Michael continues the discussion on Huntsman and Republican foreign policy:

I think Daniel is right to criticize the statements but I took them as the aberrations of trying to campaign in the GOP primary. You emphasize that all options are on the table for Iran to balance the dovish direction of your criticisms of Obama in Afghanistan. I didn’t love the “nation-building at home” line he used. But I’m not the GOP electorate, am I?

Michael and I will probably continue to go back and forth on this without settling anything. I would be more pleased if I thought Huntsman’s Iran position were an “aberration” and one driven entirely by the political demands of his presidential campaign, but even so it would hardly be encouraging that a would-be reformer felt compelled to pander so egregiously (and ineffectively!) on one of the most important foreign policy issues of the day. Huntsman’s statements on Iran didn’t so much “balance” his support for faster withdrawal from Afghanistan as they cancelled out whatever political and policy advantage the latter might have given him. He did emphasize that America’s future wasn’t in that part of the world, and then sabotaged his own message by proposing to take the U.S. into another conflict in the region.

“Nation-building at home” was and is a silly phrase, since it treats “nation-building” as little more than building infrastructure and spending money on domestic priorities. That greatly underestimates how difficult and coercive real “nation-building” is. Since it is really a call for increased domestic discretionary spending, it’s an idea that’s ill-suited to appeal to most Republican voters. Obama used the phrase as often as he did because it was a message much better-suited to the views of members of his coalition.

It was Huntsman’s “massive and credible foreign policy experience,” as Michael puts, that first made me think that he would be able and willing to break with Republican hawks on at least some major issues. Unlike other ambitious governors in the presidential race, he didn’t need to depend on his advisers as heavily, and the presidential campaign wouldn’t be the first time that he had spent any time thinking about foreign policy. That’s why I remain skeptical that his position on Iran was an “aberration” rather than the policy that he genuinely favored at the time. I agree with Michael that “Huntsman is one of the only Republicans with anything sane to say on foreign policy,” which is why it has been so unfortunate that on one of the most important foreign policy issues his statements have been anything but sane.

Michael is right that serving in Obama’s Cabinet would only compound Huntsman’s problems with his own party, but the damage there may have already been done. The problem for Huntsman isn’t that he has been dismissed after failing in his first presidential campaign, but that he was dismissed by the vast majority of Republicans even before the campaign began. I have been as critical of Huntsman’s campaign strategy as anyone, but in retrospect I can see how it was an attempt to make a virtue out of necessity. By the time Huntsman decided on running, his stock with conservatives had already plummeted because of his service in Beijing, and his campaign tried to make the most of support from groups of voters that might still be open to him. Huntsman’s experience could be valuable for a future Republican ticket, but I suspect that if he were to end up on a presidential ticket it would have to be as the VP nominee.