Over the weekend, Huntsman made some surprising statements on Libya and Afghanistan that seemed partly to vindicate my original commentary on the potential of a Huntsman candidacy back in 2009. One of the most troubling things about Huntsman was that he was a McCain supporter and surrounded himself with former McCain staffers, and this suggested, among other things, that he would prove to be yet another tiresome foreign policy hawk in addition to being weak on immigration. It’s still possible that Huntsman will end up as more of a hawk on many other issues, and he seems intent on positioning himself as a McCain-like “centrist” on some domestic issues, but at least when it comes to the administration’s Libya blunder he has shown himself to be the anti-McCain on policy as well as in temperament.
Unlike the hawks already in the 2012 race, Huntsman has some understanding of foreign policy derived from experience as a diplomat. Two years ago, I raised the possibility that this meant that Huntsman would be more able and possibly more willing to break with the prevailing views in the party on foreign policy. Of course, I acknowledged at the time that it was his background as a diplomat and his work in the administration that guaranteed that he would never be accepted by his party. His statements on Libya and Afghanistan have made certain that party and movement activists and leaders will want nothing to do with him. Huntsman has already been denounced as an “isolationist” by one of the usual suspects, and perhaps even more damningly (in the eyes of Republican voters) as a “dove” by others.
Huntsman has no realistic chance at the nomination, but his participation in the debates may prove useful in that he can expose the shallowness and ignorance of much of the rest of the field when it comes to foreign affairs. To the extent that he can help undermine Romney and reveal him to be a poorly-informed demagogue on these issues, he will be doing us all a service. Meanwhile, along with Paul, Johnson, and Bachmann, Huntsman will bring the number of clear opponents of the Libyan war to four, which will put them more or less on an equal footing with the reliably interventionist candidates in Romney, Pawlenty, Gingrich, and Santorum.
Update: As Jim Antle points out, Huntsman has also recently made the usual foolish hawkish noises on Iran.