Huntsman Goes from ‘Wobbly’ to Anti-War

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Massimo suggests Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman inadvertently stepped into dovish foreign policy territory and that they’ll soon correct — or overcorrect — the mistake. That’s a credible explanation for the former, whose aides spent the day making hawkish reassurances to The Weekly Standard, among others. I don’t buy it for Huntsman.

“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 says in a new interview with Esquire. “It’s a tribal state, and it always will be. Whether we like it or not, whenever we withdraw from Afghanistan, whether it’s now or years from now, we’ll have an incendiary situation.” This is no accident.

Huntsman is being purposeful, if not downright systematic, in telling every reporter who will listen about his reservations on military action. On Libya: “We just can’t afford it.” On the Pentagon’s budget: “If you can’t find anything there to cut, you’re not looking hard enough.”

As I wrote when Huntsman first starting talking to the press about these issues, there’s room for a mainstream Republican isolationist to capitalize on the unpopularity of the wars in Afghanistan and Libya, at least in a general election. (Independents and Democrats disapprove more than Republicans, but the Tea Party shares some of their distaste for intervention, albeit for fiscal reasons.) Haley Barbour seemed to be making that calculation back when he was still flirting with a presidential bid. And for Huntsman, as a moderate Mormon technocrat and recent of employee of Barack Obama, it’s one of the few areas where he can draw a strong contrast with his chief primary rival, and ultimately, the President himself.

If anything, Huntsman’s comments on Afghanistan are getting more emphatic with each interview. “Should we stay and play traffic cop?,” he muses to Esquire. “I don’t think that serves our strategic interests.”