Friday, December 14, 2007

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Every time I think I'm out, Foreign Affairs pulls me back in

I thought we were done with the Foreign Affairs essays of the candidates, but NOOOOOOOOOO..........

This issue's culprits are governors Mike Huckabee and Bill Richardson. Since Huckabee is the flavor of the month, let's start with his piece, "America's Priorities in the War on Terror: Islamists, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan."

The essay is a great symbol of Huckabee's campaign -- there are feints in interesting directions, but in the end it's just a grab-bag of contradictory ideas.

In a New York Times Magazine profile, Huckabee mentions columnist Thomas Friedman and new sovereigntist Frank Gaffney as his foreign policy influences. Those in the know might believe this to be impossible, but Huckabee's Foreign Affairs essay really is an attempt to mix these two together in some kind of unholy alchemy. Take this paragraph:

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.
Really, you just have to stand back and marvel at the contradiction of sentiments contained in that paragraph. It's endemic to the entire essay -- for someone who claims he wants to get rid of the bunker mentality, Huckabee offers no concrete ideas for how to do that, and a lot of policies (rejecting the Law of the Sea Treaty, using force in Pakistan, boosting defense spending by 50%) that will ensure anti-Americanism for years to come.

Then there's the writing -- dear Lord, the writing. Huckabee's essay reads like it was written by people who couldn't hack it on Rudy Giuliani's crack speechwriting team. My favorite sample:

For too long, we have been constrained because our dependence on imported oil has forced us to support repressive regimes and conduct our foreign policy with one hand tied behind our back. I will free that hand from its oil-soaked rope and reach out to moderates in the Arab and Muslim worlds with both.
The loopy writing becomes a real problem in the section on Iran. Huckabee makes a pretty savvy point about the differences between Iran and Al Qaeda ("The main difference between these two enemies is that al Qaeda is a movement that must be destroyed, whereas Iran is a nation that just has to be contained.").

But when it comes to changing our policy with Iran, this is what we get:

Sun-tzu's ancient wisdom is relevant today: "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." Yet we have not had diplomatic relations with Iran in almost 30 years; the U.S. government usually communicates with the Iranian government through the Swiss embassy in Tehran. When one stops talking to a parent or a friend, differences cannot be resolved and relationships cannot move forward. The same is true for countries. The reestablishment of diplomatic ties will not occur automatically or without the Iranians' making concessions that serve to create a less hostile relationship.
OK, so what, exactly, is Huckabee offering to do here? Open an embassy in Tehran? Only do so if Iran freezes its nuclear program? Hug Iran a lot? Beats me. [UPDATE: There's another problem with this paragraph -- Sun Tzu never said, "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." I remember the quote as emanating from Michael Corleone in The Godfather, Part II. Thank you, commenters.]

Now on to Richardson -- who, full disclosure, happenes to be a Fletcher School alum. His essay is entitled, "A New Realism: A Realistic and Principled Foreign Policy."

With that title, it seems that Richardson is going to make Anatol Lieven and John Hulsman very happy, but then we read on:
To cope with this new world, we need a New Realism in our foreign policy -- an ethical, principled realism that harbors no illusions about the importance of a strong military in a dangerous world but that also understands the importance of diplomacy and multilateral cooperation. We need a New Realism based on the understanding that what goes on inside of other countries profoundly impacts us -- but that we can only influence, not control, what goes on inside of other countries. A New Realism for the twenty-first century must understand that to solve our own problems, we need to work with other governments that respect and trust us.

To be effective in the coming decades, America must set the following priorities. First and foremost, we must rebuild our alliances. We cannot lead other nations toward solutions to shared problems if they do not trust our leadership. We need to restore respect and appreciation for our allies -- and for the democratic values that unite us -- if we are to work with them to solve global problems. We must restore our commitment to international law and to multilateral cooperation. This means respecting both the letter and the spirit of the Geneva Conventions and joining the International Criminal Court (ICC). It means expanding the United Nations Security Council to include Germany, India, Japan, a country from Latin America, and a country from Africa as permanent members.

We must be impeccable in our own respect for human rights. We should reward countries that live up to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as we negotiate, constructively but firmly, with those who do not. And when genocide or other grave human rights violations begin, the United States should lead the world to stop them. History teaches that if the United States does not take the lead on ending genocide, no one else will. The norm of absolute territorial sovereignty is moot when national governments partner with those who rape, torture, and kill masses of people. The United States should lead the world toward acceptance of a greater norm of respect for basic human rights -- and toward enforcing that norm through international institutions and multilateral measures.

Simply put, Richardson's New Realism is really Old Liberal Internationalism. Not that there's anything wrong with that -- but there ain't anything realist about it, either.

Beyond the mislabeling, Richardson deserves some credit -- the essay indicates some semi-serious thoughts about how to enhance U.S. influence in the world. And it's actually well-written. It's also the most dovish of all the Democratic submissions to date. Again, I'm not saying that's a bad thing -- oh, hell, I'm saying it a little. If Huckabee is too paranoid about sacrificing American sovereignty, then Richardson is just a wee bit too convinced about the ability of multilateralism to solve everything.

UPDATE: James Joyner deconstructs the Huckabee essay with more diligence than I could possibly muster.

posted by Dan on 12.14.07 at 05:08 PM


"then Richardson is just a wee bit too convince about the ability of multilateralism to solve everything."

Well, gollleee! We agree on something!

posted by: Americaneocon on 12.14.07 at 05:08 PM [permalink]

Hi Daniel, nice post. I don't think I'm reading anything into Richardson's article when I say that I don't see him assigning an omnipotent capability to multi-lateralism.

It seems to me he said that the U.S. should work multilaterally to establish norms, that it should repair its foreign relations, and revive its human rights image abroad, but that when it comes to crises the U.S. must take the lead to solve them. By implication he names Rwanda-type situations as an example of when the U.S. can act unilaterally: "The norm of absolute territorial sovereignty is moot when national governments partner with those who rape, torture, and kill masses of people."

That sounds realistic, I think.

Steve LeVine, author
The Oil and the Glory

posted by: Steve LeVine on 12.14.07 at 05:08 PM [permalink]

Richardson does say right up front that the New Realism is Realistic. Dan, if I understand him correctly, is saying that the New Realism may be Realistic but isn't realistic, not really.

OK. I give Richardson points up front for his essay's lack of handwringing on the question of withdrawing troops from Iraq, and his preoccupation with the nuclear terrorism problem. And though he does lapse into laundry-listism at several points (expand the UN Security Council to include "a country in Africa"? What for?) he doesn't do so any more than the other candidates.

With that said, I tend to agree with Dan about Richardson's tendency to view multilateralism as the answer to every question, even in cases where for multilateralism to happen the United States must display all the leadership, bear all the costs and assume all the risks. I would have had fewer objections to the theory of such multilaterism back in 1993, but a lot has changed since then -- America's international position has weakened, and a change of attitude toward collaborative institutions is only going to take us so far right now. That's a statement I suspect Richardson might agree with in principle but ignore in practice, given his confidence in his personal diplomacy to resolve difficult situations.

I would have liked to see less about collaborative international institutions from Richardson, and more about the institutions the United States must rely on to conduct any foreign policy. Chief among these is the State Department, about which he says nothing. Nor does he discuss the importance of orderly procedures in the foreign policy process; one would think that if his experience with the Clinton administration hadn't shown him the importance of these, seven years of the Bush administration demonstrating how foreign policy should not be managed would have. Are other nations more or less willing to work with the United States when they are in doubt as to whether the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State or the Vice President is guiding American foreign policy now, and six months from now? That question only answers itself if it is asked, and Richardson -- or his staff at any rate -- doesn't ask it.

These are two omissions that, if they reflect Richardson's thinking and he were to be elected President, could have obvious consequences. I can't say anything so definitive about how Richardson's Foreign Affairs history looks at past American foreign policy. Truman's administration and Eisenhower's didn't share a commitment to a strong military; this was one of their principle disagreements. And about the only think Richardson gets right about George Kennan is that Kennan published in Foreign Affairs. But this probably bothers other people less than it bother me.

Overall, and comparing the essay under his byline with those other candidates have sent to Foreign Affairs, I give Richardson credit for thinking seriously about foreign policy and for being right about some important issues. I can't say the same for Gov. Huckabee, whose essay bears all the hallmarks of a document assembled by committee, the members of which all got to insert individual sentences that appear in the document more or less without reference to any of the others. Gov. Huckabee just doesn't seem to have devoted much thought at all to foreign policy -- he is in good company among the current front runners in both parties as far as that goes -- and I'd bet good money he didn't even read the piece that appears under his byline, let alone write it.

posted by: Zathras on 12.14.07 at 05:08 PM [permalink]

Huckabee (or somebody) writes, "Sun-tzu's ancient wisdom is relevant today: "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." Too bad there is no such quote in Sun Zi's Art of War. What else did his researchers get wrong? Perhaps is what you get when Frank Gaffney -- the neocon community's village idiot -- is a foreign policy advisor.

posted by: IJ on 12.14.07 at 05:08 PM [permalink]

Sun-tzu's ancient wisdom is relevant today: "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer."

Huh? Sun Tzu never say anything remotely approaching that. I speak as someone who owns about a dozen English translations of Suntzu pingfa ("Sun Tzu: Art of War") and who wrote a book re-interpreting all his maxims in the context of developing and marketing technology.

Suntzu pingfa says nothing about "friends" and only makes a single comment about allies ("United with your allies on intersecting ground.", Chapter 8).

The gist of his advice about enemies (and I'm really condensing and simplifying here) is "Pick your battles carefully", "Calculate the factors and costs ahead of time", "Be deceptive and inventive" and "The best victory is one where your enemy simply gives up."

The saying "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer" actually appears to have originated in "The Godfather, Part II". But that probably wouldn't have sounded as impressive in Foreign Affairs. :-) ..bruce..

posted by: bfwebster on 12.14.07 at 05:08 PM [permalink]

I love how all these foreign policy "experts" superciliously comment on the foreign policy ideas of the candidates.

How on earth is Dan Drezner, of all people, qualified to give foreign policy advice. This is the man who not only supported the Iraq invasion but even swallowed the democracy nonsense "I've written elsewhere why democratizing Iraq might be easier than many believe" (March 31 2003).

posted by: NYT on 12.14.07 at 05:08 PM [permalink]

On Israel and Palestine, Huckabee is actually insane. he openly calls for ethnic cleansing and defers only to the Jewish people as having rights to the land. On the basis of this interview with Wolf Blitzer alone (and Blitzer is no dove himself), Huckabee should be eliminated from having any say in foreign policy at all. The real danger here is that this means that Giuliani and Huckabee are the two most likely winners of the republican nomination and both are totally Batsh!t crazy on the Middle East. In Clinton wins the democratic nomination, I fear (because she is such an easy target for republicans) that the republicans will win the presidency yet again. Meaning, we are only at the beginning of the hard times...

posted by: j on 12.14.07 at 05:08 PM [permalink]

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