The Administration Is Arrogant, So Where Has He Gone Wrong?
The news story covering Huckabee’s FA essay has taken his opening lines about the administration’s “arrogant bunker mentality” and made them half of the entire story. The blog right is, predictably, throwing a fit, with more than a few declaring that they cannot support Huckabee. It probably cannot help Huckabee in the early voting that the only person I have seen praising the essay is…Joe Klein. The remarkable thing is that Huckabee’s essay, while I have problems with a lot of it, does some of what the Republicans need to do politically (balance GOP support for the war with a broader break with at least some of the more egregious flaws of Bush’s foreign policy) and it demonstrates some reasonably good understanding of Iran and Pakistan. Some of his proposals (launching attacks into Pakistan, remaining in Iraq, etc.) seem terrible to me, but they are exactly the kinds of things that Republican voters should appreciate about this essay.
On the GOP’s largest general election liability and its worst policy position, the war in Iraq, Huckabee remains a loyal yes-man, so what do they really have to complain about? His opposition to the Law of the Sea Treaty is red meat for the base, while his general interest in more robust diplomacy otherwise should satisfy more moderate Republicans. Most of the opposition to the essay, I suspect, has been driven by a visceral reaction against the knock on the administration, as if criticising Mr. Bush were some unpardonable error. If Republicans are going to make criticism of the current administration’s foreign policy completely off-limits and punish the candidates who make those criticisms, they are going to lose and they will deserve to lose. My guess is that Huckabee’s foreign policy, whatever its substantive merits and problems, will sound reasonable and it will provide a refreshing departure for Republicans who don’t want to give up on the war but who also don’t want another four years of blustering militarism. It isn’t the foreign policy I would prefer, but for a lot of disillusioned Republican voters it might be just right.
Nonetheless, if he wants to shore up his reputation here, he really has to stop analogising international relations to family quarrels. There is a way to make the argument he wants to make on Iran that doesn’t involve referring to reconciling with your estranged brother or what-have-you.
Update: James thinks the “arrogant bunker mentality” line has everything backwards–it is the administration’s enthusiasm muck about in the rest of the world that is the problem. That’s true, but it doesn’t entirely rule out something like the mentality to which Huckabee is referring. If I understood him right, the mentality in question is one that believes that the world is unipolar, we are indispensable and must be involved in everyone else’s business, but which also thinks that we are under dire threat from tinpot dictatorships on the other side of the planet. The first part is the arrogance, and the second is the bunker mentality, and the administration displays elements of both. Indeed it justifies its activist foreign policy in terms of its paranoia about overblown foreign threats. Obviously, there must be a much, much better way to say it than he did (as with so many things Huckabeean), but there is something to this critique.
Philip Klein is also right that there is something in the essay to alienate all factions (conversely, there is something in the speech to reassure most factions). It is true that it is incoherent, but that is what you will get when you are a candidate trying to shore up a pro-war base with a foreign policy that isn’t simply a reiteration of what we have now. When every feint in the direction of realism is greeted by hostility, it will not be surprising that the would-be realist has to keep zig-zagging with promises to invade Pakistan and reject the Law of the Sea right after he denounces arrogance and the “bunker mentality.” Also, the critique that he is proposing “a foreign aid program that would make Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society look like a trivial domestic initiative” must also be aimed at Romney, who proposed something very similar in hisFA essay:
I envision that the summit would lead to the creation of a Partnership for Prosperity and Progress: a coalition of states that would assemble resources from developed nations and use them to support public schools (not Wahhabi madrasahs), microcredit and banking, the rule of law, human rights, basic health care, and free-market policies in modernizing Islamic states. These resources would be drawn from public and private institutions and from volunteers and nongovernmental organizations.