over the top.

That out of the way – both for the Governor and the reader – he divides up what remains of the essay roughly into five sections: diplomacy, use of force, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan. While I won’t go through all of the sections here, each section is worth reading so as to understand Governor Huckabee’s ideas and point of view.

One thing that Governor Huckabee is an advocate for is a full explanation of what jihadists believe and why they want to kill Westerners. He rightly says this is something that the Bush administration should have been doing for a long time, but has not – probably because of the flawed belief that doing so might either offend some group or that the American people would not fully understand the explanation. Both of these are erroneous.

At that point, though, Governor Huckabee’s ideas concerning diplomacy break down for me. He says that “we cannot export democracy as if it were Coca-Cola or KFC,” but he also says that we should “do the right thing to improve life in the Muslim world,” which would include improving “education, jobs, a free press, [and] fair courts”. Three of the four of those are foundational to democratic nations. How would that not be seen as exporting democracy?

Governor Huckabee introduces the idea of making the military and civil forces more robust, though he does not go into detail concerning what the civil force would look like. He advocates adding more troops to the military, boosting defense spending to 6% of GDP, but does not discuss the civil side of his build-up.

On the topic of Iraq (opening statements notwithstanding), Governor Huckabee shows clarity on some points while seeming deluded on others. His contention that bottom-up reconciliation will end violence faster is a good thing is spot on. His view of Turkish use of force against the PKK seems as ill-informed as he claims President Bush is on the matter. Why does Governor Huckabee think the Turks would trust Kurds to fight Kurds? Does the governor really think that the Turks have not been conducting operations against the PKK for some time? Why would they need our “actionable intelligence”?

But it is on the subject of Iran where Governor Huckabee really loses me. He would seemingly simultaneously re-establish diplomatic ties with Iran while encouraging the EU and other international players to strengthen sanctions against Iran. Governor Huckabee also makes contradictory statements concerning Iran. He says in a very straight-forward manner that “Many Iranians are well disposed towards us.” This statement comes on the heels of his contention that the U.S. invaded an “imaginary country” (Iraq) created from “information that was out of date” and “longtime exiles” who provided erroneous accounts of the Iraqi state. How is it, then, since we have not had an ambassador in Iran for 30 years that we can be sure of the attitudes of the Iranian people? Governor Huckabee also claims that the U.S. should be ready with incentives for a non-nuclear Iran. He then lists the same kinds of incentives that were tried in North Korea.

But one wonders why, again, Governor Huckabee would be deluded to think that Iran is a rational actor. While he claims in his essay that his potential administration would stand by Israel, he would become friends with a pre-nuclear, vocally anti-Semitic Iranian regime.

Perhaps one thing that leads Governor Huckabee astray is his choice of analogies. Twice in the article, he equates international diplomacy with interpersonal relationships. But the U.S. is not a “top high school student” who is looked on kindly when he helps other, less fortunate students. Diplomacy between the U.S. and Iran is not akin to a family spat. These kinds of false analogies can lead one astray, away from reality.

In the final analysis, while I appreciate Governor Huckabee’s sober comments on certain topics (bottom-up reconciliation, open and frank explanations on the true nature of jihadism), his lack of specifics and use of false analogies indicates a need for him to spend more time developing his foreign policy plan. The capper, though, comes at the beginning. The U.S. does not, in my opinion, need to “open up and reach out.” The U.S. needs to stick to its guns, stand as a beacon of liberty for the world, and build strength upon strength, continuing the fight against those who would destroy the West.

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