Mike Huckabee bashes America on foreign soil

Washington's cherished rules are quickly waived when it comes to Israel.

Published August 17, 2009 11:18AM (EDT)

(updated below - Update II)

Mike Huckabee this week traveled to a foreign country and, speaking on foreign soil, is now bashing America in front of a foreign audience:

Former Arkansas governor and presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee says the US has taken too harsh a stance against Israel on the issue of settlements.

Huckabee said Monday the US should not "be telling Jewish people in Israel where they should and should not live."

Huckabee made the comment Monday while visiting Jewish enclaves in east Jerusalem. Affiliated with the conservative wing of the Republican Party, Huckabee has been touted as a possible candidate in 2012.

According to Haaretz, Huckabee is joined on this trip by "prominent Jewish and Republican activists from the United States" and "is also planning to visit the Jewish section of Hebron, Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, and Ma'aleh Adumim, the largest settlement in the West Bank."  One of Huckabee's traveling companions, New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, says the purpose of the foreign trip is "to shine the spotlight on Obama's policy in Jerusalem, which has just been a horror."

Apparently, insisting that Israel stop occupying and building settlements in land that doesn't belong to it is "telling Jewish people where they should and should not live."  Every country should invoke that standard -- Russia should have responded to American objections to its 2008 invasion of Georgia by insisting that the U.S. has no right to "tell Russians where they should and should not live."  It was terrible how the U.S., opposed to Saddam's 1991 invasion of Kuwait, tried to tell Iraqis where they should and should not live.  And immigration opponents in the U.S. should really stop telling Mexicans where they should and should not live.

Isn't there some righteous Washington prohibition on criticizing America's foreign policy while on dreaded "foreign soil"?  Here's what happened in 2006 when Al Gore gave a speech at a conference in Saudi Arabia in which he criticized Bush policies towards the Muslim world -- as summarized by The New York Times' Chris Sullentrop:

As House Democrats David Bonior and Jim McDermott may recall from their trip to Baghdad on the eve of the Iraq war, nothing sets conservative opinionmongers on edge like a speech made by a Democrat on foreign soil. Al Gore traveled to Saudi Arabia last week, and in a speech there on Sunday he criticized "abuses" committed by the U.S. government against Arabs after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. A burst of flabbergasted conservative blogging followed the Associated Press dispatch about the speech, with the most clever remark coming from Mark Steyn, who called the former vice president "Sheikh al-Gore."  The editorial page of Investor's Business Daily accused Gore of "supreme disloyalty to his country". . . .

TigerHawk does the best job of explaining why speeches like this get some people so worked up:

There is simply no defense for what Gore has done here, for he is deliberately undermining the United States during a time of war, in a part of the world crucial to our success in that war, in front of an audience that does not vote in American elections. Gore’s speech is both destructive and disloyal, not because of its content — which is as silly as it is subversive — but because of its location and its intended audience.

The Wall St. Journal's James Taranto accused Gore of "denouncing his own government on foreign soil" and quoted the above accusation of "disloyality."  Commentary was abundant all but accusing Gore of treason for criticizing the U.S. in a foreign land.  That, of course, is exactly what Mike Huckabee and his pro-settlement contingent is doing today -- particularly since a freeze on settlement growth is a central prong in Obama's U.S. strategy in the Middle East.

Will there be an outcry from any precincts over Huckabee's conduct?  Highly doubtful.  Rules governing what one can and cannot do with regard to "foreign countries" tend to be waived very quickly when it comes to Israel -- and America's Right.  Indeed, Israel-centric former Bush officials such as Elliot Abrams have been continuously attempting to undercut U.S. policy towards the Middle East, publicly justifying Israeli anger towards Obama and explicitly siding with Israel over their own country in a dispute over whether Israel has the "right" to expand West Bank settlements (apparently, Israel possesses this "right" because Elliot Abrams secretly told Israelis that it was OK to take more Palestinian land if they wanted to).

What has been most bizarre about the increased tensions and even hostilities between the U.S. and Israel is that it arises out of the most minimal shift in American policy:  merely demanding that Israel comply with a small subset of what virtually the entire world, all U.S. past administrations, and U.N. resolutions all agree are its obligations.  And the impetus for the Obama administration's focus on these demands is clear and obvious:  Israel's continued settlement growth in land that is not theirs harms U.S. interests in multiple, substantial ways, even as the U.S. pours enormous resources into aiding Israel.  Yet large swaths of the American Right side with that foreign country over their own, and in Huckabee's case, even travel to that foreign country in order to oppose American policy. 

When "liberals" like Al Gore criticize U.S. foreign policy in Muslim countries, that is an act of virtual treason that spawns intense controversy.  When leading members of the American Right do the same in and on behalf of Israel, the silence is deafening.  Within that disparity lies many of the explanations for why America's foreign policy in the Middle East has wrought so much destruction.


UPDATE:  As CarolynC notes in comments, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, earlier this month, also made a pilgrimage to Israel where -- like Huckabee -- he bashed his own President and his own country for being too harsh toward Israel.  As The Hill delicately put it:  

Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) took a swipe at President Barack Obama's Mideast policy in Jerusalem on Thursday, telling reporters he was worried about the administration's direction in its attempts to forge a settlement in the region.

"We're here to try and make things better; we are here because we are concerned," Cantor said. "We are concerned about what the White House has been signaling as of late in their desire to push through in terms of a Middle East peace plan."  

To its credit, The Hill article actually noted that "Cantor's comments leave the high-ranking Republican open to Democratic criticism for criticizing the president while on foreign soil."  Last May during the presidential campaign, when he was still President, George Bush also went to Israel to implicitly criticize Obama for wanting to negotiate with Iran.  The banal command that "politics stop at the water's edge" apparently contains an unspoken exemption for right-wing "bashing" of the U.S. and its leaders while in Israel.


UPDATE II:  To clarify what I thought was already clear:  I'm not criticizing Mike Huckabee for speaking ill of American policy while in a foreign country.  I'm not one who embraces the dictate that it's sinful to criticize the U.S. Government unless one is standing squarely within America's borders.  The point here is the inconsistent and selective application of that "principle" by those who do purport to believe in that.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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