Mike Huckabee has decided to make a clean break with the Bush administration on foreign policy. In a speech yesterday, Huckabee supported the surge in Iraq but came out against the White House on most other foreign-policy issues, including the conduct of the war on terror:
Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee ripped the Bush administration’s war against terrorism Friday, delivering a bold and potentially risky speech that could establish the former Arkansas governor as the maverick among top Republican candidates and test his party’s loyalty to President Bush.
“This administration’s bunker mentality has been counterproductive both at home and abroad,” Huckabee said in opening a broad indictment of Bush’s style and policy.
The speech came after several top Republican candidates started distancing themselves from Bush, vowing change on such issues as illegal immigration and federal spending even as they endorsed Bush’s foreign policy.
By going much further than his rivals have in attacking Bush, Huckabee could draw attention to a campaign that’s inched up in polls in recent months but still lacks the money and organization that can compete head-on with better-known, better-financed candidates such as Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson.
His speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies puts an interesting twist on Huckabee’s campaign. He’s generally been seen as the most personable candidate of the Republican flock, but perhaps he feels he’s been a little too nice. Huckabee may want to show a little flash and fire to let people know that he’s got enough flint to be a Commander in Chief.
McClatchy’s Steven Thomma believes that Huckabee wants to wrest the “maverick” role away from John McCain, and perhaps some of the straight talk label as well. McCain himself has criticized the Bush administration on foreign policy in the past, but not quite in these terms, and he definitely doesn’t counsel closer relations with the mullahcracy in Iran. Huckabee told the CSIS yesterday that the US could turn Iran away from nuclear weapons through the promise of better relations and economic support.
We have tried that approach in the past, though, and it never works. Reagan, Bush, and Clinton all attempted outreaches to the Iranian mullahcracy, and all efforts failed. The Iranians may have seen al-Qaeda as a Wahhabi threat to its own vision of a Shi’ite Caliphate based in Teheran when it offered to assist us in beating back the Taliban and AQ in Afghanistan, but they have no interest in helping us protect our assets in the Middle East or anywhere else. The fantasy that 9/11 represented a unique opportunity to engage with the Iranian mullahs is just that — fantasy. They want Israel destroyed and the US completely out of southwest Asia and North Africa. That’s their end game, and it won’t change until the Iranian people finally jettison the mullahcracy and replace it with responsible self-government.
His criticism grew especially harsh when he discussed the aborted mission into Pakistan that intended on capturing Ayman al-Zawahiri. Donald Rumsfeld called it off when the support group got so large that it would have required coordination with the Pakistani government. Huckabee promised that he would not have let his Defense Secretary make that call had Huckabee been President. “Did the President even know about it? … When I’m president, I will make the final call on such action, not my secretary of defense.” That one will sting.
We’ll see if it gains Huckabee anything other than headlines. In a general election, these positions would almost certainly boost a GOP nominee. In the primaries, though, it may have the opposite effect.