Special Report

Jon Huntsman’s Foreign Policy

Former governor of Utah and Obama's previous ambassador to China

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Foreign-policy credentials: The two-term Utah governor embarked on a two-year Mormon mission to Taiwan at age 19 and has since served as the U.S. ambassador to Singapore under President George H.W. Bush, deputy U.S. trade representative under President George W. Bush, and U.S. ambassador to China under President Barack Obama.

Overview: Huntsman is a moderate realist on international affairs and arguably has the most foreign-policy experience of any Republican candidate. "You’re not going to find any other candidate who has spent any time overseas — maybe, you know, a trip here or there — who has been a practitioner of foreign policy," Huntsman told students at George Washington University in October.

Advisors: Randy Schriver, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, is serving as Huntsman’s foreign-policy director. Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and former U.S. Ambassador to the European Union C. Boyden Gray are also advising Huntsman on foreign policy.

On the Issues:

Afghanistan/Pakistan: Huntsman advocates speedily withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan while leaving behind some special operations forces and military trainers. "This nation has achieved its key objectives in Afghanistan," he says. "We’ve had free elections in 2004. We’ve uprooted the Taliban. We’ve dismantled al Qaeda. We have killed Osama bin Laden." This century’s challenges, he says, involve competing on economics and education with the Asia-Pacific region. "I don’t want to be nation-building in Afghanistan when this nation so desperately needs to be built," he declares. Huntsman wants to condition further aid to Pakistan on how much the country has helped the United States with counterterrorism, nonproliferation, and the war in Afghanistan. He has described the U.S.-Pakistani partnership as a "merely transactional relationship."

Military spending: In a break with many of his fellow Republican candidates, Huntsman recommends cutting defense spending by eliminating waste. "We still have remnants of a top-heavy, post-Cold War infrastructure," Huntsman said in a speech at Southern New Hampshire University. "It needs to be transformed to reflect the 21st-century world and the growing asymmetric threats we face."

Immigration/borders: Huntsman suggests the United States first secure its borders and then offer illegal immigrants already in the country — who he thinks can’t realistically be deported — a pathway that "brings them into some safer status" if they pay fines and learn English. Although he recommends erecting a fence, he’s not thrilled about it. "For me, as an American, the thought of a fence to some extent repulses me because it is not consistent with … the image that we projected from the very beginning to the rest of the world," he notes.

Israel/Palestine: The U.S.-Israel relationship, according to Huntsman, has "suffered under mismanagement by President Obama." He thinks the United States should redouble its efforts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal that is consistent with Israel’s security interests, and he criticizes Obama’s proposal for an agreement based on 1967 borders with land swaps. Those types of decisions are "best left up to both the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government," he says. "When we start defining … pre-’67 war borders, we’re probably pre-empting discussions that may get them there eventually."

China: Huntsman opposes waging a trade war with the Chinese, which he says will hurt America’s small businesses, exporters, and agricultural producers. He has been critical of human rights abuses in China and predicts that China’s Internet generation will soon be "bringing about change, the likes of which is gonna take China down." Like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Huntsman argues that America is entering a "Pacific Century" in which the "center of gravity of global human activity" shifts to the Asia-Pacific region. He doesn’t think "any single nation will supplant the United States as the premier power in the world," but he does think Washington should apply a mix of "engagement and hedging" to its escalating competition with Beijing. Oh, and Huntsman speaks fluent (or is it conversational?) Mandarin.

Foreign aid: Huntsman contends that foreign aid must be allotted based on "what kind of return we get on our national interests. So when you’ve got aid money that goes to Israel that’s balanced to somewhat with the Palestinian Authority, that’s important for the ongoing peace process." He adds that though "it’s fair enough to say we have got to start with a zero-based budget approach," as Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich advocated in Nov. 12’s debate, "let’s also be smart enough to say that we do as people get a certain return through foreign aid."

Iran/nukes: "I cannot live with a nuclear-armed Iran," Huntsman says. "If you want an example of when I would consider the use of American force, it would be that." He favors sanctions, diplomatic pressure, and military deterrence to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. He has said little, however, about what would trigger him to use force instead of those tactics and whether he would support a pre-emptive Israeli strike.

Trade: Huntsman argues that free trade deals can foster tremendous "economic and political goodwill" between the United States and partnering countries. The United States, he says, needs to "pursue free trade agreements as aggressively as China."

War on terror/detainees: Huntsman envisions a future in which counterterrorism — in the form of special operations forces and intelligence gathering — constitutes a larger part of U.S. foreign policy. "We must be prepared to respond to threats — from al Qaeda and other terrorist cells — that emanate from a much more diverse geography, including Yemen, the Horn of Africa, Pakistan, and the Asia-Pacific," he explains. On waterboarding, Huntsman submits that "we diminish our standing in the world and the values that we project, which include liberty, democracy, human rights, and open markets, when we torture."

Environment: Huntsman implemented a cap-and-trade program for greenhouse-gas emissions as Utah governor and even appeared in a 2007 Environmental Defense Action Fund ad that encouraged Congress to do the same on a national level. But he has reversed course in the campaign, stating that "cap-and-trade ideas aren’t working; it hasn’t worked, and our economy’s in a different place than five years ago." Instead, Huntsman wants to enhance U.S. energy security through, as his website puts it, an "all of the above" energy policy. In August, Huntsman caused a stir by tweeting that he "trust[s] scientists on global warming" and cautioning the Republican Party against becoming the "anti-science party." He has held firm to that conviction since.

Russia: Huntsman says the Obama administration’s reset of U.S.-Russia relations is like a "Potemkin village in which we pretend the Kremlin is more of a partner than it is, more of a democracy than it is, more respectful of human rights than it is, and less threatening to its neighbors than it is." He wants to work with Russia on issues such as arms control, U.N. Security Council action against Iran, and the war in Afghanistan, but he argues the relationship should be viewed "with more objective eyes." He warns that Obama’s plan for a missile defense system in Europe "will remain the thorn in the side of the U.S.-Russian relationship" and might give Russia a reason to suspend the New START arms-control agreement. "The U.S. must be prepared for this worst-case scenario and back our Central European partners (Romania, Poland) who continue to support U.S. missile defense policy," he adds.

Arab Spring: Huntsman criticized the military intervention in Libya as a costly endeavor that didn’t serve U.S. strategic interests. But he still believes the United States "should support the democratic aspirations of the Arab Spring while maintaining continued Middle East stability," though he doesn’t specify what that support or stability would look like under his leadership. He warns that governments may emerge in the Middle East that "are less receptive to U.S. interests than might be hoped" and that Israel will face a "host of new challenges brought on by the Arab Spring."

Other issues: Huntsman argues that the United States should focus more on Latin America as the region becomes increasingly important for U.S. trade and national security. He would apply the model of the U.S.-backed counternarcotics campaign known as "Plan Colombia" to countries such as Mexico and Guatemala.

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