The announcement of Jon Huntsman, Jr. that he will resign his post as U.S. Ambassador to China should by no means be taken lightly. After all, if Huntsman does indeed throw his hat in the ring for the 2012 Republican nomination – as is widely expected – he will be the only candidate in the race with any formidable experience in foreign policy and national security, let alone enough to go toe-to-toe with President Obama in the general election. Any way that you look at it, Huntsman’s résumé stands out head and shoulders above all of his GOP rivals.
If Republican primary voters and caucus-goers were to pledge their delegates on the same basis of experience and competency that most job-seekers are evaluated, this contest should be a no-brainer. So far there are already six current and former Governors expected to declare their candidacies in the Republican race; Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Tim Pawlenty, Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels. So if Huntsman joins the pack then the 2012 debates could perhaps stand out to the delight of conservative policy wonks across the country as a great comparison of policies among seven different Republican administrations. Likely a number of these Republican Governors might cancel each other out fighting for the same constituencies (e.g. Huckabee and Barbour), and the candidate who can best demonstrate something unique about their breadth of experience and ability should set him or herself apart from the rest.
In a primary race so far dominated by Governors, foreign policy gravitas seems to be the one thing that every single candidate lacks – except of course Huntsman. This is a very big deal, especially for the Republicans which have branded themselves post-1945 as the party of the Cold War and the War on Terrorism. Historically, the GOP has been particularly inclined to nominate the candidate with the strongest claim to the national security establishment (e.g. Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush) or decorated veterans of foreign wars who translated their personal heroics into Senate leadership on military and foreign policy (Barry Goldwater, Bob Dole, John McCain). Even Gerald Ford served in the Navy in the Pacific Theater and served in the House and as Vice President as a dedicated internationalist. Reagan… well, at least he made war films for the USO…
For comparison, let’s take a look at Jon Huntsman, Jr.’s C.V.:
U.S. Ambassador to ChinaIn 2008, such a career profile might have made Huntsman an ideal candidate for Ambassador to the United Nations or Secretary of State in the McCain administration that might have been… Though in 2012, this swarthy record of accomplishment makes him the unparalleled leader of the GOP presidential aspirants in terms of doing anything at all outside of the confines of their home state.
Governor of Utah
CEO, Huntsman Family Holdings Co.
Deputy U.S. Trade Representative
President, Huntsman Cancer Foundation
U.S. Ambassador to Singapore
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Asia
White House Staff Assistant
Education: B.A. University of Pennsylvania
Skills: Fluent in Mandarin Chinese
Even George W. Bush's stint in the Texas Air National Guard dwarfs the military experience that can be claimed by every last declared or likely candidate for the Republican nomination in 2012. Only Mitt Romney among them has had any experience having worked and lived overseas having spent 30 months as a Mormon missionary to France - and Huntsman can match that with his Mormon mission to Taiwan, let alone his Ambassadorships to the People's Repubic of China and Singapore.
Indeed, some of the secondi-tier candidates from Congress, i.e. Newt Gingrich, John Thune, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul have taken the occasional vote on matters of war and peace. However, they remain certainly lacking in the kind of stature enjoyed by the likes of Goldwater, Dole or McCain when they ran for president. Writing the occasional Op-Ed on foreign policy to the Washington Post, on the American Enterprise Institute blog or on your Twitter account - or rather, ghost-written in your name - does not constitute foreign policy experience. Thusfar, in addition to Huntsman only current Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels has had any experience at all working in the executive branch – and let’s be honest, few except for professional politicos even know what the acronym OMB stands for let alone what Daniels did as its Director during the Bush administration.
Of course, lack of prior foreign policy experience does not preclude the possibility of a victorious presidential campaign or even a relatively-successful presidency on matters of foreign policy (Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush II); though it certainly helps in the effort to establish credibility in the minds of voters. Jon Huntsman, Jr.’s unique background as both a popular Governor as well as an accomplished diplomat and trade representative undoubtedly puts him at the top of my list for the GOP presidential nomination; if I were a Republican genuinely interested in demonstrating that my party is credible to lead America before the world, I would be doing everything I could to ensure a Jon Huntsman-Condoleeza Rice ticket in 2012.
To reinforce my point, let’s look at the highlights of the foreign policy backgrounds of the rest of the Republican presidential aspirants in 2012:
Mitt Romney – served as a Mormon missionary in France for 30 months, organized the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, wrote an Op-Ed piece in The Washington Post lambasting the bipartisanly-supported New START Treaty.
Sarah Palin – Governor of a state that shares a border with Canada; can see Russia from her house. As the GOP candidate for Vice President in 2008 Palin called for U.S. military intervention in Georgia against Russia, did not know what the Bush Doctrine was, demonstrated complete and utter ignorance on the most rudimentary basics of foreign affairs.
Tim Pawlenty – Governor of another state that shares a border with Canada; in 2004 the President of Mexico met with Pawlenty to announce the opening of a Mexican consulate in St. Paul so that Mexican citizens would not have to travel all the way to Chicago to process passport and visa applications.
Mike Huckabee – None whatsoever, though caused a stir as a GOP candidate in 2008 when he published a blatantly ghost-written article in Foreign Affairs magazine accusing the Bush administration of having an “arrogant bunker mentality”.
Haley Barbour – None whatsoever.
Mitch Daniels – As the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Daniels served as the Bush administration’s point man to discredit then-Assistant to the President on Economic Policy Lawrence Lindsey estimate that Operation Iraqi Freedom would cost between $100 and $200 billion – Daniels toured the talk show circuit, stating that the war would in fact cost between $50 and $60 billion.
John Thune – Jonah Goldberg of Politico writes, “In many respects, Thune is the GOP version of John Kerry: a candidate with very presidential hair who seems 'electable' despite not having done much of anything." As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Thune’s record has consisted of little more notable than voting to support the Bush administration’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and lobbying against the closure of Ellsworth Air Force Base – once a significant economic engine in South Dakota.
Newt Gingrich – As Speaker of the House from 1995-1998, Gingrich stymied the Clinton administration’s foreign policy by opposing the Clinton administration’s military inventions in Bosnia, Kosovo, Sudan and Afghanistan, ran Congressional resistance to the Oslo peace process and blocked funding for the United Nations. In recent years, Newt’s grandest foray into foreign affairs has largely consisted of his railing against the proposed “Ground Zero mosque” – in one notable instance comparing the establishment of an Islamic cultural center to Nazis demonstrating next to the Holocaust Museum.
Rudy Giuliani – As Mayor of New York City Giulani responded to the initial 1993 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center by establishing an emergency command center in its basement, later presided over the worst terrorist attack in the history of the United States, once expelled Yasser Arafat from a concert at Lincoln Center.
Rick Santorum – As a Senator from Pennsylvania Santorum voted for an end to the arms embargo and for the Clinton administration’s use of force in Bosnia, against the use of force in Kosovo, for the Bush administration’s use of force in Iraq and voted against a timetable for withdrawal. Santorum sponsored the Iran Freedom and Support Act which appropriated $10 million for regime change in Iran, and he was also one of only two Senators to vote against the confirmation of Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense.