CONCORD, N.H. – Mike Huckabee, who has joked about his lack of foreign policy experience, is criticizing the Bush administration's efforts, denouncing a go-it-alone "arrogant bunker mentality" and questioning decisions on Iraq.
Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor now running for the Republican presidential nomination, lays out a policy plan that is long on optimism but short on details in the January-February issue of the journal Foreign Affairs, which is published by the Council on Foreign Relations. A copy of his article was released Friday.
"American foreign policy needs to change its tone and attitude, open up, and reach out," Huckabee said. "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."
In one specific criticism, Huckabee said Bush did not send enough troops to invade Iraq. And he accused the president of marginalizing Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, who said at the outset of the war that it might take several hundred thousand U.S. troops to control Iraq after the invasion. "I would have met with Shinseki privately and carefully weighed his advice," Huckabee said.
He said this year's troop increase under Bush has resulted in significant but tenuous gains, and he said — much as Bush has — that he would not withdraw troops from Iraq any faster than Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander there, recommends. The military has now slowly begun to reverse the troop increase.
Huckabee has previously joked about his lack of experience in international affairs. "I may not be the expert as some people on foreign policy, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night," he said earlier this month.
While the Foreign Affairs article is missing the one-liners he is known for, it does have a few folksy comparisons to illustrate his points. On Iran, for example, he makes a case for diplomacy by saying, "Before we put boots on the ground elsewhere, we had better have wingtips there first."
He adds that the U.S. can exploit the Iranian government's hunger for regional clout, saying, "We cannot live with al-Qaida, but we might be able to live with a contained Iran."
Last week, Huckabee missed a report the White House released saying Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program; one day later, the candidate said he was unaware of the report and had been campaigning too hard to read the newspaper or be briefed. The Foreign Affairs article seems to have been written before the report was released, citing "urgent concerns about Iran's development of nuclear weapons."
In his article, Huckabee also thumped Bush for failing to pursue al-Qaida in Pakistan, noting recent terrorism plans, since thwarted, that were planned there: "Whereas our failure to tackle Iran seems to be leading inexorably to our attacking it, our failure to tackle al-Qaida in Pakistan seems to be leading inexorably to its attacking us again."
Earlier Friday, on another topic in Boscawen, N.H., Huckabee said eliminating federal income taxes in favor of a national sales tax would help save Social Security — an odd pitch in a state where residents pay no state income or sales taxes.
"Instead of basing our national budget off of payroll taxes for Social Security ... it means the base of funding is much broader," said Huckabee, whose shoestring campaign has surged nationally and in Iowa, which holds caucuses five days before New Hampshire's Jan. 8 primary.
The tax plan Huckabee has proposed, called the "FAIR tax," would eliminate federal income and investment taxes and replace them with a 23 percent federal sales tax. Even the backers of the tax admit it is unlikely to get through Congress, and other leading GOP candidates have been critical of the idea.
It's a tough sell in New Hampshire, where residents do not pay state income taxes or general sales taxes. Scott Sweezey, a programmer at the plant where Huckabee spoke, said he doesn't know how to make a consumption tax treat people fairly.
"Low-income or retired would pay the same tax as somebody who has a million dollars," said Sweezey, an independent. "I guess if you don't buy anything, you don't pay any sales tax, but if you do buy something, you pay sales tax."
Separately, Huckabee also named Republican political strategist Ed Rollins as his national campaign chairman. Rollins was national campaign director for Ronald Reagan in the 1984 presidential election.