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I feel compelled to step in and briefly say something about this. Previously here and here.

HuntsmanD.pngVarious sources -- notably Jake Tapper here, and Politico here -- are reporting that "White House officials" expect Jon Huntsman (right, with one of his daughters) to leave his job as ambassador to China "in the coming months," to consider running against Barack Obama next year.

The "in the coming months" part strikes me as non-news. I believe it was generally understood that the Huntsmans had made a two-year commitment to the job, which would take them through this summer.

The "assumed to be considering a run" part is quite different. I really like Jon Huntsman personally and respect him politically. I continue to think that he was an inspired choice for the job in Beijing. I believe he represents a tenable national future for the Republicans when they are past the Tea Party stage.

But these reports, which he now quite notably has not knocked down, create an impossible situation. If he is seriously planning a run to take the White House away from Obama, how can he continue to serve in the Administration?* How can Obama keep him? Unless, for clever sandbagging purposes, Obama is driving home his closeness to Huntsman, and also delaying the (already late) start to his campaign, to handicap him in the Republican primaries.

When the reports first came up, I laughed them off. But it's striking now that Huntsman has failed to do the same. What I'd like to see -- for the nation's interest, and (in my view, but what do I know?) for Huntsman's -- is for him clearly to put them to rest. Say that of course he's a Republican, and of course he'll support the GOP ticket in 2012. But he's doing the nation's business now in Beijing, and doesn't want to complicate that with all this political gossip. To me as armchair strategist, staying out of the 2012 fray would seem to save him a lot of heartache. Avoiding a primary fight in this bitter season, when he's fresh off Team Obama; and, if he survived that, avoiding a general election battle when  -- one assumes -- the economic cycle should be improving. If that economic assumption is wrong, everything else changes. But if that were the case and Obama seemed gravely weakened, I am not sure that makes a moderate, rather than a red-meat conservative, the most likely Republican candidate.

If Huntsman can't say that, how can he stay? How is the Administration supposed to view the cables they get from him these "next few months"? Or the talks they have with him about Chinese policy on North Korea, the RMB, trade? It would be nice to hear Huntsman himself say, "This is all very flattering, and at the right time, but for now, we have important business here in China...."   Just a thought.
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* No, an ambassador is usually not a central part of the policy-making apparatus for an administration. As many ambassadors point out, to their annoyance! But China is a special case, given its importance, and Huntsman's prominence there as a Mandarin speaker and political star, and the huge scale of the Beijing embassy, and the range and complexity of issues on which people there operate. It's not like an Honorary Consul job someplace.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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