Mike Huckabee Too Moralistic to be President?

Mike Huckabee Too Moralistic to be President? Paul Mirengoff argues that Mike Huckabee is weak on national security because he’s blinded by his ideals.

My main objection to Huckabee — the reason why he’s my fifth choice out of five — is that I lack confidence in his ability to fight terrorism. It’s not just that he lacks experience in this realm, though that’s certainly the case. The real problem is that he’s too moralistic (which is not the same thing as moral). My first clue came when he said during an early debate that we need to remain in Iraq because “we broke it.” Not because we need to defeat al Qaeda; not because we need to limit Iranian influence or avoid a devastating defeat at the hands of terrorists; but because we injured this formerly peaceful state. Huckabee’s exaltation of moralism (in this case dubious) over policy calculation was difficult to miss.

Now we learn (but are surprised) that Huckabee opposes waterboarding and would close the Guantanamo Bay detention center. Huckabee reached this conclusion after meeting with a group of retired generals (the usual suspects, I assume) who are lobbying candidates to oppose Bush administration interrogation and detention policies.

Now, I haven’t taken Huckabee very seriously as a presidential candidate yet. Indeed, I lumped him in with the likes of Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel on my “People Who Won’t Get Elected President” back in January.

Nor would I quibble with Mirengoff’s characterization of Huckabee’s foriegn policy credentials. Granting that governors are generally the most attractive presidential candidates and few governors have any meaningful international affairs dealings, Huckabee would be on the low end of recent presidents in that regard.

Still, the idea that he’s disqualified from leading our foreign policy because he has moral principles and thinks we should run the country accordingly is baffling. Conservatives rightly lauded Ronald Reagan for his willingness to call the Soviets an “Evil Empire” and treat them accordingly — and rightly criticized him for abandoning principle and selling arms to Iran in an exchange for help in getting hostages released.

Further, the cases Mirengoff cites are ones where Huckabee’s instincts are correct.

We did in fact invade Iraq and create the conditions for chaos. We did in fact ask Iraqis to put their confidence in us and work with us in setting up a democratic state. Surely, we do owe them something having done that? Further, aside from moral considerations, leaving the Iraqis in a lurch would surely diminish our international credibility, making it harder to get support in the future.

Similarly, our practices at Guantanamo have been a public relations nightmare for us and a bonanza for our enemies. For precious little gain in useful intelligence, we’ve surrendered the moral high ground. We’re in a battle to, as the cliché goes, win hearts and minds. Failing to live up to our basic principles makes that much more difficult.

As Steven Taylor notes, one can derive these principles absent Huckabee’s evangelicalism. He notes, for example, that Colin Powell coined the “Pottery Barn Rule” with respect to Iraq. I’d note that Powell also favors closing Gitmo. As does John McCain, who knows something about the subject of torture.

Now, if you want to criticize Huckabee for letting his religious views get in the way of sane public policy, you might want to start with things like opposing condom distribution in Africa . . . .

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan passes on word that Huckabee is getting smeared by some social conservatives as insufficiently Christian.

A mysterious group calling itself Iowans for Some Semblance of Christian Decency has begun waging a campaign against former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, insinuating that not only is the Republican presidential candidate not a true conservative, he’s not a real Christian.

In fliers put under the doors of reporters at the Marriott in Des Moines, where Huckabee was staying Monday night, the organization, whose members are unknown, lays out its interpretation of how the former Baptist minister’s views run contrary to the Bible.

Huckabee’s support of educational opportunities for the children of illegal immigrants is portrayed, for instance, as “justification for violating the 8th commandment (stealing from U.S. citizens).”

So . . . Huckabee’s not religious enough for religious extremists but too moral for security extremists? That’s not a bad place to be, methinks.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Here is a great talk by Huck on foreign policy.

    Though I doubt it will satisfy you that he is far enough away from Bush, it sure did me.

  2. Hal says:

    It really is quite simple. Mirengoff is upset that Huckabee’s morals would prevent him from torturing people. Indeed, the key sentence in the above is

    Huckabee’s exaltation of moralism (in this case dubious) over policy calculation was difficult to miss.

    Mirengoff’s statement is that he doesn’t agree with principle over practice. To Mirengoff’s thinking, the ends justify the means – always. Fighting terrorism is the ends and any means – including torture – is justified in pursuit of that goal. Huckabee believes that there are things we don’t do and that’s what Mirengoff is upset by.

    Your modern Republican party ideology here in a nutshell.

  3. glasnost says:

    Hal has it in a nutshell: some conservative pundits are fascinated with “whatever it takes” and ruthlessness as the only solution to foreign problems. These guys are all Guliani guys. None of them buy Huckabee.

    One wise man, nine knaves, ninety fools out of every hundred.

  4. yetanotherjohn says:

    I wonder if this isn’t a bit influenced by Carter. A great guy to help build a house with, not US.

  5. cian says:

    Mirengoff is made uneasy by the idea of a Huckabee presidency, and I’m depressed as hell by the idea that Mirengoff actually represents a real and influential strand of thinking on the American right.

    Huckabee’s not qualified for the job because he won’t commit to torture??? Because he questions the morality of jailing people without trial???

    In a sane country, thoughts like these would be banished to the fringes, not deemed worthy of rational discussion.

    Get a grip, James, and spare us the rantings of people who five years from now will be seen for what they are- the McCarthys of their time.

  6. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    For precious little gain in useful intelligence, we’ve surrendered the moral high ground.

    And your point? Personally, I really don’t care what the rest of the world thinks of us. And for those of you who thinks our standing in the world has been harmed, talk to France’s Sarkozy. He seems to think differently.

    As for the Huckster, I have met the man and have followed his career for the past several years as I am a resident of Arkansas. He is a prince of a man and I have no problems with his morals. What I do have a problem with is his tendency to run an executive office as a Baptist Minister. Rather than enforce laws as they are written on the books, he applies his own moral “laws” even if they contradict the written laws.

    As the Chief Executive, charged with enforcing the law, he should not overlook a law because he feels it is morally wrong. Rather he should have the law changed but in all cases enforce the laws on the books. The Huckster won’t do that.

  7. Hal says:

    And for those of you who thinks our standing in the world has been harmed, talk to France’s Sarkozy.

    There’s something for the resume’.

    Rather than enforce laws as they are written on the books, he applies his own moral “laws” even if they contradict the written laws.

    Well, rather than follow treaties against invading countries that don’t threaten us, we tore those up and went ahead anyway. Rather than follow the Geneva conventions, we went ahead and tortured anyway. The problem is that our executive is ignoring the laws as written (signing statements, anyone?), they apply their own theory of unitary executive even if it contradicts the constitution (Habeas Corpus s), our own laws and treaties we’ve signed.

    As the Chief Executive, charged with enforcing the law, he should not overlook a law because he feels it is morally wrong. Rather he should have the law changed but in all cases enforce the laws on the books.

    BTW, found your red state post rather amusing in the way you’re saying he has to bow down to the club on growth, etc. Yea, you guys on the right don’t have any litmus tests.

    The current administration doesn’t do that.

    Given the choice, it seems that Huckabee’s instincts are far better than those which say torture is an acceptable alternative, to hell with Habeas Corpus and all that.

  8. Christopher says:

    Hal,

    Your own democrat party agrees with Bush! They approved and approve all and any (so-called)torture! They approve of Guantanamo! They approve of wiretapping! They approve of the war and keep funding it! The only thing they don’t do is publicly support Bush, and they outright lie lie lie about their support for Bush policies. [More of a percentage of democrats consistently vote with Bush than of Americans that don’t approve of Bush.]

    Guess you have to lump your own liberal football team in with Bush and disapprove of everyone. Maybe Ron Paul is you man. You are both certifiable kooks!

  9. Hal says:

    Well, good to see you rooting for torture, violation of the constitution and pretty much everything else despicable in this day and age. I’d rather be a party that the majority was against these things than to be a part of the cuddle butt brigade which thinks the biggest threat to our way of life is the absence of torture and too much credence given to our constitution.

    “so-called”. Yea, you’re quite the man, Chris. Quite The Man

  10. Christopher says:

    If you think water boarding is torture, you were probably that kid that hated dodge ball and cried to his mommy how “the other kids are mean to me, momma!” Waaaa!

    And, you’d “rather be a party that the majority was against these things”? What party is that, Hal? Not the democrats, that’s for sure. They approve of whatever it is you are calling torture, as I said in my previous post.

  11. Hal says:

    This window into your psychological make up is quite fascinating, Chris…

    WRT to water boarding qua torture one simply has to look at past war crime trials which the US, itself, prosecuted where water boarding was defined as torture. Or we could just ask that major wimp McCain who experienced it first hand. Or we could ask the SERE instructors for our own armed forces who say it’s torture. The list is endless, and it’s pretty clear that you don’t give a rat’s ass about any of that.

    (As an aside, I find it terribly amusing that y’all are eating your candidates alive with these fascinating debates. Nothing smells like victory than the “conversations” you’re all having.)

    Your evidence of the d party approving torture is what, exactly? I mean, is there any vote on it? Closest I can tell it’s the whole flap over the AG which wouldn’t come out and say it was torture. And I’m not really sure how you get from his passage to inferring that the d’s are approving of torture, but I suspect there is very little that goes on in your mind that resembles any maturity of thought process one normally associates with someone over the age of 12. So far you’ve simply presented rather stupid put downs that elementary school children would be ashamed of combined with rather obvious and crass assertions of things which even inanimate objects can clearly see are just moronic characterizations used to taunt.

    So, have fun with the whole torture thing. Keep bringing it up, keep beating that security stick and by all means keep bringing up that the democrats at every step along the way. It’s working so well so far and if you keep doing it surely your fabulous party will be back in the presidential quarters with a solid republican majority in both houses to ride him into the next decade.

    Now, respond with something isomorphic to “I know you are but what am I” so I can sleep easier tonight knowing that there is one constant in this universe.

  12. Christopher says:

    Hal,

    Stupid is as stupid does!

    lol!

  13. Hal says:

    Knew you’d have nothing.

  14. Christopher says:

    And by the way, Hal (Waaaaa!), if waterboarding were the worst thing McCain ever had done to him while a POW, he’d have been extremely OK with it, don’t you think?

  15. Hal says:

    You really don’t have much of a moral compass at all, do you Christopher?

  16. Christopher says:

    If I didn’t have much of a moral compass, Hal, I’d be a democrat. And I am definetly NOT a wimp! Oh-I mean democrat.

  17. Hal says:

    Zing!

  18. Bandit says:

    After counting on AQ to prevail for 4 years the left’s new ploy for terror sympathy is to whine about KSM getting waterboarded. You sided with the terrorist mass murderer Saddam then swithched to AQ – you have no moral standing or high ground

  19. floyd says:

    Note to Andrew Sullivan, Organizations with unknown members or leadership seldom deserve to be publicized or quoted.

  20. Anderson says:

    A mysterious group calling itself Iowans for Some Semblance of Christian Decency

    Or “Romney,” for short?