Former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman is, well, an ambassador. He knows something about the world, he says, because has lived overseas four times. So when it comes to foreign policy, Huntsman sounds decidedly like a grown-up in a room full of politicians serving up primary red meat.
“We need to transform our foreign policy for the modern world,” Huntsman wrote last month in Politico. “Simply advocating for more ships, more troops, and more weapons isn’t a viable foreign policy.”
You won’t hear Huntsman blast the Obama administration for “apologizing for America.” After all, Huntsman is a Republican who carried out Obama’s foreign policy in China, as his opponents like to frequently remind Republican primary voters. And he wants to cut defense spending.
“There's a reason ambassadors don't become presidents. The American political process isn't designed to promote harmony or commonalities or even dialogue,” said Esquire magazine, prophetically, in an exclusive profile as Huntsman entered the race in June. Huntsman remains dead last among the field going into what may be his best chance to stand out, in this first debate on foreign policy and national security.
OUT OF AFGHANISTAN. More than on any other national security issue, Huntsman is decidedly undiplomatic when he calls for a quick troop pullout from Afghanistan. “We don’t need 100,000 troops in Afghanistan -- nation-building at a time when this nation needs to be built,” he said at a September debate. The ambassador said last month that within one year the U.S. could have a “much smaller” footprint in Afghanistan, leaving intelligence, counterterrorism, and special operations forces to replace the large counterinsurgency force. It is a strategy the White House and most Republicans have rejected.
PRAGMATIC ON PAKISTAN. Huntsman has avoided lobbing rhetorical bombs at Pakistan or threatening to cut its foreign aid. Although he was outraged that Osama bin Laden was found living in Abbottabad, he has maintained a tempered stance toward Islamabad, mirroring the Obama administration and many senior Republican national security leaders. Huntsman says he recognizes it is a difficult relationship that “demands U.S. attention,” urging patience from voters: “We cannot dictate fundamental changes upon an age-old civilization from afar.”
OBAMA BLEW IT IN IRAQ. “President Obama’s decision, however, to not leave a small, focused presence in Iraq is a mistake and the product of his administration’s failures,” Huntsman said in a statement after Obama’s announcement of the Iraq withdrawal. Huntsman omits that it was Iraq’s decision to keep Americans from staying that led to Obama’s withdrawal order, but he says the administration flubbed the diplomacy that should have secured a new deal to keep troops there.
QUIET ON DRONES. Huntsman has said surprisingly little about the use of drone strikes, particularly against American terrorist suspects in foreign countries. But he does support increasing funding for counterterrorism across the Middle East and North Africa, which relies heavily on drones for surveillance and strikes.
ARM’S LENGTH FROM ARAB SPRING. Huntsman has said, without offering specifics, that the U.S. should recognize the limits of its ability to steer Arab revolutions toward functioning democracy but prepare adequately for the post-Arab spring. He opposed the Libyan intervention as too costly.
SHOULDERING ISRAEL. Huntsman joins his Republican colleagues in staunch defense of Israel’s interests. He said now is not the time for negotiations with Israel’s Arab neighbors, rather the U.S. should restate its unwavering support for Israel no matter the consequences in the region. He also supports armed intervention against Iranian nuclear pursuits, specifically in defense of Israel. “If you want an example of when I would consider the use of American force, it would be that,” he said. In this area, Huntsman, a Mormon, agrees with his more outspokenly religious GOP rivals who lean hawkish in protecting Israel.
ENGAGE. Huntsman has said the U.S should continue talks with North Korea, China, Pakistan, and other adversaries or difficult security partners, avoiding the anti-Obama talking point that such diplomacy equates to “apologizing for America.”
LEAVE CHINA TO ME. Huntsman, former ambassador to China, blasts his fellow candidates for wanting a “trade war” with China that is divorced from reality. While others mock the Obama administration’s engagement efforts with China, Huntsman supports calls for a strategic dialogue with Beijing, to include cybersecurity. “As far as you can see into the 21st century, we are going to have to deal with China. We better get it right,” he said in Iowa in August. That doesn’t mean he’s sheepish. Huntsman escorted Defense Secretary Robert Gates on his high-profile, tension-dampening January visit to China restarting military-to-military talks with the People’s Liberation Army. But while the Pentagon says it does not perceive China as an adversary, Huntsman later said on PBS that China’s military buildup means “we have to consider them a military threat.”
CLIMATE CHANGE BELIEVER. Huntsman has rejected the climate change skepticism popular among the GOP base and his primary rivals, saying that his party “can’t run from science” if it hopes to win the general election in 2012.
Lindsey Boerma contributed