John Huntsman said the U.S. has "too much in the way of boots on the ground in corners of the world where we probably don't need it," in an appearance on Good Morning America Friday. Huntsman explained that he wouldn't have intervened in Libya because it's "not core to our national security interest." And he said we are trying to do too much in Afghanistan, too: "[W]e have to evaluate very carefully our presence in Afghanistan... it is a heavy and very expensive presence we have on the ground. ... what we have in Afghanistan today is not consistent with how we ought to be responding."
Huntsman is not the first Republican presidential contender to advance a more dovish position on our three wars. But as a former diplomat, his foreign policy credetials make him the most credible one so far. At the first GOP primary debate, Ron Paul and Gary Johnson, both polling in the single digits, called for a withdrawal from Afghanistan. Before he dropped out of the race, Haley Barbour, too, questioned the need for 100,000 soldiers deployed there,. Time's Adam Sorensen notes that, "The war has become increasingly unpopular, even among Republican voters and especially in the fiscally focused Tea Party wing. But the candidates speaking to those concerns, like Ron Paul for one, aren’t really mainstream contenders for the nomination. With Barbour out, that space remains in the GOP field." And that's Huntsman's opening.
Gallup finds that 47 percent of Republicans think we've accomplished our mission in Afghanistan (the same number as who think we have more work to do." And 59 percent of all Americans think we've finished the job. A USA Today poll also found GOP voters are evenly split on withdrawing. That's a big change from the recently more hawkish Republican party politics: in the spring of 2008, only 32 percent of Republicans wanted to pull out of Iraq, while 60 percent of all Americans wanted to, according to Gallup. And 77 percent of Republicans wanted to send more troops to Afhganistan in July 2008, Gallup found.
The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza observes that Huntsman is the only current GOP candidate with significant international experience, having served Presidents Bush, Reagan, and most recently, Obama, as ambassador to China. That means his "experience and depth of knowledge in foreign affairs could allow him to turn the negative of his time in the Obama Administration into a positive --or at least a neutral--factor," Cillizza writes.