Erik Kain continues the discussion on Huntsman at his new blog American Times:
But he may be the most palatable mainstream Republican in the race for many of the reasons Will notes. He’s not a hawk so far as I can tell, whatever his statements on Iran [bold mine-DL]. He strikes me as more of an owl – a term I’d also apply to Barack Obama. Back when I considered myself a reform conservative I think a guy like Huntsman would have really excited me – not so much these days.
I know I’ve been beating this issue to death, but let me go over this one more time. Erik says that the reasons he admires Huntsman are that he seems “cool-headed,” “his foreign policy is more realistic than the general thrust of his party,” and he has been reasonably good on financial regulation reform. For whatever it’s worth, I think all of those descriptions are true, but they’re not all that meaningful. For one thing, it doesn’t take much to qualify as “more realistic” on foreign policy. Leon Hadar sees Huntsman and Obama as mostly similar realist internationalists, and that also seems right, except that Huntsman has very little credibility as a opponent of foolish wars of choice, and he has gone out of his way to threaten military action against Iran. If Huntsman’s Iran statements don’t qualify him as a hawk, or at least as an Iran hawk, I’m not sure what would. Erik seems to be saying that hawkishness is a matter of temperament rather than policy positions, and that doesn’t make sense. In fact, I don’t think Huntsman would qualify as one of Erik’s “owls,” unless I completely misunderstand what “owl” is supposed to mean in this context.
Erik’s “owl” category (as opposed to hawk or dove) is an interesting attempt to create an alternative to the usual binary, which he has elsewhere described in these terms:
I am cognizant of the need for a strong defense. I simply believe that the strongest national defense is built through avoiding foreign meddling, steering well clear of nation building, and looking to our own soil first and foremost.
I won’t rehearse the litany of all the interventions Obama has supported over the years, but suffice it to say I don’t think he fits the “owl” definition. Huntsman has less of a public record on these issues, which makes it a little harder to judge, but based on what we do know he has flatly opposed last year’s war of choice in Libya, he wants to wind down the war in Afghanistan, but he favors starting a new war of choice in Iran. This last one is so much more important and so completely wrong that it’s hard not to give it more weight. On Iraq, he took no public position on the war between 2002 and today, but he endorsed the most zealous pro-war candidate in the last cycle and criticized the withdrawal of U.S. troops and called for a residual force to remain there apparently indefinitely. Put another way, on the most important foreign policy issue of the last decade Huntsman professes to be agnostic or at least unwilling to revisit the debate, but based on how he is misjudging Iran it is fair to guess that he would have favored invading Iraq as well.