Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Mike Huckabee

In the January/February issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, Mike Huckabee presents an essay about what he would do as president, with respect to foreign affairs (Huckabee, M.D. (2008). America's Priorities in the War on Terror: Islamists, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan. Foreign Affairs, 87 (1), Jan/Feb. www.foreignaffairs.org). The essay is one of a series by 2008 presidential hopefuls. I have previously reviewed essays by Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, John Edwards, Rudolph Guliani, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and Bill Richardson.

I was surprised by Mike Huckabee’s robust, pugnacious, almost bellicose approach to international affairs. The main purpose of the essay seems to have been to project an image of strong Commander in Chief, and to that extent, the essay is successful. One would not expect a country preacher from Arkansas to suggest invasion of Pakistan, cutting off aid to Egypt, using “swift and surgical air strikes and commando raids” (mainly by the CIA) to eliminate terrorist cells, dramatically increasing the military budget to support the use of overwhelming military force. The trouble is, I didn’t find much of it convincing. It seemed to be an image-building piece, not a serious set of proposals.

Why do I feel that way? Because the essay is just too single-mindedly narrow and bellicose, naïve in its presumptions, and self-contradictory in its assertions. Huckabee has clearly done some reading up on international affairs, but instead of presenting any thoughtful and nuanced analysis, decides to show only how ready he is to push the button. It’s just not credible. On the other hand, if it really is exactly Mike Huckabee’s actual views on international affairs, then the essay is frightening.

The essay starts out with a wonderful homily in the form of an analogy about America. “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.” But quickly that sentiment is contradicted as the tough-guy doublespeak comes out: “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.”

So there you have it: Speak softly but carry a big stick.

Huckabee emphasizes that we need to understand our enemy, the Islamic terrorists and their ruthless “theology and ideology.” He displays his knowledge of several noted Islamic terrorist writers to emphasize that the terrorists aim to establish a worldwide theocratic caliphate. While he conveys the point that the terrorists do not discriminate moral and political considerations, Huckabee leaves us wondering if he does, either. Some of his statements are not even comprehensible: “al Qaeda is seeking to replace modern evil with medieval evil.”

To his credit, Huckabee realizes that it is no good to export American values as if they were Coca-Cola. He acknowledges that moderate Islamic states may look more like benevolent oligarchies or tribal coalitions rather than constitutional democracies. That is a big contrast with other Republicans, such as McCain, Romney, and Guliani, and some Democrats, like Edwards and Clinton, who do not seem to understand that important subtlety.

On the down side, Huckabee’s understanding of what has happened recently in Iraq seems pretty naïve to me. He thinks that “Sunni tribal leaders in Iraq have turned against al Qaeda to work with us; they could not stand the thought of living under such fundamentalism and brutality.” An alternative explanation is that we bought temporary Sunni loyalty by supplying guns and money. Who those guns will be pointed at in the future is unknown.

Huckabee’s “Arab and Muslim policy” will be to find a course “between maintaining stability and promoting democracy,” and this is despite what he earlier cautioned about trying to export democracy. What would that middle course look like? “first destroy existing terrorist groups and then attack the underlying conditions that breed them: the lack of basic sanitation, health care, education, jobs, a free press, fair courts.” It is not clear why he believes that a well-functioning civil society would trump the vision of a seventh century caliphate. Does he think that terrorists are people frustrated at not having running hot water in their houses? He says “If we do not do the right thing to improve life in the Muslim world, the terrorists will step in and do the wrong thing,” a snappy sentence, but not one that connects with the theology and ideology of terrorism he emphasized earlier.

I commend Huckabee for declaring the need for “immediate” US independence from foreign oil. That dependence, in my opinion, is behind the whole invasion of Iraq and the “War on Terror.” He promises energy independence within ten years, by applying the usually mentioned solutions: nuclear, wind, solar, ethanol, etc. What he does not say is how this massive conversion will be financed or sustained. None of it will be cheap. Oil, even at $100 is very cheap by comparison. For a man who wants to abolish the income tax, he is remarkably tight-lipped about financing his initiatives. In connection with his energy policy, I can’t even guess at the meaning of this cryptic remark, “I want to treat Saudi Arabia the way we treat Sweden…”

Again without saying where he would find the money, Huckabee asserts that he will increase our military budget by 50% and stop using troops for nation building, instead using other (unspecified) government agencies to build schools, hospitals, and sewage treatment plants. He suggests that we should have sent 450,000 troops into Iraq, rather than the “light” army we did send.

He will not withdraw troops from Iraq, but rather stay the course until General Patraeus tells him what to do. That sounds pretty naïve to me. What about the political point of the whole invasion? Are the generals suddenly in charge of foreign policy too? Huckabee’s statement sounds like he sees the situation in Iraq in purely military terms, another very naïve point of view.

Huckabee quotes the administration’s standard slippery slope argument against withdrawal from Iraq. “Today, we face the dramatic downside: Iraq's centrality makes the country the perfect place for terrorists to create anarchy and have it spread. Those who say that we do not owe the Iraqis anything more are ignoring what we owe our own children and grandchildren in terms of security.” The same thing was said about Vietnam, but the sky did not fall then.

He supports the recent Turkish invasions into northern Iraq and chastises the Bush administration for not having encouraged them earlier. Again, this presents a gun-toting commander in chief without a wisp of nuance. Havent' we already endured one of those?

What if the Kurds start attacking American troops in retaliation now? That seems like a very high risk situation Wouldn’t it have been better for the US to route the PKK from Iraq itself? Or arm the Kurds to do it themselves, which they would, if, as Huckabee says, the PKK has little support among Kurds.

Huckabee rattles his saber at Iran, accusing them, without evidence, of being in cahoots with al Qaeda. He wisely cautions against war with Iran however, arguing instead that they should be “contained” with economic sanctions supported by Europe. He welcomes the administration's declaration of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as proliferators of WMDs and their armed forces as supporters of terrorism. He does not say how this bellicosity is helpful in any way, but claims that Democrats who object to it are deluded because “these moves are an attempt to use economic power instead of, not as a prelude to, using military power.” I’m afraid the logic there escapes me.

Huckabee would enthusiastically go forward with putting missile interceptor cites in Poland and the Czech Republic, as a defense against Iranian aggression. With stunning self-blindness, he blows off “Putin’s” objections as mere jingoism. Again I am left with a chilling question of whether this essay is theatrical posturing or genuine naivety.

Huckabee would reestablish diplomatic ties with Iran, but only if they make “concessions that serve to create a less hostile relationship.” Does that sound like the top high school student who is generous to others?

In Pakistan, “tough love” is called for. What is that? It seems to mean that we should just go ahead and invade the Northwest territories where al Qaeda is hiding. The next terrorist attack on the US will come out of Pakistan, Huckabee asserts.

Wouldn’t it be rather foolish to invade Pakistan, one wonders? Have we learned nothing? Not to worry, Huckabee assures us, “The threat of an attack on us is far graver than the risk that a quick and limited strike against al Qaeda would bring extremists to power in Pakistan.” That must have been an echo; I couldn’t have really heard that.

His more sensible Pakistan policy is to put some accounting controls on the billions of dollars of untracked foreign aid that we give Pakistan in an attempt to buy its loyalty, if not its acquiescence.

In a patriotic and theological flourish, Huckabee ends with this: “Our history, from the snows of Valley Forge to the flames of 9/11, has been one of perseverance. I understand the threats we face today. When I am president, America will look this evil in the eye, confront it, defeat it, and emerge stronger than ever.”

Staring down evil (should you be able to truly identify it) is no doubt an admirable passtime, but I would be horrified by Huckabee’s over the top bellicosity if I believed a word of it.

On the other hand, there is little or no mention of many of the other grave international threats facing our country, such as pandemics, nuclear proliferation, economic globalization, climate change, and many, many others., nor consideration of the roles of NATO and the UN, or the strategic use of foreign aid. The goal here was to rattle the saber and the saber has been duly rattled. I simply do not believe the American people are stupid enough to go take this message seriously.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Bill Richardson

In the January/February issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, Bill Richardson presents an essay about what he would do as president, with respect to foreign affairs (Richardson, B. (2008). A New Realism: A Realistic and Principled Foreign Policy. Foreign Affairs, 87 (1), Jan/Feb. www.foreignaffairs.org). The essay is one of a series by 2008 presidential hopefuls. I have previously reviewed essays by Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, John Edwards, Rudolph Guliani, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain.

Richardson’s essay is an eye-opener. I knew the man had an impressive resume. Besides being Governor of New Mexico, he has also been a US representative, Ambassador to the UN, US Secretary of Energy, and has been nominated five times for the Nobel peace prize for negotiating release of political prisoners and hostages around the world. Even so, I was unaware of his ability to articulate such a clear, rational, and appealing vision of a national future. His essay is remarkable for its directness and lack of political posturing, waffling and pandering. He does not come across on the televised debates as a deep thinker, and since he is not one of the top tier candidates right now, he is easy to overlook. This essay might give him a breath of fresh air.

His primary message is that “ The United States needs once again to construct a foreign policy that is based on reality and loyal to American values.” Unlike most other candidates, he does not claim American moral superiority nor a God-given or historically destined mission to recreate the world in our own image. Instead, he suggests simply that we have the courage to live up to our own stated values. To do that we need to be willing “to seek and find common ground, to blend our interests with the interests of others… [and] rebuild our overextended military, revive our alliances, and restore our reputation as a nation that respects international law, human rights, and civil liberties.”

Richardson defines his foreign policy strategy as “a New Realism -- one driven by an understanding that to defend our national interests, ... we must, more than ever, find common ground with others, so that we can lead them toward our common purposes.”

He is scathing in his criticism of the Bush administration’s hypocrisy and incompetence in foreign affairs. He would send a clear signal to the world that “America has turned the corner,” by withdrawing all troops from Iraq (he doesn’t suggest a timetable) and re-engaging all nations in the region. There is no mention of how he would address the inevitable regional turmoil that would result. He treats withdrawal from Iraq as a foregone conclusion, something we simply must do before we can face the real threats to our well-being. (He mentions not a word about the Afghanistan war).

Six Threats to Our Well-Being
Richardson sees six global trends that are transforming the world, which will become severe threats to us if we do not address them head on. They are
1. Fanatical jihadism
2. Trafficking in WMD (especially nuclear proliferation)
3. Rise of Asian economic and military power
4. Reemergence of Russia as a nuclear player with large energy resources
5. Economic globalization
6. Global environment and health problems

These trends will present problems to us, Richardson says, and will require international and societal solutions, with the US, as the sole superpower, forced to provide leadership.

What would Richardson do about these problematic threats? Unlike other candidates, he does not attempt to provide micro-solutions by quoting dollar amounts, percentages of GDP, or numbers of soldiers. He is a big picture man, as the captain of a great ship should be.

Richardson’s big picture solutions include rebuilding alliances and commitment to international law and multilateral cooperation, which would involve joining and enthusiastically supporting the International Criminal Court. That would not only make the US accountable to others in the world, he says, but also would change the equation for perpetrators of crimes against humanity who now have nothing to fear. I am in need of a lot more persuading on this point. It is a noble sounding idea, but it is likely that within six months of joining, most US top officials would be in that court defending themselves against a worldwide chorus of allegations of international criminality. International law is a lot more fluid and open to widely variant interpretation than national law. Accountability is good, but this approach doesn’t sound practical.

With similar noble but impractical motivation, Richardson would expand the UN Security council’s permanent membership to include Germany, India, Japan, a Latin American country, and an African country. How he would do that, given the present security council’s absolute control of its own membership, is unstated. Nevertheless, I am pleased with his attention to reforming the UN rather than trying to sidestep it entirely to avoid accountability, as McCain, Romney, and Guilani suggested.

The US should always take the lead in ending genocide, Richardson says, because history shows that if we don’t, nobody will. Once again, his recommendation lacks specifics. He says only that the US should “do something” in Darfur.

The US should embrace the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, he says, but again, I would need more convincing. While it was scandalous for the US to reject it, in retrospect, it does not look like its goals and methods would have been practical after all. Still, there is probably some action the US could have taken, and still could take, other than just turning its back. A good faith effort would go a long way in the international arena.

“The United States needs to stop considering diplomatic engagement with others to be a reward for good behavior,” Richardson says, and start talking to people, echoing Obama’s diplomatic strategy.

Richardson strongly emphasizes the threat of nuclear terrorism, and I think he is right to be proactive about that. It is “the most serious security threat we face,” he says. He proposes that we build international cooperation to secure nuclear material worldwide, an idea also offered by Clinton. Richardson offers several other specific proposals for dealing with the threat of nuclear terrorism, including reducing our own nuclear arsenal. He has clearly given this topic a great deal of thought. He writes, “We are spending more than $2 billion per week on Iraq, but we are not doing nearly enough to protect our cities, nuclear power plants, shipping lanes, and ports from a terrorist attack.” Hear-hear!

“The top priority of the U.S. president must be preventing a nuclear 9/11,” he says. That is an unambiguous statement of priorities, and interesting in the way it goes beyond the fear of terrorism for its own sake, to the root of why we fear terrorism: it will only get more intense. There will not be another airliner flying into a tall building. Next time it will be nukes, Richardson is sure, and I suspect he is right. Put yourself into the mind of the enemy and that is the logical next step, either nukes or a biological weapon. Richardson demonstrates clear foresight in this analysis. I like the way he thinks here. Unlike Huckabee and most other candidates, Richardson’s goal is not simply to kill as many terrorists as possible, which is a knee-jerk reaction. Richardson thinks like a chess player, a move deeper than the obvious.

He would work with “difficult” nations like North Korea and Iran to deter nuclear ambition with alternative incentives. He cites the Libyan case as an example of how that can work. That effort would be combined with an ideological offensive against jihadism, not to promote the culture of Mickey Mouse and Starbucks, which is not appreciated everywhere in the world, but to communicate that ours is a struggle of civilization against barbarity, not a clash of civilizations. As McCain and Guiliani also emphasized, we need to present a vision of peace, respect, and prosperity as a viable alternative to terrorism. Among these, I would say respect is by far the most important. It is most lacking and most intensely desired by North Korea, Iran, Russia, and many other cultures. Compared to the cost of fighting wars, a little genuine respect is an inexpensive commodity for us to distribute.

In the Middle East, Richardson would work toward a two-state solution and ask Bill Clinton to serve as a full-time broker there.

Unlike any other candidate so far, Richardson sees US immigration reform as a vital foreign affairs policy, which it is by definition. Without touching on any of the hot button details, he says only that we need better border security and to work with reform-minded governments to alleviate the poverty that drives illegal immigration into the US. It is a grand vision, perhaps not practical, but again, at least he is facing reality. He does state that he would end the Cuban embargo.

Finally, like Clinton, Edwards, McCain, and many others, Richardson sees the necessity to fight against poverty worldwide as a matter of US national security. He would double our foreign aid, expand the use of generic drugs, and work to align the World Bank and IMF. “For a small fraction of the cost of the Iraq war, which has made us so many enemies, we could make many friends,” he says.

I thought this was a terrific essay, even if a bit lacking in details, because that is appropriate for delivering a big picture vision of the future and the intentionality behind it. Richardson doesn’t have the magical rhetorical skill of Obama, but he knows exactly what he stands for and what he wants to do, and he is capable of conveying that vision to an audience. It’s impressive. He is a long shot for the presidential nomination only because he doesn’t get the media coverage and he is not as photogenic as some other candidates, but on foreign affairs, he is electable.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Political Legitimacy

Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party won 64% of the vote in recent Russian elections, assuring that his loyalists control the rubber-stamp Russian parliament. International election observers (most of whom were barred by Putin from the country), including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe, condemned the conduct of the election, calling it unfair and undemocratic (Telegraph.co.uk 12/3/07). The Economist called it a “sham election” (Economist 12/1/07).

Actually, Mr. Putin himself was not up for reelection, but only lent his name to the United Russia party packed with his people. Putin is actually not even a member of that party, but by associating himself with it and ensuring its victory, he can interpret the result as a referendum on his leadership and as a mandate to continue running the country even after his term as president expires next year.

How was it done? Small parties were banned from fielding candidates and also banned from forming coalitions. The minimum turnout rule was abolished so the vote would be valid even if hardly anybody voted. Opposition leaders were harassed, arrested, and had their bank accounts frozen. State-run television covered only Putin’s party. Opposition party rallies were violently broken up by police. Opposition leader and former chess champion Gary Kasparov, was jailed for five days and denied a lawyer, one week before the election. Charges of polling place obstruction and ballot box stuffing were widespread.

But the puzzling question is, why bother? What is the point of having a mock election? Why doesn’t Putin just consolidate his power and either continue to run the country from the sidelines, as Chairman Deng did in China in the ‘80s, or invalidate the constitution and continue as president. Nothing could stop him from either path. Or, most simply, he could have a free and fair election and win it using the state controlled media and its power of censorship. Why didn't he do any of those things?

Ostensibly, Putin wants to have the “legitimacy” of a popular mandate. But that raises two questions. 1. Why should he care about legitimacy? Lots of other dictators don’t have democratic legitimacy and they get along just fine. What does the mantle of legitimacy do for him? 2. Who is fooled into thinking he has achieved political legitimacy with a fraudulent election? The election observers were not fooled. Foreign governments are not fooled. The opposition parties are not fooled. Possibly the majority of Russian people will be fooled. But even if they are, the question cycles back to the first one: why does that matter?

I have the same question about governments that invent “pretexts” to invade other countries, as Germany did when invading Poland in 1939, Iraq into Kuwait, the U.S. into Iraq, or the Soviet Union on many occasions, or countless other examples. What is the purpose of a pretext? Why not just invade “Because we want to and we can.”

Are the perpetrators genuinely ashamed of their actions and thus need a cover story to save face? But the cover story is patently transparent, so what can it possibly hide or save? And if the perp knows the action is wrong, why do it in the first place? Or, if it is wrong and done without shame, why isn’t the reason simply “We want to invade for selfish gain, and we can, so we will.”

When the US invaded Iraq, the pretext of WMD’s was to deceive the American people and many foreign leaders too, presumably giving political legitimacy to the move. What would have happened if the US had dispensed with all that theater and just announced, “We’re invading Iraq now. Join in or stand aside.” Why did the government need “political legitimacy” to act?

In the US, to take such an action without the cover of political legitimacy would be at least immoral, definitely illegal, and would certainly result in the impeachment of the president. Since the pretext was effective, congress and the news media were duped, a veneer of legitimacy was achieved, and the president kept his job.

But that would not be the case in Putin’s Russia, which is only a pretend democracy and has no real need for political legitimacy. Putin faces no political risk from acting by fiat. So why did he spend so much effort constructing a see-through fig leaf?

The answer has got to be that most people are stupid. If that is right, then in the future, Putin will be able to act offended if his supposed “legitimacy” is questioned, and some crowd of stupid people will believe him, allowing him to negotiate with more strength than he otherwise would have standing alone. Is that the game?