Consider it yet another sign of the weirdness of the race for the Republican nomination: The candidate who does not believe in evolution and who once thought that people with AIDS should be quarantined has come up with a more clear-sighted and realistic approach to foreign affairs than any of his rivals.
The surging Mike Huckabee had, up until last weekend, been in danger of becoming a little too closely identified with his own self-deprecating quips about his lack of international experience.
“I may not be the expert as some people on foreign policy, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night,” he joked to Don Imus last month.
Mr. Huckabee put a much more sober and impressive image forward in an article in the new issue of Foreign Affairs.
The headline-grabbing part of Mr. Huckabee’s contribution came in the second paragraph of a 4,800-word story:
“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,” he wrote.
This is hardly an original thought, or even an especially debatable one. But expressing it with such clarity distinguished Mr. Huckabee from competitors like Mitt Romney and Rudolph Giuliani.
When Mr. Romney penned his own Foreign Affairs article during the summer, he offered almost nothing beyond management-speak clichés—asserting for instance that we need “a shared understanding of how to meet a new generation of challenges.” In the September/October issue of the magazine, Mr. Giuliani, as is his wont, engaged mostly in rhetorical chest-beating.
“A realistic peace can only be achieved through strength,” the former New York City mayor wrote, warning that “our enemies are emboldened by signs of weakness.”
Mr. Huckabee seems to be a rare bird: a Republican with a willingness to engage in national self-criticism. Such an attribute is vital for any president who hopes to arrest the calamitous slide in America’s international reputation.
None of this is to suggest that Mr. Huckabee is naïve or excessively dovish. On Iran, for example, he adopted an eminently sensible position in the Foreign Affairs article, refusing to take the concept of military action off the table, but cautioning that “if we do not put other options on the table, eventually a military strike will become the only viable one.”
He also eviscerated the U.S. for its support of assorted dictators and kleptocrats. He did so not merely on principled grounds, but on the basis that such an approach retards the development of moderate voices in the Arab world.
“There are repressive regimes that stay in power by force and through the suppression of basic human rights—many of which we support by buying oil, such as the Saudi government, or with foreign aid, such as the Egyptian government, our second-largest recipient of aid,” he wrote.
Mr. Huckabee is commonly derided as a rube by elites in his own party. But he has the common sense to see what many self-professed experts do not: the usefulness of levers of American soft power such as economic and humanitarian aid, and the costs incurred by neglecting them.
In relation to Pakistan, for instance, he criticized the short-sighted approach that has allowed $5.6 billion in U.S. aid to be used for counterterrorism activities since Sept. 11, 2001; less than $1 billion has gone to “projects that directly help the Pakistani people” in relation to education, health care and nutrition.