Jon Huntsman photo

Address at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester

October 10, 2011

A president's approach to foreign affairs — how he or she views the world, and views America's role on the world stage — is perhaps the most critical function of that sacred office.

This has been true throughout our nation's history, whether it was Truman in the dawn of the Atomic Age, Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis, Reagan and the Soviet Union.

But it has never been more critical than today. 

We are a nation mired in multiple military engagements overseas, and in the grips of an economic crisis at home.

These are tumultuous times not just for our nation, but all nations.

Instability in the Middle East, debt crises across Europe, the looming threat of nuclear proliferation. 

The world needs American leadership now more than ever. Yet we are struggling to provide it.

President Obama's policies have weakened America, and thus diminished America's presence on the global stage.

We must correct our course.

I've lived overseas four times. I've seen the world as a diplomat, as a businessman, as a humanitarian. I've lived in and seen what our most significant competitor nations are doing to prepare for the rest of the 21st Century. And I have a very clear vision of what America must do as well. 

I believe the United States has a generational opportunity to redefine its place in the world, and reclaim the mantle of global leadership.

My administration's approach to foreign affairs will be guided by that which defines American exceptionalism, and that is our values: liberty, democracy, human rights, free markets.

America's values, ladies and gentlemen, are America's best gift to humanity. 

To those nations who share our values, and who we call friends and allies, we will restore trust and strengthen our bonds — both economically and militarily.

To those nations who continue to resist the unstoppable march of human, political and economic freedom, we will make clear that they are on the wrong side of history, by ensuring that America's light shines bright in every corner of the globe, representing a beacon of hope and inspiration. 

We will establish a foreign policy doctrine that reflects our modern world. Simply advocating more ships, more troops, and more weapons is not a viable path forward. We need more agility, more intelligence, and more economic engagement with the world.

How will we do this?

In short, erase the old map. End nation-building, engage our allies, and fix our core. This is how we will fight the enemy we have, and renew American exceptionalism. 

Today I'd like to discuss the five planks which will comprise my administration's foreign policy.

1) First and foremost, we must rebuild America's core

At this critical juncture in history, our nation's greatest challenge does not emanate from outside our borders, but from within.

Nearly 15 million of our fellow Americans are unemployed, denied the dignity of a job. Millions more are so dispirited they've given up looking.

Our national debt continues to streak toward unsustainable levels.

Right here in New Hampshire, in Hillsborough County, Sheriff James Hardy — who has served for 30 years -- told me that for the first time ever, his folks are handing out foreclosure notices to the middle class.

All this is after trillions of dollar in government spending and massive bailouts.

Our nation's core is weak. Our people are hurting. And America cannot project power abroad when we are weak at home.

It's increasingly evident that we've lost leverage in the international community. 

In just the last few weeks, we saw the Palestinians make an end-run around the American-led peace process, because they lost confidence in it, and in our ability to lead.

The world is a better place when America leads. The world is a safer place when America leads. And our interests are best served when America leads.

But to lead abroad, we must regain strength at home.

Returning people to work, reducing our debt, restoring confidence in our future...fixing America first…that will be my most urgent priority.

It will require more than half-measures. It will require serious, bold reforms to our tax and regulatory systems — reforms that I have offered as part of a plan that one economist calls the most pro-growth proposal ever offered by a presidential candidate.

I will drop that plan on the front steps of Congress on day one, and will not stop fighting until we get the job done.

2) We need a foreign policy of expansion, not containment

Strengthening our core means dramatic overhauls of our tax and regulatory codes. It also means empowering American entrepreneurs to compete in the global marketplace, and sell their products to customers around the world.

America once had a foreign policy based on containment—the containment of communism. 

Today, we need a foreign policy based on expansion—the expansion of America's competitiveness and engagement in the world through partnerships and trade agreements. 

Free trade supports nearly 18 million American jobs, and establishing new lines of trade with international partners represents an enormous well of untapped economic and political goodwill.

95 percent of the world's customers live outside our borders, yet the United States is party to only 17 of the more than 300 trade agreements worldwide.

We will particularly seek greater trade opportunities with nations that share our values; that believe in good government, open markets and rule of law; as well as nations willing to engage in reform efforts toward those ends.

It starts with passing the three pending trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, which President Obama has resisted for three years, and which could boost American exports by more than $10 billion and create tens of thousands of American jobs.

We should aggressively push for the conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which will open markets in Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

We should pursue trade agreements with Japan and Taiwan.

We need to pursue free trade agreements as aggressively as China. 

China is in the game. We are not.

America must also support the Doha Development Round of WTO negotiations, aimed at promoting trade between developed and developing nations.

This is an opportunity for the unstoppable tide of economic advancement to lift all ships, and it falls to America to lead this effort.

Energy independence is another critical piece of not only our foreign policy, but our economic policy.

Every year America sends more than $300 billion overseas for imported oil — much of it to the Middle East.

I've offered a comprehensive plan to free ourselves from OPEC's grasp by relying more on domestic supplies of oil and gas — to the benefit of our national and economic security.

3) We must right-size our current foreign entanglements

Simply put, we are risking American blood and treasure in parts of the world where our strategy needs to be rethought.

Afghanistan was once the center of the terrorist threat to America. That is no longer the case. 

The Soviets were there for nine years before they left with over 14,000 dead. They tried to crush the Afghans with pure power—aerial bombing and strafing and helicopter gunships and tanks.

We have been there ten years and are taking a different approach. We are nation building. 

Our presence there should not focus on nation building, however, but rather on counterterrorism. 

We cannot social engineer other countries. We can't even social engineer our own inner cities. 

It is cultural arrogance to think we can make tribal leaders into democratic leaders. 

It is wishful thinking to believe that our troops, by staying for a couple more years, will prevent further instability or even civil war.

Our men and women in uniform have done their all, given their all, in Afghanistan and Iraq. They routed the Taliban and crippled Al-Qaeda and other terrorist networks. They have taken the fight abroad so we didn't have to face it here at home. Our nation has done its duty. 

After 6,000 lives lost and more than $1 trillion spent, it is time to bring our brave troops home. 

And as they return, we will take care of them, and help our veterans transition from the battlefront to the homefront.

We could go from 100,000 boots on the ground to a much smaller footprint in a year, while leaving behind an adequate number of counterterrorist and intelligence functions and a facile special forces presence. 

And I believe we should.

As for the argument that our exit will destabilize Pakistan . . . the truth is— 

Only Pakistan can save Pakistan. 

Only Afghanistan can save Afghanistan. 

And right now we should focus on America saving America. 

Our future is not in the Hindu Kush Mountains of Afghanistan. 

It is in schools and universities just like this one — which educate our leaders and entrepreneurs of tomorrow. It is in Silicon Valley. It is in the industrial corridors of the Midwest. It is in our farms and factories, and our ports that ship our products to the world. 

Let me be clear. Pakistan — which possesses a demonstrated nuclear weapons capability and a fractured military that sponsors terrorism — does demand U.S. attention. 

Yet we must acknowledge certain realities as we consider the wisest way forward. This is not a relationship based on shared values. It is transactional at best.

Many Americans are rightly suspicious of Islamabad in the wake of the Bin Laden operation. Likewise, despite billions of dollars in aid, the United States is held in very low regard throughout the country. 

We cannot dictate fundamental changes upon an age-old civilization from afar.

But make no mistake. As president, I will protect American security interests in Pakistan without being naive about Islamabad's incentives and long-term interests.

There is another advantage to a more judicious approach toward foreign entanglements. 

It helps prevent our military from being stretched too thin, and unable to effectively respond to a direct security threat — either to America, or one of our allies.

This includes standing shoulder to shoulder with Israel as they manage a host of new challenges brought on by the Arab Spring, along with more familiar challenges, such as a hostile Iran, which will continue to be a transcendent challenge of the next decade. 

I cannot live with a nuclear-armed Iran. If you want an example of when I would consider the use of American force, it would be that.

A reexamination of America's role in the world also requires a reexamination of our military and defense infrastructure. 

It may surprise some people to learn that we spend more on defense today than at the height of the Cold War. Indeed, we spend more on defense than the rest of the world combined. 

We still have remnants of a top-heavy, post-Cold War infrastructure. It needs to be transformed to reflect the 21st Century world, and the growing asymmetric threats we face.

For example, counterterrorism needs to be a much larger part of our 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. 

We must also adapt our defenses to evolving means of attack. 

This means a greater focus on intelligence gathering and more agile special forces units, which can respond swiftly and firmly to terrorist threats in any corner of the globe.

The traditional roles and missions of our armed forces will remain relevant for the foreseeable future — but the relative importance of counter-terrorism, intelligence gathering training and equipping foreign security forces, and special forces operations will continue to grow going forward.

We must also transform our orientation.

I have come to believe that we are embarking on a Pacific Century…in which America must and will play a dominant role.

By almost any objective measure — population, economic power, military might, energy use — the center of gravity of global human activity is moving toward the Asia-Pacific region.

Embracing this reality may bring a dramatic change to the look of our military. The Asia Pacific is a maritime theater whereas Europe was mostly a land theater.

For the U.S., the Asia-Pacific features a collection of bilateral military alliances in contrast to the presence of NATO in Europe. And the Asia-Pacific is full of disputed islands and resource claims when compared to the relative calm of other regions.

We are a Pacific nation, and our vital interests in that region cannot be compromised.

4) We must strengthen our relationships with major powers 

Our traditional alliance relationships with Europe remain vital to American security, and we should also work closely with our friends in NATO and the European Union to bring Russia, a sometimes difficult actor, closer to the West.

But I believe that the reemergence of two ancient lands — China and India — will most influence how America navigates the 21st Century. 

First, China.

There is no other relationship that, if mismanaged, carries greater negative consequences for America and the world. 

Alternatively, wise stewardship of the U.S.-China relationship will make America and our allies safer and more prosperous.

The stakes are enormous, as are the challenges and opportunities.

Naturally, we will disagree often—whether over Taiwan's security needs, human rights, or the protection of intellectual property rights.

While avoiding a trade war, we must also press China to open its markets to our exports and increase internal demand, so China's growth is not at the expense of our workers.

Yet a fundamental question is: will we also find areas of cooperation? 

Our relationship with China has been a transactional one for 40 years. We buy their products. They buy our bonds. But for a truly healthy relationship, we need to infuse the relationship with shared values.

Until that time, we should begin to build a broader and more cooperative agenda. The United States and China can and should today start collaborating on clean energy technologies, combating global pandemics, and countering piracy on the high seas.

We must also strengthen our relationship with India — a country that shares our values: religious tolerance, respect for human rights, and a commitment to democracy.

We must begin with negotiations to reach an eventual trade agreement, creating hundreds of millions of additional consumers for American products.

But our relationship with India needs to go beyond economics.

The arc of countries that lie along the Indian Ocean border some of the most important energy and trading lanes in the world. Those lanes are critical for the free flow of commerce, and remain vulnerable to threats small and large. To that end, I welcome the Indian Navy's transformation into a blue water navy.

As president, I will increase our military and diplomatic cooperation with India, with the expectation that they share responsibility in maintaining peace and security in this vital region.

And recognizing India's emerging role, I will also support our ally's bid to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, as is fitting a country representing one-sixth of humanity.

5) Finally, we must take care of our own neighborhood

For too long the United States has neglected its commitment to the countries in our backyard…the Western Hemisphere. The result is lost opportunities, strained relations and escalating security challenges.

Latin America is not only a neighbor with whom we share a rich history; it is also a major source of untapped economic opportunities.

The U.S. exports three times as much to Latin America as we do to China. But many nations in our hemisphere are experiencing a terrifying surge in violence that threatens to disrupt this progress.

The wave of bloodshed that has swept over Mexico — the result of corruption and collusion with drug cartels — has left 35,000 people dead, creating casualties even inside America's borders.

Mexico stands ready to work with the U.S. in combating the drug war, and we should commit to continued cooperation, including enhanced military-to-military engagement.

In Guatemala, escalating violence is resulting in an average of 55 murders per week, threatening an already overloaded justice system. These problems, though, are not contained within Guatemala's borders.

The country has emerged as a funnel for regional narco-criminal activity, threatening our neighbors and ourselves. As President, I will not accept the status quo. I will support our neighbors to quickly and sternly eliminate these narco-terrorists.

Colombia offers a fine example of the benefits of American engagement and investment in our hemisphere.

After years of drug violence, Colombia — initially under the courageous leadership of President Uribe — pushed back the FARC and weakened the drug cartels, while professionalizing its military and police forces.

Colombia now aspires to be a regional leader in Latin America, and they are well on their way.

There is also tremendous potential within Brazil, the world's 5th largest country and 7th largest economy.

Brazil is rich with opportunity in the energy and technology industries, which we should recognize with the initiation of bilateral trade negotiations.

By forging partnerships and alliances, we can help develop political and economic stability throughout the region, thus creating an environment in which all the peoples of Latin America can rise.

We must not forget that peace and prosperity throughout our neighborhood, promotes peace and prosperity at home.

I'd like to close by sharing a thought from my time in China.

Emotionally, one of the most powerful things I did as ambassador—or could do— was meet with dissidents. I would do this frequently. Sometimes I would go to them. Sometimes they would come to the Embassy. We did this quietly. It was a real peril for them, and it also closed some official doors to me.

But what was always clear to me was that those seeking reform and change drew strength from our nation's values—the openness, the freedoms of speech, assembly, religion and press. Half a world away they could see this country's light. Dissidents around the world can see it.

All the troops in the world cannot give you that light. You either have it or you don't.

That is America's value in the world today.

When we shine our light abroad magnified by a strong core at home, we are invincible.

Ronald Reagan said that America was "an empire of ideals."

Ladies and gentlemen, if we maintain our empire of ideals, not only will we further the cause of liberty, human rights, free markets and free enterprise abroad, we will strengthen it right here at home.

And that is a cause around which all of our citizens can and must be united.

Thank you for inviting me, and for your warm hospitality.

Jon Huntsman, Address at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under




New Hampshire

Simple Search of Our Archives