Jon Huntsman's foreign policy
U.S. President Barack Obama tours the Great Wall of China on November 18, 2009, with the Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. Zhou Wenzhong and U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman.
June 21st, 2011
11:29 AM ET

Jon Huntsman's foreign policy

Editor's Note: Dr. James M. Lindsay is a Senior Vice President at the Council on Foreign Relations and co-author of "America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy." For more of his thoughts on Huntsman, visit James' blog.

By James M. Lindsay

Huntsman traces his interest in foreign policy and Asia in particular back to 1971, when he was an eleven-year-old visiting his father at the White House. He met Henry Kissinger, who was headed out of Washington on a trip. Huntsman helped Kissinger with his bags and asked the national security adviser where he was going. Kissinger answered:

Please don’t tell anyone. I’m going to China.

Huntsman used his last speech as ambassador to China to deliver some of the most direct criticisms of China’s human rights record seen by a U.S. official. Citing the detentions of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo and Beijing artist Ali Weiwei, Huntsman said:

The United States will never stop supporting human rights because we believe in the fundamental struggle for human dignity and justice wherever it may occur.

Huntsman wants to rethink American foreign policy more broadly to realign U.S. spending and deployments abroad:

In terms of foreign policy, we have a generational opportunity…to reset our position in the world. And it must be done based upon our deployments in all corners of the world, wherever we find ourselves, how affordable those deployments are, whether it’s a good use of our young men and women. Whether it’s in our core national security and interest. We’re fighting an enemy that is far different than any we have got before. It’s a nontraditional kind of war, and I think we need to step back, recalibrate how we go about protecting our borders and protecting our people, and resetting our position in the world.”

Huntsman says that a drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is “inevitable,” even if it brings civil war and chaos to the country. He argues:

I would tell you that we have to evaluate very carefully our presence in Afghanistan. And my inclination would be to say that it is a heavy and very expensive presence we have on the ground. That at a point in time where we need to be looking at our asymmetrical threats, what we have in Afghanistan today is not consistent with how we ought to be responding.

Just last week, Huntsman began outlining his view on how the United States might accomplish a drawdown in Afghanistan:

Huntsman is paying attention to the public’s mood on Afghanistan. Last week he pointed out:

My hunch is that the American people want to be out of there as quickly as we can get out.

Huntsman opposes U.S. involvement in Libya. He says he would have chosen a different path than the one his former boss chose:

I would have chosen from the beginning not to intervene in Libya. I would say that is not core to our national security interest…we probably don’t need to be in certain parts of the Middle East where there are domestic revolutions playing out. Where we probably just ought to let them play out.

What do you think of Huntsman's foreign policy?

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Topics: China • Politics • United States

soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Brian

    "Let them play out"? Ok then, next time an oppressive dictator is about to massacre the inhabitants of one of his largest cities, you can explain to the world why we sat on our hands and let it happen, and exactly how that inaction was consistent with the U.S. believing in "the fundamental struggle for human dignity and justice wherever it may occur". You can't have it both ways; either you stand for human dignity and justice (which means taking action to support it), or you don't because you won't put you money where your mouth is.

    June 21, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Reply
    • Obamabus

      We don't have to wait. Will you explain to the world why we didn't also do it in Syria, Yemen & elsewhere where massacres are happening now as you pontificate?

      June 22, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Reply
      • okbuthow

        Blame the U.N. The U.S. can't take over every single event that goes on in the world. Its why the U.N. was created and the reason that countries give a percentage of manpower and supplies to the organization.

        June 29, 2011 at 2:29 am |
  2. Mac Qurashi

    He has forgotten that one of the major supporter of the independence of the US was France. Without their assistance there may have not been a United States of America. We created those dictators while giving lip service to the our cherished desire to have democracy and now when the oppressed are sacrificing to achieve that we can not sit and watch the slaughter.

    June 21, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Reply
  3. Johannes Ek


    and thank you James, for this interesting opening of discussion.

    In some points I agree with Jon Huntsman's views. I believe it is necessary to change the focus of the American foreign policy from the broader Middle East to the Eastern Asia. As R. Kaplan argues, Indian and Pacific Oceans will likely be the geopolitical centres of the world politics in the 21st century. U.S. loses a lot of its resources, time, energy and attention to the broader Middle Eastern area and at the same time China and other Asian rising powers (and the 'Rest') are catching up and going past. What the U.S. needs to do is to focus more on China, Indian and Pacific Oceans – and stop using too much HARD power, which it also can in the near future afford less and less, and focus on SMARTER solutions for the challenges of the 2010s. That's I believe, what should be done. I wonder if Mr. Huntsman would fully agree...

    June 21, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Hej, Johannes Ek,
      What Huntsman said is nothing new, because he hi-jacked the thoughts of the general public. When it came to his own thoughts he got caught up in contradictions – "And it must be done based upon our deployments in all corners of the world, wherever we find ourselves, how affordable those deployments are, whether it’s a good use of our young men and women. Whether it’s in our core national security and interest."
      I think he is a populist and the chances he gets nominated by his party-fellowers are slim.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Reply
  4. Mike

    Huntsman has a silver tongue, a tad too docile to be a hawkish republican if you ask me, the U.S. needs to shift from a global presence with dozens of bases overseas to a more home based military. The U.S. should pull out of Europe, we can defend ourselves from no one just fine. NATO should still be important but we dont need to hold back the Soviets anymore. The money saved from closing those bases should be reinvested in air defense and civilan infastructure. in the old days the U.S. was safe because of the oceans but now with planes that can fly around the world. The U.S. still is the strongest military force in the world and along with full NATO backing will be unstopable, their systems need to just be streamlined

    June 21, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Reply
  5. fernace

    Hejsan, Johannes Ek & the rest of you. We, as a country is in a financial crisis & that should color any decisions we make to get involved in other nations squabbles. We really have to focus on what America & her people need at this time. Having said that, we still have to protect our standing in the world community & it would have been bad "foreign policy" to turn down the UN's request for our help in Libya! We also have to take care when bringing our troops home from Afganistan. I think it's good policy to take it slow & easy, rather than leaving right now, as some people are demanding! All these issues take planning & political strategy. Huntsmans ideas are pretty sound, except it seems like he's alredy planning to deal with more occupations. Can we just get our country on track 1st, before we even think in that direction. @ Johannes , ar du svensk eller norsk? Jag ar bada tva och bor i Texas. Ha en bra vecka!

    June 21, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Reply
  6. kar

    Am I the only one who remembers why we had to go into Afghanistan in the first place? Not only am I talking about the worst terrorist attacks to occur in the United States, I’m talking about the conditions that allowed those attacks to take place. The proxy battle between the U.S. and Afghanistan in the ‘80s empowered Jihadis. America’s complete withdrawal of all support from Afghanistan gave those people a country to call their own, and, over a little more than a decade, Al Qaeda used Afghanistan’s power vacuum to recruit and train for forces to attack us in the most coordinated terrorist attack in America.
    It’s true that, since then, we’ve seen Al Qaeda’s power weaken, with subsequent attacks committed mostly by lone agents attempting poorly planned and executed terrorist attacks. Some may argue that we’re therefore at a good stopping point, what with Al Qaeda still reeling from Bin Laden’s death.
    But keep in mind Afghanistan’s government is only holding on because of U.S. support. Its economy’s dependent on the U.S., the military acts as an auxiliary to our own, and police in conflicted towns control small segments of the larger area. Afghanistan without the U.S. would likely be a failed state, and a pullout would get us back to where we were in the ‘80s. Do we want to trade a future of attenuated terrorist attacks for $120 billion/year in savings and the fear of Afghanistan’s next terrorist group?

    June 21, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Reply
    • okbuthow

      unfortunately yes, because we no longer have the ability to the excessive spending and yes we should as we did move into Afghanistan. $120 billion is a lot to save. We could either be pressured heavily in financial matters or rebuild with the risk of terrorists with the financial means to fight back. In the long run, being pressured may result in worse results. Anyhow, the next major terrorist group (if any) will not have a leader with as much charisma as Bin Laden, lowering the cooperation rates. Right now, many leaders of Al Qaeda is scattered and the second in command lacks support of the organization.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:10 am | Reply
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