Politics & Policy

The Problem With Pastor Mike

Foreign-policy foolishness just won't suffice.

Former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee has written an article for Foreign Affairs magazine, the first two paragraphs of which are stunningly silly, misguided, and unfortunately for Huckabee, deeply revealing.

The two opening paragraphs read this way:

The United States, as the world’s only superpower, is less vulnerable to military defeat. But it is more vulnerable to the animosity of other countries. Much like a top high school student, if it is modest about its abilities and achievements, if it is generous in helping others, it is loved. But if it attempts to dominate others, it is despised.

American foreign policy needs to change its tone and attitude, open up, and reach out. The Bush administration’s arrogant bunker mentality has been counterproductive at home and abroad. My administration will recognize that the United States’ main fight today does not pit us against the world but pits the world against the terrorists. At the same time, my administration will never surrender any of our sovereignty, which is why I was the first presidential candidate to oppose ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty, which would endanger both our national security and our economic interests.

Where ought one to begin untangling this unholy mess?

Perhaps the place to begin is with his contention that America is ungenerous, which (according to Huckabee) explains the animus now directed at the United States. The fact is that the United States has sacrificed an enormous amount of blood and treasure to help other nations. Any suggestion otherwise is wrong and even offensive.

We have, for starters, liberated more than 50 million people from two of the most repressive regimes in modern history (the Taliban and the Baathist police state in Iraq). The global AIDS initiative qualifies as among the most humane and generous acts in the history of American foreign policy. We give billions in additional foreign aid, including the enormous generosity America displayed in helping Indonesia and other nations in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Indonesia and other nations in December 2004.

The United States, while imperfect, ranks as perhaps the most benevolent superpower (to say nothing of its status as a benevolent nation) in human history. Unlike past empires, we are using American power and influence for great good instead of as a means of advancing oppression.

Beyond that, the belief that if we are modest and generous we will be “loved” by other nations, and that anger at America is based on our attempts to “dominate,” is both naive and foolish. Some nations (like Cuba, Syria, Iran, North Korea, and others) will oppose us because they are totalitarian states that hate our efforts to curb their ambitions and advance freedom and self-determination.

They are not the loving kind.

Other nations (like France under Jacques Chirac) will oppose us because they can’t stand the idea of a unipolar world and want to counterbalance it. And other nations (like China and Russia) will oppose our efforts to end genocide in Darfur and keep Iran from gaining nuclear weapons because of their economic interests.

Memo to Mike Huckabee: Sometimes we are despised for all the right reasons.

Ronald Reagan engendered anger from nations because he called the Soviet Union an “evil empire;” deployed Cruise and Pershing Missiles in Europe; moved ahead with the Strategic Defense Initiative; and supported the contras in Nicaragua. Millions took to the streets in Europe to oppose his defense build-up. Does Governor Huckabee believe Reagan’s actions were wrong simply because in many countries they were unpopular? Of course we would prefer to have universal support for our actions rather than encounter opposition. But does Huckabee understand that sometimes right and wise actions elicit opposition, and sometimes even intense and widespread opposition?

The popularity of the United States decreased in many Muslim nations in the aftermath of taking down the Taliban regime for its role in harboring and supporting al-Qaeda, which in turn was responsible for the worst attack on the American homeland in our history. Was that anger against America justified? Would Huckabee base his foreign-policy decisions on how our actions poll in Waziristan or Gaza under Hamas, or in madrasas throughout the Middle East? Based on his Foreign Affairs essay, it’s reasonable to believe he might.

As for his claim that the Bush administration’s “arrogant bunker mentality” has been counterproductive at home and abroad, the same point applies. Many Middle East dictatorships recoiled at the president’s decision in 2002 to sideline Yasser Arafat (who in many ways is the father of modern terrorism), and his insistence that Palestinian authorities renounce terrorism as an instrument of state policy if they ever hope to have a homeland. Was it “arrogant” to do so? Does Huckabee wish the president had done more to stand with dictators in the Middle East? Does he wish the president still abided by the ABM Treaty with Russia?

Governor Huckabee also seems ignorant about the extent of cooperation that, on a daily basis, is garnered for the war against militant Islam. Contrary to the portrait he paints, we are seeing unprecedented cooperation in tracking, arresting, and blocking funding for terrorist organizations. Is Governor Huckabee familiar with the Proliferation Security Initiative, which more than 70 nations have joined in an effort to deny terrorists, rogue states, and their supplier networks access to weapons-of-mass-destruction-related material? Is he aware that America and its allies shut down a sophisticated nuclear black market network headed by A. Q. Khan?

Does he know that NATO has taken over command of international forces in Afghanistan — the first mission in NATO’s history outside the Euro-Atlantic region? Does he know (or care) that the United States won the unanimous approval of the U.N. Security Council for Resolution 1441, which said Saddam Hussein had to comply with previous resolutions or face “serious consequences” (which all parties took to mean war)? And if the president’s policies have been so counterproductive abroad, how does he explain the rise to power of Sarkozy in France and Merkel in Germany — two nations where anti-American animus is said to run deepest?

In his Foreign Affairs essay, Huckabee writes, “After President Bush included Iran in the ‘axis of evil,’ everything went downhill fast.” Everything? Is the former governor of Arkansas at all familiar with the history of Iran since the 1979 revolution? Is he aware of Iran’s actions when it comes to its nuclear ambitions, support for terrorism, and the oppression of its own people — actions which earned it a place on the “axis of evil” list? Does Huckabee dispute that the Iranian regime is evil — or is he only upset that President Bush spoke truthful words about it? And what does he make of the fact that according to the latest National Intelligence Estimate Iran in 2003 ceased production of its nuclear weapons program — a year after the “axis of evil speech” and in the immediate aftermath of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom?

Huckabee writes, “The Bush administration has properly said that it will not take the military option for dealing with Iran off the table. Neither will I. But if we do not put other options on the table, eventually a military strike will become the only viable one.”

Is Huckabee unaware of all the other options on the table, which Iran has so far rejected? And in arguing that we should re-establish diplomatic ties with Iran, Huckabee writes, “When one stops talking to a parent or a friend, differences cannot be resolved and relationships cannot move forward.” This echoes his opening reference to the United States being like a high-school student.

If Pastor Mike thinks that dealing with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Sayyid Ali Khamenei is akin to tension arising between high-school juniors Sally and Sue, he has a few things to learn — and the presidency is not the place for such basic on-the-job training.

The role of commander-in-chief is the most important one we look to in a president, particularly when America is at war. Governor Huckabee’s article in Foreign Affairs, while fine (if largely conventional) in some respects, is fundamentally unserious; on national security matters, he is likewise. And when the final votes are tallied in the GOP race, Mike Huckabee’s words, on these issues and others, will cost him.

— Peter Wehner, former deputy assistant to the president, is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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