Jon Huntsman photo

Press Release - Straight Talk on War

August 01, 2011

If you can't define a winning exit strategy for the American people, where we somehow come out ahead, then we're wasting our money, and we're wasting our strategic resources.

Addressing last week a to-capacity Dartmouth College auditorium, Jon Huntsman laid out the framework from which he evaluates all American military entanglements: Does the deployment of precious troops and resources speak to the nation's core interests?

As he later emphasized in an interview with National Review's Elise Jordan, unchecked military exercises, particularly those waged in the fractured, tribal nations of Libya and Afghanistan, won't affect the change for which unemployed Americans yearn. "The future of the United States is not going to be determined by firefights on the Hindu Kush," a mountain range stretching across the Afghan-Pakistan border, he told the conservative magazine.

Indeed, in the intervening months since his return from atop America's diplomatic mission in China, Huntsman has offered the sharpest criticism of a war effort in Afghanistan he no longer sees as proportional to the threat -- or benefit. ("If you can't define a winning exit strategy for the American people, where we somehow come out ahead, then we're wasting our money, and we're wasting our strategic resources," Huntsman told Esquire earlier this year.)

But Jordan, a former National Security Council aide and speechwriter for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, wonders if conservative Tea Party activists will find affinity with Huntsman for his blunt talk on the price tag affixed to our bloated Afghanistan presence:

His views, though, may prove to be much more popular among tea-party conservatives (and New Hampshire primary voters) than one might at first assume. Tea partiers, like so many other Americans, are fed up with the decade-long war in Afghanistan. Huntsman has made it clear he's ready to wind it down, leaving behind only a nimble and aggressive counterterrorism force. Although the Pentagon and the commanders on the ground are still pressing to keep as many nation-building troops in Afghanistan for as long as possible, Huntsman said he'll trust his own instincts. (Unlike frontrunner Mitt Romney, who said he'll do what the generals tell him to do.) "I've been engaged in that part of the world for many years, and I lived next door for the last two years," he said. "We've already had wins for the United States [in Afghanistan]. We can't wish for stability more than they want it." And though he's been portrayed as too moderate for the Republican base, he has a consistent pro-life record, is a big Second Amendment spporter, and enacted the largest tax cuts in Utah's history.

There's something to Jordan's curiosity, with a growing universe of polling having found a majority of Americans -- even a majority of conservatives and self-identified Tea Party activists -- favoring a reduction in our decade-long troop presence in Afghanistan. A January poll found Tea Party and conservative sentiments of the conflict increasingly soured, with 64 percent of the former and 66 percent of the latter supporting a troop reduction.

But the ledgers for Libya and Afghanistan represent only half of the bifurcated do-or-don't war equation, which necessitates the nation not overextend militarily lest it ignore the calls of our allies in times of distress -- like Israel staring down a weaponized Iran. ("Now if ever there was a reason to consider using US force, it would be in pursuit of situations like that," Huntsman told New Hampshire's WMUR earlier this year.)

Gov. Huntsman didn't launch his candidacy to shy from the transcendent questions of our time, foreign and domestic, for which Jordan says primary voters have begun tuning into his message. "He's carefully explained how he looks at the world; now it's time for the world -- or at least the area of the world running from Hanover to Manchester to Portsmouth -- to take a careful look at Huntsman."

If only the party could expect the same candor from its front runner.

Jon Huntsman, Press Release - Straight Talk on War Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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