Huntsman Flanks Left On Afghanistan: The War ‘Is Not Consistent With How We Ought To Be Responding’

Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman has a record that is in some ways encouragingly progressive, especially for a Republican from a conservative state, and he served in an important role on Barack Obama’s foreign policy team as Ambassador to China. Under the circumstances, it’s intriguing to see how his views on international affairs differ from the president’s.

In an interview this morning with George Stephanopoulos on ABC News’ Good Morning America, Huntsman indicated that he’s inclined to challenge Obama from the left on the war in Afghanistan, observing that “it is a heavy and very expensive presence we have on the ground” that’s “not consistent with how we ought to be responding”:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You also said, in the event, that a draw-down in Afghanistan is inevitable. So would you begin it today?

JON HUNTSMAN: 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.

When asked about Afghanistan at a Meet and Greet yesterday in New Hampshire, Huntsman called a drawdown “inevitable” and said there would likely be civil war in Afghanistan when a U.S. withdrawal created a vacuum. “And I’m not sure there’s a whole lot we can do about that,” he added. Huntsman seems to reach this conclusion on traditional realpolitik grounds similar to the brand of foreign policy that dominated the Republican Party until George W. Bush brought neoconservatism to the fore.


Earlier in the interview, Huntsman said that he would not have intervened in Libya’s civil war on the grounds that the rebellion again Muammar Gaddafi “is not core to our national security interest.” But the death of Osama bin Laden is driving growing calls from multiple perspectives for a rethink of America’s posture in Afghanistan. CAP’s Caroline Wadhams and Colin Cookman have observed that his passing “does offer the Obama administration an opportunity to reassess the challenges in Afghanistan” in order “to reduce our military and financial investments” in that country. Meanwhile, NATO forces in Afghanistan are increasingly getting drawn into clashes with protestors indicating that their presence is not necessarily welcome to the local population. My view is that this would be an excellent opportunity to declare victory and go home, refocusing counterterrorism on law enforcement and intelligence strategies and de-militarizing humanitarian engagement with Afghanistan.

Earlier in the month, one of Huntsman’s rivals, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty delivered a confusing series of positions on Afghanistan and other candidates have been slow to address it. Hopefully Huntsman’s decision to inject a traditional realist perspective into the debate and argue from a progressive perspective against the wastage of funds on military pursuits at a time of fiscal austerity will widen the range of perspectives under consideration in Washington.

Cross-posted from Matt Yglesias’ blog.