It’s been a popular conceit on the left that Ron Paul is the GOP’s “peace candidate,” with a superior foreign policy to not only his GOP opponents but President Obama. But there’s actually a Republican presidential candidate with a more sensible foreign policy than Paul’s: former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman.
Paul’s foreign policy has enormous flaws: namely a completely illiberal lack of interest in promoting democracy or human rights, opposition to all foreign aid and crazy conspiracy theories about the United Nations. Huntsman doesn’t harbor such batty ideas.
Huntsman, like Paul, does have intelligently restrained views about the proper role of the US military. Huntsman calls for withdrawal from Afghanistan, arguing that our role there should have been limited to defeating Al Qaeda, not “nation-building.” Huntsman proposes to reduce our excessive military spending. Perhaps even more importantly, he calls for reducing our imperial military footprint. Huntsman asks the right questions about the US military policy, such as why we need 50,000 troops in Germany to defend Western Europe from the Soviet Union. Huntsman offers a middle path between what he describes as the GOP split between “the isolationist wing of Ron Paul, the Cold War mentality of a Mitt Romney.”
This is part of the reason that the Boston Globe endorsed Huntsman on Friday, writing:
Serving as ambassador to China, the largest economic and military competitor to the United States, is a deeply meaningful credential. Notably, Huntsman’s nuanced foreign-policy vision of economic and strategic alliances stems from his time in Beijing. While other candidates point toward Cold War-style rejection and isolation of China, Huntsman promises deeper engagement. But he had the courage as ambassador to walk among protesters, drawing the ire of repressive Chinese authorities.
His wisdom on immigration also stands out. Though he reluctantly came to support a fence along the Mexican border, he avoids the demonization of illegal immigrants employed by Romney and some other candidates. And he smartly recognizes that border crackdowns aren’t the only immigration issues. He wants to expand visas for highly skilled, job-creating immigrants, a crucial step in preserving American technological dominance.
This hardly means that Huntsman is perfect from a liberal perspective. He fear-mongers about Iran, although not nearly as much as his main rivals. He endorses the foolish, expensive idea of a border fence with Mexico. When speaking on the campaign trail Huntsman says he wants to “make the economy our number one priority in foreign policy,” with counterterrorism coming in second. He has those priorities backwards. Human rights and humanitarian aid should also merit a mention. But his foreign policy platform shows responsible maturity. That’s more than can be said for any of his Republican opponents, including Paul.
On balance, Huntsman is not better on foreign policy than President Obama. That’s especially true now that Obama has just put forth a sensible plan to scale down the size of America’s military and reorient it around modern threats.
But if liberals—or even left-wing non-intervenionists—are looking to send the message to Obama that we should withdraw from Afghanistan and reduce military spending, there’s a better candidate articulating those views than Paul.