For Huckabee, Immigrant Threat Heightened by Events in Pakistan
By Perry Bacon
PELLA, Iowa -- As the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan dominates the news, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, unlike his GOP rivals, is trying to connect the instability in Pakistan to the biggest issue in the Republican primary, immigration.
"A lot of Americans, sitting in Pella, Iowa, maybe look halfway around the world and say, 'How does that affect me?'" he told reporters in this central Iowa town. "The way it affects them is that we need to understand that violence and terror is significant when it happens in Pakistan. It's more significant if it could happen in our own cities, and it happens if people can slip across our border and we have no control over it. That's exactly how it can affect us."
"The fact is, the immigration issue is not so much about people coming to pick lettuce and make beds," Huckabee added. "It's about who can come with shoulder-fired missiles and do serious damage and harm to us.... the unsecured borders we have pose a real national security threat."
In his speech here, Huckabee, not a candidate known for offering precise details on policy, even invoked the number of illegal immigrants he said the U.S. government knew of who came from Pakistan in the last year, 660.
Huckabee said that was more illegal immigrants than any country except "those immediately south of the border," a term he did not define.
But the ex-governor blundered a bit in both the number of undocumented people caught by U.S. officials and its ranking among countries. Huckabee, citing a Denver Post article, said 660 people had been caught crossing the border illegally from Pakistan "last year," but the article actually noted 660 came from Pakistan from 2002 to 2005. He said more Pakistanis "than any other nationality except for those immediately south of the border" had been caught here illegally, but the Department of Homeland Security said in the last year both the Philippines and China had more people who were caught here illegally than Pakistan.
Huckabee emphasized that he did not think the most important lesson of the Pakistan situation was the need for immigration reform and said he thought it showed the instability of the government there. He said he was trying to "localize this concern" for Iowa voters with his immigration focus.
For Huckabee, the Pakistan situation could complicate his surging campaign in Iowa and nationally, because he is not as well-versed in foreign affairs as candidates like John McCain, and polling and focus groups have shown voters here in Iowa view his top rival, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, as more presidential.
Huckabee was panned in the press recently for not knowing the details of a national intelligence report that showed Iran had stopped developing nuclear weapons, and by many in his party for a piece he wrote in Foreign Affairs that called the Bush administration's foreign policy "arrogant." The folksy pastor, quite quick on his feet when talking about domestic policy, even speaks in a slower, more deliberate manner when the topic shifts to foreign affairs.
McCain spoke yesterday about his years of experience with security issues, and how that makes him a stronger candidate than his rivals. The Romney campaign has put up ad in Iowa today, "Ready," that notes Condoleezza Rice called Huckabee's remarks on the Bush administration's foreign policy "ludicrous." And in his remarks on the issue, Romney -- who has made immigration the center of his campaign here -- instead focused on the need "help Muslims become strong enough to reject the extreme within them."
Unlike the other leading 2008 GOP candidates, Huckabee has not enlisted a long list of foreign policy experts to back him, like Henry Kissinger (who has campaigned for McCain), or Charles Hill (a former State Department official who is advising Giuliani).
Asked today who he would name as secretary of state or defense, Huckabee refused to answer, saying his potential picks "might say heck, I'm never working with that guy." He named two former state Department officials, Richard Haass and John Bolton, as two people he has consulted with on foreign affairs, as well as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Huckabee's own foreign policy statements have been rather limited in a campaign whose focus had shifted from Iraq to other issues in recent weeks. He has said he opposed time-lines or timetables for withdrawing troops from Iraq, considers water-boarding torture (like McCain and unlike the other Republican 2008 candidates) and -- in a recent addition to his stump speech -- said he backs the "Powell Doctrine" of overwhelming force.
Web Politics Editor
December 28, 2007; 2:43 PM ET
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