The Washington Examiner‘s David Freddoso recently interviewed Jon Huntsman, and during the interview Freddoso asked him about reducing military spending. Here’s part of Huntsman’s answer:
We’re spending over $700 billion per year in the Defense Department. I think we start by looking at Afghanistan. We don’t need 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. That’s a million dollars per that we’re looking at. We have 700 installations around the world in 60 different countries – many of them an overhang from the Cold War, from the George Kennan view of containment [bold mine-DL]. We can certainly do something there.
The proposed cuts that Huntsman lists all sound reasonable and obvious. It’s true that many military installations are holdovers from the Cold War, but a great many of them are the result of U.S. policy since the end of the Cold War. Huntsman doesn’t always provide a clear picture of where he thinks U.S. overseas bases are no longer needed, except to acknowledge that American forces in Europe are no longer needed. Referring to the empire of bases as a consequence of Kennan’s view of containment is misleading in a couple of ways. First, Kennan‘s understanding of containment doctrine was not the same as the much more ambitious, global containment doctrine pushed by Truman and Acheson, and obviously Kennan’s later foreign policy views after he left government showed no sympathy with how containment doctrine was being misapplied in Asia. Once the Cold War was over, Kennan was outspoken in opposing the U.S. interventions that have created many of the new military installations around the world. Implying that Kennan favored the sort of military overstretch that Huntsman is criticizing is sloppy, and there seems to be no reason to drop Kennan’s name into the conversation (as he did in his RJC remarks as well) except to create the superficial impression that Huntsman is knowledgeable.
Despite this talk of reducing the number of bases overseas, I don’t get the impression from Huntsman’s overall foreign policy vision that he thinks that there are very many places in the world where U.S. “leadership” is not needed. No less than any of the others, he affirms American exceptionalism in terms of U.S. hegemony:
American exceptionalism is not only about who we are as a people – but it also speaks to how the United States alone is positioned in the world to promote freedom, democracy, human rights, wealth creation, and security. It is a role we should not shrink from, but rather embrace.
Our goal as a nation should be to sustain our pre-eminence as a force for good.
If the U.S. is “alone positioned” to do all of this, and the U.S. must sustain its “pre-eminence as a force for good,” from which parts of the world is Huntsman actually going to remove U.S. bases? Huntsman’s policy proposals suggest that the U.S. would be increasing its military presence overseas in some parts of the world even as it may be reducing it in others. For instance, Huntsman proposes applying a “Colombia model” to Mexico and Guatemala as part of his plan to increase U.S. engagement in Latin America. Of course, part of current U.S. policy in Colombia includes an increased military presence at multiple bases in connection with the drug war. Is this what Huntsman has in mind when he refers to a “Colombia model”?
Update: Here is a recent report from World Politics Review on the U.S. military’s use of a base in Honduras in support of the drug war.