Matt Continetti notes economic and business conservatives’ wariness about Huckabee, but then goes on to add that Huckabee’s foreign policy may actually be insufficient for “national security conservatives.” As Continetti puts it, these people have “reason to doubt Huckabee’s seriousness in prosecuting the war on terror and carrying the Bush Doctrine into the next administration.” Since Huckabee’s feints in the direction of a “humble” foreign policy have never seemed very compelling to me, I confess that it had never occurred to me that he could have exposed himself as weak in the eyes of interventionists. What terrible things did the man say that have apparently put him in such a bind?
CFR CSIS he said:
This Administration’s bunker mentality has been counter-productive both at home and abroad. They have done as poor a job of communicating and consulting with other countries as they have with the American people.
This seems to be a basically true observation. Huckabee could very easily be making these criticisms as a hawk who thinks that the administration has failed to “name the enemy,” to use a favourite jingo phrase, and has failed to “explain to the people” the stakes and costs of the war.
It’s true, he did say this:
We don’t merely tolerate diversity, we embrace and celebrate it.
But he is making his drippy remarks in the context of talking about how different we are from “Islamic extremists.” Huckabee went on to say:
It takes an enormous leap of imagination to understand what these people are about, that they really do want to kill every last one of us and destroy civilization as we know it.
This should put him right at home with the people Continetti is talking about. The man name-checks Sayyid Qutb and talks about the need to understand the thinking of the enemy. Granted, for some interventionists any call to understanding is painful and alien, but it’s not clear how Huckabee has failed the “seriousness” test as seriousness is defined by these folks. He even comes back to his favourite theme of linking the jihadis to the culture of death–it’s new fusionism in action! (In case I need to make it clear, I don’t think this is a good thing.) Where did Huck go wrong?
Huckabee talks about the failure of European integration of its Muslims while praising the wonders of assimilationism here. This stuff was supposed to be music to the ears of “national security conservatives.” But, wait, I think I am seeing a weakness in Huckabee’s otherwise solid jingo wall:
We have to understand that while educated Muslims in Europe may not be materially deprived, many of them feel socially and emotionally deprived by a lack of acceptance.
Anytime you use the phrase “emotionally deprived,” your favourability with the voters Continetti is talking about is going to go down. This sort of language veers dangerously towards the idea that policies have some relationship to terrorism and the prevention of terrorism. It also sounds a little too therapeutic for most people on the right. Then there was this:
We can’t ‘export’ democracy as if it was Coca Cola or KFC, but we can nurture native moderate forces in all these countries where Al Qaeda seeks to replace modern evil with medieval evil.
Er, who’s the “modern evil”? That’s a bit of a puzzle, but otherwise Huckabee is on potentially solid ground as far as “carrying the Bush Doctrine into the next administration” goes. He expresses some greater skepticism of democratisation, but doesn’t seem to fundamentally disagree with the assumptions of the Bush Doctrine. Instead of Second Inaugural-style lunacy, Huckabee proposes a milder form of madness:
My goal in the Muslim world is to correctly calibrate a course between maintaining stability and promoting democracy. It is self-defeating to try to accomplish too much too soon, you just have elections where extremists win, but it’s equally self-defeating to do nothing.
He accepts the indictment against realism that the pursuit of stability is unacceptable, which is one of the reasons why I continue to find Huckabee unacceptable.
Huckabee may have gotten himself into some trouble here:
First, we have to destroy the terrorists who already exist, then we have to attack the underlying conditions that breed terror, by helping to improve health and basic quality of life, create schools that offer an alternative to the extremist madrassas that turn impressionable children into killers, create jobs and opportunity and hope, encourage a free press, fair courts, and other institutions that promote democracy.
“Underlying conditions” sounds an awful lot like “root causes,” which usually receive such mocking from the people Continetti calls “national security conservatives.” On the whole, however, this doesn’t sound that far removed from what Romney has been saying. However, he summons up an association he might have wanted to avoid:
As for the underlying dispute between them that’s been going on for almost fourteen hundred years, we don’t have a dog in that fight.
References to dogs and fights grate on neocon ears, since this is the language used by James Baker about Yugoslavia (and he was right) and usually belongs on the indictment of realism. But when you look closer, you can see that Huckabee is no realist (far from it!):
Our enemy is Islamic extremism in all its guises.
Apparently that includes every “extremist” on earth, no matter whom he’s fighting or why. Of course there’s no conceptual coherence to any of this–he belittles the Saudis for backing “Sunni extremists” while praising our efforts to support…Sunni extremists in western Iraq. He does nonetheless occasionally say strangely intelligent things:
I’d rather have more people in Langley, so we can deploy fewer in Baghdad.
Then he says things that must really annoy them over at the Standard:
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.
Obviously Huckabee didn’t get the memo that containment is for losers. By mentioning containment, despite his perfect willingness to launch attacks on Iran, he has made himself seem less “serious” to the hawks, which is some evidence that he is at least not as irresponsible as they are. Not to worry, though, he’s still sticking to the main points of the script:
To contain Iran, it is essential to win in Iraq.
But then he goes and “ruins” it all by talking about robust diplomacy! He then quickly “saves” himself with a pointless call for divestment from Iran. But then he really hurts himself with the “national security conservatives” when he says:
While there can be no rational dealing with Al Qaeda, Iran is a nation state looking for regional power, it plays the normal power politics that we understand and can skillfully pursue, and we have substantive issues to negotiate with them.
This sounds unusually sensible. It will probably completely undermine his reputation with the Persophobes who think that there can never been any real negotiations with Iran, but it might just make him seem remotely sane enough to be entrusted with power. He seems to be leaving the door open to restoring diplomatic relations with Tehran, while also stating his willingness to bomb them. This is a terribly split-minded view of things, but it might be just the right balance of hawkishness and sanity to win over a good number of voters. But, before anyone gets too excited, Huckabee really does go off the rails and begins making an extended argument for launching strikes into Pakistan without Islamabad’s approval. As foolish as I think this is, Huckabee does also manage to say some sensible things about Musharraf that need to be said. Then he turns around and recites the talking points about the “surge” and “bottom-up reconciliation.”
There are a lot of things there that ought to satisfy interventionists, a few lines that realists will like, and very little to generate enthusiasm among antiwar conservatives. Frankly, whatever you think about his policy proposals, his CFR speech is one of the most substantive addresses on foreign policy this year. Any knock on Huckabee that he is “light” or weak on foreign policy seems plainly wrong to me.