Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Huckabee’s foreign policy

In writing this post, I had the occasion to read this NRO editorial, which echoes the views of other people I respect.

But I also read Mike Huckabee’s big foreign policy speech, delivered before anyone was paying much attention. While it’s easy to be annoyed by his folksy style and somewhat inane analogies, and the focus on the minutiae smacks of someone who feels compelled to display his new-found learning, there’s nonetheless evidence that he’s not the Jimmy Carter retread that some fear he is. There is, for example, this evidence of what I’d call (and have called) Kantian realism:

My goal in the Muslim world would be to correctly calibrate a course between maintaining stability and promoting democracy. It’s self-defeating to try and accomplish too much, too soon – you’d just have elections where extremists end up winning – but it’s equally self-defeating to do nothing.

Even a Kantian commitment to principle does not require "premature" action. The prudence Kant encourages includes waiting for the moment.

Then there’s the context of a passage that our friends at NRO don’t like:

It’s an enemy that’s conducive to being tracked down and eliminated using the CIA and Special Forces and special operations. We can accomplish a great deal. We can achieve tremendous bang for the buck with swift, surgical air strikes and commando raids by our elite units, as we’ve recently done with the Ethiopians in Somalia. These operations are impossible without first-rate intelligence.

When the Cold War ended, we cut back on our intelligence, just as we cut back on our armed forces, and both have come back to haunt us. As president, I’d like to beef up our human intelligence capacity, both the operatives who gather the information as well as the analysts who figure out what it means. I’d rather have more people in Langley so we can fewer in Baghdad.

Taken out of context, the last sentence does indeed lend itself to the conclusion that Governor Huckabee "seems to think intelligence analysis from afar can be a substitute for combat power on the ground." But note that his point is for the intelligence to be good enough to be actionable, using military force. Robert D. Kaplan might have said it better, but the point is the intelligent use of military force.

Reading what the NRO editors said about Huckabee’s views of Iran, you’d never know he’d said this:

The administration has quite properly said that it will not take the military option for Iran off the table. Neither would I.


Both al Qaeda and Iran seek not just to dominate Israel, but to destroy her and to control the Palestinians. The Huckabee administration would not waver nor flinch in standing by our ally, Israel. The difference in America’s mission is that al Qaeda must be destroyed as a movement, while Iran just has to be contained as a nation.

So how do we achieve that? Well, to contain Iran, it’s essential that we actually win in Iraq.


And while there can be no rational dealings with al Qaeda, Iran is a nation-state looking for regional power. It plays the normal power politics that we do understand, and can skillfully and rightfully pursue.

Yes, he’s unfair to the Bush Administration (is there a candidate other than McCain who isn’t?), but this isn’t Dailykos verbiage. Huckabee may lean a little too much in the neo-realist soft power direction, and his unguarded responses may be a better indication than a prepared speech, but he knows who our friends and enemies are, and the passage that NRO quotes to criticize him is prefaced by a remark that isn’t quoted:

The wisdom of Sun-Tzu, from nearly 2,500 years ago, is relevant today: Keep your friends close; keep your enemies closer. We haven’t had diplomatic relationships with Iran in almost 30 years, most of my entire adult life, and a lot of good it’s done. Putting this in human terms, all of us know that when we stop talking to a parent, or a sibling, or even a friend, it’s impossible to resolve the differences to move that relationship forward. Well, the same is true for countries. Our experience in Iraq should prove a valuable lesson for Iran.

Adding the italicized sentence makes him seem a little less naive. Leaving it out makes it easier to make the charge of naivete stick.

I’ll end where Governor Huckabee ends:

Our history has always been one of perseverance from the snows of Valley Forge to the flames of 9/11. Our way of life, our economic and moral strength, our civilization, is at stake. I’m determined to look this evil in the eye, to confront it, to defeat it, and to emerge stronger than ever. All of us, I think, would like to be known as peace lovers, but I would remind you, from the words of Jesus, that it’s not “blessed are the peace lovers,” it’s “blessed are the peace makers.” And that’s what we should commit to being.

This comes perilously close to what might be called genuine Christian realism, not the ersatz variety peddled by Jimmy Carter. Huckabee knows that we have enemies, knows that they can’t or won’t become friends anytime soon, knows that there is a military option, and knows that a military option isn’t plausible without a healthy (and expanded) military.

This isn’t a perfect speech. As I said above, it wears its new-found wonkery a little too heavily. And even then, contrasts are drawn without adequate nuance. But Governor Huckabee says many of the right things. If I go by what he says, I can’t yet rule him out.

Discussions - 12 Comments

A good post and a good speech by Huckabee. Most Americans want a domestic focused government. Huckabee on Foxnews Sunday explained that by focusing on ourselves we can be stronger in the world. When we have our own house well ordered, it will be easier to order others. Like Huckabee points out in the speech you post on, that does not mean withdrawal from the world. Rather we realistically reframe our foreign policy so that it keeps America's interest foremost. That is what a Huckabee Presidency would do best.

I was a party this past weekend of State troopers...usually a heavily democratic crowd. When the conversation turned to politics I became a bit worried but it turned out this group of liberals really like Huckabee. And most of it was for this reason...he wants to focus on America while not backing down on what is important.

Now that Huckabee has climbed in the polls, there is clearly a get Huckabee campaign. Note this NRO article. Note the focus on a speech from 1998 and what he said about AIDS in 92.

This puts me in a strange position. I don't like Huckabee's politics. His compassionate conservatism and his weakness on immigration, esp. His craven PC pandering on race and immigration. But neither do I want to join in a piling on of Huckabee by the Establishment.

I really don't get the objection to Huckabee from a "mainstream" standpoint. He is essentially a moderate like Romney and Thompson and McCain. Nothing too radical. Nothing to rock the boat too much. The differences are really shades of grey. Perhaps they just view him as too much of an unknown quantity and possibly a loose cannon. Since he isn't Establishment approved. I do not think I am wrong to detect a whiff of elitism here and some concern about his Baptist Minister background.

Huckabee does not reject internationalism or interventionism as a small government conservative should. What the heck are they worried about? That he won't be sufficiently chest thumpingly bellicose? Are they so intolerant that they can't even tolerate a slight dose of realism?

And the NIE was unequivocal good news. It is a bit disconcerting that some people seem intent on discrediting it. Do we not want good news?

Yes, there is a "get Huckabee" campaign going on. But it needs to go on. His Elmer Gantryism is unseemly, incoherent and unworthy of the Grand Old Party.

That being the case, his surge is more attributable to Romney, Thompson, McCain and Giuliani than anything Huckabee himself has done.

The rank and file is NOT happy having to select from this group of men.

Heretofore, columnists and observers have been able to comment on it in a rather dry, clinical fashion. But as 2007 closes out, it's finally begun to dawn on some that there is a DECISION that needs to be made, and made real soon. And that decision will have tremendous consequences for this country and our party. And the rank and file knows that, is aware of that, and is livid, absolutely LIVID with their "leadership" for leaving them in this dreadful position.

The bridges that led to nowhere led to Huckabee. The hiring of staffers like Scott McClellan and Andy Card led to Huckabee. Spending like drunken sailors on leave led to Huckabee. Allowing that twit Specter to pompously proclaim that "the will of the Senate will prevail" led to Huckabee. Letting Bush do his worst without getting in his face and snapping him out of it, led to Huckabee.

A host of opportunities wasted led to Huckabee, a thousand things left unaddressed led to Huckabee, allowing that twit Karen Hughes anywhere near The White House led to Huckabee, letting her edit and rewrite Cheney's energy bill led to Huckabee, letting our energy policy spin out of control led to Huckabee.

WE, our collective failure to jump in the face of Washington and impose our will on those wayward egomaniacs led to Huckabeee.

And Huckabee just might win the thing. Were he to take Iowa, the wind in his sails might blow him past Giuliani.

Rudy's strategy was always risky, and it's getting near gut check time for the party, and Giuliani.

I've seen this in the wind for two years. For two long years I've watched Bush lead my party into one political meat-grinder after another, one battle after another, WITH HIS OWN PARTY. Every single time he let Kennedy staffers write bills that he promised to sign at surreal signing ceremonies, and creatures like Snowe, Hagel, Lugar, Specter and Graham could be counted to go along for the ride, passing items hateful to our party, all so Bush could appear to be "bipartisan." AND WE did nothing about it. Nothing.

No wonder Washington scorns and mocks us to the heavens.

Another day, another time, our forefathers would have taken this collection of non-entities and tarred and feathered them right on the mall. But now, we tolerate it, we let them abuse the public trust, we let them sell our country right out from under us, we let them enrich themselves on moneys that come from Mideastern monsters, we let them dilute the wages of low class workers by bringing in scores of millions from Mexico, we let them bring in cheap imports from China that are poisonous, and then let them glide past expressing their anger to Peking about it.

How did it ever come to this? How did this great nation, the last, best hope of man on earth, how did this nation ever allow such weak, pathetic men and women get a hold on so much power over them.

How did it ever come to this? How did this great nation, the last, best hope of man on earth, how did this nation ever allow such weak, pathetic men and women get a hold on so much power over them.

Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Volume Two, Part Two, Chapter One: Why Democratic Peoples Show a More Ardent and More Lasting Love for Equality than for Freedom.

Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Volume Two, Part Four, Chapter Six: What Kind of Despotism Democratic Nations Have to Fear.

I think the great obersver has answered your question quite well.

"His Elmer Gantryism is unseemly, incoherent and unworthy of the Grand Old Party."

Oh really? Please elaborate. May that be that whiff of elitism I was talking about? And something more sophisticated than "he's a crank" would be appreciated.

Dan, you want men of character, but one is right under your nose, Ron Paul. Who told an audience with a lot of Cubans that we should lift sanctions on Cuba? Who told Iowa we should end ethanol subsidies? Who told rabidly big-government interventionist debate crowds that they should support small-government non-interventionism? The political process hasn't seen a man of such character in the last century.

A good post. Nice to see somebody fact checking NRO.

And Huckabee just might win the thing. Were he to take Iowa, the wind in his sails might blow him past Giuliani.

Why would that be a bad thing? All the shortcomings you cite about the GOP over the past several years (and I agree with them) are manifest in Giuliani. You don't want a go along/get along Republican who sucks up to the left and trashes the right? Then work to stop Rudy.

It is possible to give a candidate too much credit for a speech. A speech that clearly signals confusion or wrong policy should count against a candidate. But a speech that sounds intelligent, unless backed up by a considerable record and other evidence, should not necessarily count in his favor. Taking speeches too seriously may be an occupational hazard of professional intellectuals, especially those of us who are Straussians or Straussian-influenced. Better to "watch their hands" -- and their unscripted moments.

"Watching their hands" is exactly why Huckabee is the right candidate.

Sorry Joe-he's Jimmy Carter.

I think it would be a bad thing were Giuliani to lose.

But my assessment of what might happen were Huckabee to win Iowa stands distinct and apart from my private opinion on who would be the best candidate for the GOP.

I think if Huckabee wins Iowa, Romney is in serious trouble. Romney planned for an early knock-out blow. That's why he's spent so much time, energy and effort on Iowa and New Hampshire. Giuliani chose to campaign for the long haul. There is risk for BOTH men, the guy who swings for the fences and misses, and the guy who plans for a long race, only to see it become a wind-sprint.

Huckabee could EASILY upend all other plans for this campaign. He's become a true WILD CARD. Every establishment voice is effectively hammering at Hucakbee, NRO came clean with their long cheerleading for Romney, all in the attempt to staunch the bleeding that Huckabee is inflicting on the Romney campaign.

If Huckabee weathers this next week, he may win the thing, for the criticism of him is building to a crescendo, where it sweeps Huckabee away, or leaves him standing like a rock, ready to receive the laurels from those ever so reluctant to give it, such as NRO, The Weekly Standard, et al.

All who now rip Huckabee will be singing his praises 2 months from now if he weathers this perfect storm of political pounding.

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