Huckaplan For Foreign Policy

For some reason people like to say Mike Huckabee is weak on foreign policy. I’d like to know who is stronger. Among all the congressmen, senators and ex-senators, ex-governors, and ex-mayors in the running, no one exactly has the resume of a diplomat. None of them has even been on a congressional foreign affairs committee as far as I know. Governor Huckabee is every bit as qualified as any one of them, and he is definitely a man with a good plan. Want proof? I can’t convince you with a sound bite. If you have an hour to spare, you can hear his strategy for yourself, in a recent speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Or you can read a 24 page transcript of his speech. Or you can read the following summary, which is longer than my usual blog but still a lot shorter than his speech.

Since “foreign policy” these days mostly means dealing with the Middle East, here’s a crash course on Mike Huckabee’s plan to defeat terrorism:

Open lines of communication with Iran. Always leave the military option on the table. (Huckabee: “There is no way Iran will acquire nuclear weapons on my watch.”) However, acknowledge that 30 years of avoiding diplomatic relations with Iran has accomplished nothing constructive. Meanwhile, many people on the streets in Iran have no problem with the US. After 9/11, when the Palestinians celebrated, there were spontaneous candlelight vigils in Tehran. Iran’s government offered to provide boots-on-the-ground intelligence during our invasion of Afghanistan, but the Bush administration refused this offer, and announced they were part of an “axis of evil.” If we had parlayed their offer into open diplomatic relations, there is an excellent chance we would have known the truth about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction before invading. We should be talking to Iran about everything, not just nuclear weapons. Here’s a Huckaquote: “We should always put the protection of our citizens above our own pride and being bullheaded by saying we’re not going to have any conversations with these people.”

Assert ourselves militarily in Pakistan if necessary. While Iran has national interests we can understand and exploit, al Qaeda is a stateless enemy that can only be destroyed. Our failure to destroy al Qaeda’s leaders in Afghanistan led them straight to a “perfect base of operations” in the Pakistani no-man’s-land along the border. (Al Qaeda means “the base.”) Immediately after 9/11, Musharraf promised us full military access to this lawless region to destroy al Qaeda. The Bush administration later allowed him to go back on that promise, even though we have had “high confidence” intelligence reports on the exact locations of al Qaeda leaders there, and Navy Seal prepared to attack the area. Now Pakistan says they will fight the terrorists, while simultaneously saying they can’t fight them because they don’t control their own territory. Narrowly averted terrorist plots on the order of 9/11 have been directly linked to planning by al Qaeda’s leadership in Pakistan. Huckaquote: “If al Qaeda attacks [the USA] tomorrow, it will be postmarked ‘Pakistan.’ Pakistan has become the new Afghanistan.” Pakistan cannot or will not attack al Qaeda’s leaders. We must do it ourselves, or suffer the inevitable consequences.

Be wisely benevolent. If religion provides the spark for terrorism, poverty provides the tinder—yet the USA devotes only 0.25% of its national budget to foreign aid. In most Muslim countries, massive wealth is held by a few dictatorial rulers, while most people live in poverty. In Pakistan, for example, 25% of the national budget goes to the military, while less than 3% goes to social, health and educational programs. The USA has given over $10 billion in foreign aid to Pakistan since 9/11. Less than $1 billion of it reached the Pakistani people as direct aid. Meanwhile, like all forms of tyranny, terrorism flourishes whenever there is a wide gap between the upper and lower classes, with little or no middle class to function as a buffer. The USA cannot always export democracy, because sometimes too much political freedom too soon only allows violent extremists to win elections. But we can and must export socioeconomic reforms (a free press, fair courts, and functional economy), which gives real hope to the citizens of other countries, reducing their desire to support terrorism. Thus, our strategic security concerns coincide with our moral obligations as a rich neighbor. Using foreign aid wisely will generate good will with the Middle Eastern people and simultaneously remove the poverty and ignorance that inspires suicide bombers.

Finish the job in Iraq. Look at the map. Iraq is the physical buffer zone between the Persians, Kurds, and Arabs; a barricade between the Sunnis (Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt) and the Shiites (Iran, Syria). Huckaquote: “Iraq is the crossroads where these cultures meet. If it is nor a peaceful buffer, it will be a tinderbox. Al Qaeda sees its central location as the perfect place to create anarchy and have it spread.” The USA upset this balance and opened up the possibilities for al Qaeda when we removed Saddam Hussein. To leave now, before balance is restored, would open us to serious security risks, especially with the looming prospect of nuclear weapons in Israel and in Iran. Fortunately, by all objective standards, the surge is working. While politicians in Bagdad and Washington fumble and bluster, there is a true bottom-up revolution taking place in the peaceful moments created by the surge, with Iraqis on the street stepping in to make a difference. We must remain in place until the Iraqi people are able to complete their transition to a stable nation. To do otherwise would not only leave Iraqi men, women and children in horrific danger from insurgents like al Qaeda, but would also leave us with the prospect of regional war, perhaps even world war, with Iraq’s many neighbors stepping into the vacuum to protect their interests.

Follow the “Powell Doctrine” of overwhelming force. From a foreign policy standpoint, overwhelming force aids diplomacy because it means less chance we will actually have to use the military option. It allows us to, as Teddy Roosevelt said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” And in the event of military action, it means fewer American lives lost. When the former Yugoslavia was liberated under President Clinton, for example, peace was maintained by 20 soldiers for every 1,000 civilians with virtually no civil unrest or military casualties. We have less than one quarter of that ratio of soldiers-to-civilians in Iraq, and that’s after the build-up for the surge. This explains in part why we have lost over 3,700 men and women since President Bush gave his “Mission Accomplished” speech. We spend 3.9% of our budget on the military today, compared to 6% under President Regan during peace time. Meanwhile, our national guard and reserve troops are being asked to give far more than they signed up for, with our military strained to the breaking point. We are at war. We need to get closer to the 6% figure. If we faced another military situation elsewhere in the world at this time, then as Governor Huckabee said, “God help us.”

Become energy independent…now. Our own money spent for Middle Eastern oil is being used to fund the very terrorists who want to kill us, Our dependence on oil also means we have to pander to state sponsors of terrorism, instead of, as Governor Huckabee puts it, “dealing with the Saudis like we would the Swedes.” Of course, all the other candidates would agree so far, but only Huckabee seems willing to give this the sense of urgency it deserves. Consider the governor’s words: “Energy independence really is a matter of urgent national security and ought to be addressed not with the attitude of, ‘Well, maybe someone will come up with it in 20 years.’ Look, this is the country that had the technology of bottle rockets in 1961 and John Kennedy said we’re going to put a man on the moon and come home in a decade. Eight years later Neil Armstrong had his feet on the lunar surface. It requires that kind of commitment and I’m convinced this country has the capacity and innovative quality to be able to pull it off.”

Start acting like a nation at war. Since the American people are in a war, we ought to behave like a people at war. On this one, I’ll just quote the Governor from a question and answer session after the speech: “…after 9/11…essentially the instructions the American people got to fight global terrorism was, ‘Go back and live normally.’ …we were not called upon to have some ownership of the fight against terror…I think history will reveal [that] was the single greatest mistake that we made. Because what should have happened was what happened after every other international crisis America has been involved in. Everyone’s got to pull together. I can remember it didn’t take us long to go from Democrats and Republicans linking arms on the Capital steps and singing God Bless America, and every house sporting an American flag out front to—within a few months—there was the same kind of partisan bickering and complete isolation that we’ve seen happen in this town [Washington, D.C.]—total polarization, total paralysis, and the result has been just incredibly detrimental. If we’re going to fight this war…we all have to have some skin in the game…there ought to be a greater sense of shared sacrifice and participation.”

There you have the basics of Governor Huckabee’s speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies on foreign policy, and terrorism in particular. In the full speech the governor gives a brief but masterful analysis of the various historical and cultural forces at work in the Middle East, but this is his basic plan. It makes perfect sense to me, and I hope and pray he will get a chance to put it into action.

Posted byAthol Dickson at 4:49 PM  


Nicole said... January 5, 2008 at 8:04 AM  

While I admire the words and paraphrasing and ideologies of these points, Athol, they smack of that presidential "contest" naivete.

Candidates are not exactly privy to the inner workings of diplomacy measures, no matter how much they think they know, and while it's noble to propose "talking" with rogue nations, that talking will be with their leaders, not the suppressed peoples who actually respect our nation.

And while it is also noble and hopeful to propose being able to work with the opposition in our own country politics, I can't think of any president who worked harder at it than President Bush, and all it generated from them was hatred.

I know the candidates must have a platform and present solutions, unlike the Democrat party who only offers more problems, but I bristle at the criticism of President Bush who stepped into the most difficult presidency a man could ever have to face. Mistakes were made, lots of them, but pointing them out is a whole lot easier than being in his shoes and having to solve them on the job working with Democrats who only briefly offered any support and continue to offer animosity.

Sorry to take up so much space, Athol. And all this is not to say I'm against Huckabee. I'm still undecided.

Athol said... January 5, 2008 at 10:12 AM  

Thanks for your comments, Nicole. I respect your perspective, and understand why you're withholding judgment on Huckabee. It's too bad more people don't take the time to dig deep as you are, rather than making such an important decision based on sound bites.

Working with a Congress (both Democratic and Republican) that seems more concerned with posturing than working toward solutions is indeed a challenge that Huckabee might not meet with any more success than Bush. But I like two things about Huckabee in that area: 1) his refusal to go negative in his campaign (so far) seems to imply a genuine desire to place statesmanship above self-promotion, and 2) his remarks quoted above, about the need for ALL Americans to start acting like we are at war. Someone needs to make that point loud and clear. Although Huckabee might have no better luck than Bush in this area, both what he says and what he's done (so far) at least imply that he intends to draw a line in the sand on the issue . . . something President Bush has not done, at least not in the aggressive way Huckabee says he will.

I'm afraid I can't agree with the notion that the Bush administration should be above criticism. You are completely right that Mr. Bush stepped into one of the most difficult situations any president has ever faced, and you're right to say he knows many things we don't know. But we learn from our mistakes only if we acknowledge them. George Bush has very seldom admitted a mistake. In fact, when asked, "Do you have any regrets about your first term in office?" during one of the 2004 debates, he would not admit a single regret. This, two years after 9/11, with Bin Laden still at large. So if he won't do a post-mortems on his own failures, I'm glad there is at least one Republican candidate willing to set partisan politics aside and do the job.

Finally, regarding a broader dialogue with rogue states, I suggest you watch or read Governor Huckabee's full speech. In the interest of condensation, I focused mostly on the changes he proposes to our current strategy. In the full text he makes it clear that he would combine a more open dialogue with increased pressure in other areas. For example, he suggested that all U.S. pension funds should drop any investments that include an Iranian component. Huckabee also calls Iran an "enemy" in the speech. It is clear he is no wide-eyed optimist, but rather simply suggesting that our strategy of diplomatic isolation has not worked in 30 years. When one considers where Iran was then, and where it is today, it seems to me Huckabee's point is undeniable. As you may have heard, one definition of "insanity" is doing the same thing over and over, even when it does not work.

Thanks again for your excellent comments.

Kay said... January 8, 2008 at 2:03 PM  

I will be posting on Winter Haven just as soon as I finish reading it. Which probably won't take long! Just received it today.

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