The Debate

Foreign Policy in America

Jon Huntsman’s top foreign policy advisor gives his take on the level of debate so far in the primaries.

I’ve headed home from a very snowy New Hampshire yesterday (I’m wondering what impact that would have had on turnout had it happened a couple of days earlier – I suspect Ron Paul would have been better off). But before I left, I asked Republican candidate Jon Huntsman’s top foreign and defense policy advisor, Randy Schriver, what he made of the campaign so far.

U.S. presidential elections are rarely, if ever, won and lost on foreign policy issues (it’s the economy, stupid), but a lack of foreign policy knowledge can undoubtedly help undermine a candidate’s efforts to project the necessary presidential gravitas (think ex-candidate Herman Cain’s worries about China becoming a nuclear power).

So what did Schriver think about the level of debate so far?

“The quality of the debate is, of course, a function of the quality of the candidates. In this regard, Gov. Huntsman outclasses the field and brings hands-on experience as a diplomat, a trade official and a private businessman,” he told me. “He has raised the quality of debate through putting forward creative yet practical ideas while other candidates have been unable to resist the urge to pander and seek the easy applause lines.”

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Unfortunately in U.S. politics, ignorance is sometimes worn as a badge of honor, and Huntsman’s service as ambassador to China under Barack Obama has drawn criticism even from candidates who should know better. China’s rise is undoubtedly the biggest story in the big story of Asia, and having someone with such hands on experience is clearly preferable to the blustering, counterproductive posturing of the “will he, won’t he?” non-candidate Donald Trump.

But are Americans paying attention to the candidates’ foreign policy stances?

“Most American are focused on the economy and jobs – but in reality, these issues are interrelated with foreign policy,” Schriver told me, adding that Huntsman has been keen to emphasize the importance of putting trade and economics at the forefront of U.S. international efforts. “[He] will continue to articulate that view so that the voters do see the linkage and understand better why we need to get back in the trade game.” 

And of course, as important as China is, there’s been plenty going on in just the past month or so for whoever is elected (or reelected) to get his teeth into. What does Schriver think are some the things that have perhaps been a little overlooked?

“There are several issues we are watching carefully such as the situation in Iran, as they have threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, and North Korea as they implement an uncertain leadership transition,” he said. “I think there’s a chance the discussion could also broaden out, rather than get more issues specific.” 

Moving closer to the election, he argued that it will become clear “that President Obama has a different vision for the United States in the world, and essentially sees his task as managing our decline.”

“Gov. Huntsman believes the world is a better place when America leads, and our interests are best served when America leads. That premise would inform his overall approach to foreign policy.”

Expect that theme of whether Obama really believes in America’s calling – and right – to lead the world to come up again in this campaign.