Morning Cheat Sheet
Huckabee's Promises Out-Bush the President
By Peter Baker
For all of the understandable attention to the Bush-bashing rhetoric in former governor Mike Huckabee's new foreign policy manifesto, what is interesting about the document is that in many ways, the president would agree with a lot in it. If anything, in some key areas, Huckabee is not promising to repudiate Bush so much as to out-Bush the president.
Just as Bush has vowed to move the country toward energy independence, so does Huckabee. The difference is that Huckabee says he can do it in 10 years. While the president fights for tens of billions of additional military spending, Huckabee promises to go him one better by devoting hundreds of billions of dollars more to the Pentagon. And Huckabee agrees with the Bush plan to expand the size of the Army and Marine Corps over the next five years; he just says he could get it done in half the time.
The promises serve as a reminder of how much easier it is to be a candidate than president. Unconstrained by the reality of putting together a budget or selling an ambitious program to an opposition Congress, candidates can promise to do what they want, as much as they want and as fast as they want. The trick becomes if they actually win an election and are forced to live up to these campaign-trail pledges. The three examples from Huckabee's article in Foreign Affairs magazine provide an object lesson in the challenge that awaits anyone who arrives in the White House after making such expansive commitments to the voting public.
Take energy independence. Huckabee would not be the first president to vow to end the U.S. reliance on foreign oil. That would actually be Richard M. Nixon, who promised to do so in 1973. So did Jimmy Carter later in the decade. Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry promised in 2004 to make the United States "energy independent," while Bush vowed to reduce dependence. Actually, by columnist Charles Krauthammer's count, 24 of the last 34 presidential State of the Union addresses since the oil embargo of 1973 have proposed solutions to U.S. energy problems. Needless to say, none of these presidents found it so easy. Where the United States imported 35 percent of its oil from overseas in 1973, today more than 60 percent of it comes from abroad.
Understanding how difficult such a goal would be, Bush kept his target more manageable in his 2006 State of the Union address, when he committed to "replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025." That's not as much oil as it may sound. Of the 13.7 million barrels the United States imports each day, just 3 million of it comes from the Middle East, so Bush would in today's terms replace about 2 million barrels a day in oil supplies. Huckabee, by contrast, promises to replace all 13.7 million of it by 2019. "The first thing I will do as president is send Congress my comprehensive plan for achieving energy independence within 10 years of my inauguration," he writes in Foreign Affairs. "We will explore, we will conserve, and we will pursue all types of alternative energy: nuclear, wind, solar, ethanol, hydrogen, clean coal, biomass, and biodiesel." In other words, all of the things Bush is already pursuing. And Huckabee is not even the most grandiose in his promises; Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) promised during last week's Iowa debate to do it by 2014. "I will make it a Manhattan Project, and we will in five years become oil independent," he vowed.
Likewise, while criticizing the president for his "arrogant bunker mentality," Huckabee promises to out-Bush Bush in the military arena. He notes that the United States now spends about 3.9 percent of its gross domestic product on defense compared with 6 percent in 1986. "We need to return to that six percent level," he writes. First of all, using percentage of GDP as a measurement tells only part of the story. While the Pentagon budget is a smaller proportion of the overall economy today, that is largely because the overall economy has grown so much; measured in inflation-adjusted dollars, the $459 billion Pentagon budget today is actually almost as big as it was in the Cold War under Ronald Reagan not even counting the additional $196 billion Bush wants this year for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But assuming Huckabee is talking only about the base Pentagon budget, then he is promising is to increase it by roughly half again, or $230 billion a year at a minimum. He does not say where the money would come from.
Similarly, he says he can expand the size of the military faster than Bush can. He notes that the president plans to add another 92,000 troops to the Army and Marines over the next five years. "We can and must do this in two to three years," he writes. He goes on to say that he recognizes "the challenges of increasing our enlistments without lowering standards," but -- other than increasing spending -- he does not suggest how he will find and train that many more young men and women every year without compromising those standards, nor does he explain how he could do it faster than Bush's five-year time frame.
But that is the luxury of the campaign trail. Huckabee is not the first to write that he would cast a wary eye on Russia, increase military spending as a proportion of GDP, find a balance between promoting democracy and promoting stability or get the armed forces out of the business of nation building. Those promises, at least, sound an awful lot like those in another article that ran in Foreign Affairs back in 2000 -- by the chief foreign policy adviser to the George W. Bush campaign.
Posted at 10:09 AM ET on Dec 18, 2007
Morning Cheat Sheet
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