Obama taps Jon Huntsman: Excellent Choice for China

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jon huntsman jr.jpg
Recently at a Congressional Quarterly breakfast, Political Wire blogger Taegan Goddard said that Barack Obama excels at keeping his political opposition wobbly and off balance.
Goddard is right – and Barack Obama has just pulled off another blow to the Republican party’s steadiness.
Obama has just chosen Jon Huntsman Jr. — heir to the powerful Huntsman chemical conglomerate, former Deputy US Trade Representative and Ambassador to Singapore, and incumbent Governor of Utah — to serve as US Ambassador to China.
Years ago, former Senate Majority Leader and then US Ambassador to Japan Mike Mansfield said that “the US-Japan relationship is America’s most important bilateral relationship – bar none.”
That is no longer true.
America’s relationship with China is the single most important bilateral relationship it has in its foreign policy and economic portfolios — and Barack Obama just selected as his lead point person a rising star in Republican circles who co-chaired John McCain’s presidential campaign.
I have had the privilege of knowing Jon Huntsman since 1994 and have always been impressed with his pragmatism and rejection of ideological fundamentalism.
Huntsman is a great choice for this key post. He’s smart on Asia, understands business, and has a real understanding of the complexities of China’s ascension on the global power ladder.
One of the potential personal downsides for Jon Huntsman is that I had always hoped that he might one day run for the presidency as a balanced, sensible Republican pragmatist. I think that his appointment as an Obama ambassador probably undermines that possibility.
Congrats to Jon — and this simply is just a really terrific choice for which Barack Obama deserves applause.
— Steve Clemons

Comments

24 comments on “Obama taps Jon Huntsman: Excellent Choice for China

  1. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Don’t worry about it, Michael. Wig-Wag is quite fond of calling people bigots, anti-semites, and racists.
    Anti-illegal imigration? Then you’re bigoted against Mexicans.
    Mention “Jews” when you’re criticizing Israel, and you’re an anti-semite.
    And you just experienced what happens, God forbid, if you’re specific about naming a man’s religion while advocating keeping religion out of international diplomacy.

    Reply

  2. Dave Huntsman says:

    Steve, I disagree this takes Jon out of the running for a possible
    Presidential bid. I don’t think a 2012 serious run was in the works,
    anyway; what with the Republican party imploding, the economy
    likely to be better then than now; Obama’s re-election might be
    something for him to lose.
    Speaking politically, what it does do is even further expand Jon’s
    resume and experience in the world during a series of years when
    Republicans are in the wilderness anyway (and appear to be going
    further and further back into the wilderness, and utterly unable to
    listen to any moderate). This may end up positioning Huntsman to
    make a decision in 2014 to run for the Presidency in 2016; which
    should be a much more wide-open race by then.

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  3. Mr.Murder says:

    Cohen, redux.

    Reply

  4. michael claussen says:

    To respond to wigwag: I suppose I should have said
    any of the above religions, if that was the point.
    The point is that any religious leanings bent on
    adding more to the fold would be watched carefully
    and given less access than one with less religious
    ambitions. I could care less about the religions
    accept that they do tend to messy-up the place
    more than tidy-up. Sorry for getting up your ire,
    but I would just like to see us present ourselves
    to the world with a little less religious jam on
    our tie.

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  5. Jeannie says:

    Jon Huntsman has been very good for Utah. I’m the most liberal of liberals, but even if I don’t agree with him on everything I am a fan for what Steve calls his “pragmatism and rejection of ideological fundamentalism.”
    Unfortunately it is a big loss for Utah. The very smart and pragmatic Huntsman will leave his seat to our global warming, anti-gay Lt. Governor who is a right-wing ideologue. I got a sick sinking feeling in my stomach when I heard the news. He will be missed.

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  6. WigWag says:

    I don’t know anything about John Huntsman so I can’t contribute anything about his appointment, but someone should call out Michael Claussen (May 16 2009, 11:21PM) for his bigoted commentary.
    Why exactly is the fact that Huntsman is a Mormon relevant to anything? Are Mormon’s somehow unqualified to serve as Ambassadors to China or anywhere else on the basis of their religious beliefs?
    Claussen says,
    “I’m sorry, but giving a Mormon with less political and social naivety a place at the international table isn’t much better than asking a child to act as the adult when the parent is too hung over to make dinner.”
    Substitute the word Muslim or Jew or Lutheran or black or Indian in place of the word “Mormon” and it would clearly be intolerable to write this sentence on a comment at the Washington Note; why is it acceptable to note the fact that Huntsman is Mormon?
    Does Claussen think that Mormon religious practices and beliefs are somehow stranger or more unusual than the beliefs of other religious sects? Is his view that Mormon belief that American Indians are descendents of one of the lost tribes of Israel any more bizarre than the idea that the Messiah sent by God to redeem the world was born of a virgin mother? Is it more bizarre than the idea that eating pork or shell fish is sinful? Is it more bizarre than the idea that the Prophet traveled from Mecca to Jerusalem on a winged horse and from Jerusalem ascended into heaven?
    Michael Claussen was out of line.

    Reply

  7. judyo says:

    If anything, the GOP will be more radicalized in 2012. There will be no room for a Huntsman. Rather than getting his reputation shredded by his own party, this is a perfect “career move”. He even can be productive which would be unique for a Republican these days.

    Reply

  8. Don Bacon says:

    Paul, I generally agree with your appraisal of inordinate presidential powers, except to say that it isn’t a failure “to redefine those powers.” Presidential powers are clearly defined in the Constitution, and they are limited.
    The problem is rather a failure by the Congress to exert its counter-presidential powers, because they have largely been bought-and-paid for. They have in effect been spayed and neutered by corporate and bloc money, which is why the American public holds the Congress in such low regard.
    It wasn’t always so. The US, in the past, has had representatives and senators who stood for something — not always the right thing, but something besides doing what they’re bribed to do.
    Steve Clemons, as I recall, is really up on this subject (constitutional powers) and perhaps he might comment sometime.

    Reply

  9. PissedOffAmerican says:

    I thought we already had an Ambassador to China. Its called Wal-Mart.

    Reply

  10. Paul Norheim says:

    “Only, let’s skip the emperor part this time.” (kovie)
    As you all know, Cheney`s office worked very hard to extend the
    presidential powers during the Bush years (through people like
    Yoo and Addington). It would thus be more precise to compare
    the powers of the POTUS to the powers of an emperor, than a
    democratically elected president. And the American people, the
    elite and the post-Bush leadership seem to be very comfortable
    with this fact.
    I can´t see any strong effort to redefine those powers to
    dimensions that suit a democracy. It looks like this crucial issue
    is postponed, due to the open-ended occupations in the Middle
    East and Central Asia and the charismatic personality of the
    current President.

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  11. London Observer says:

    This reminds me of John Major appointing Chris Patten to be the last Governor of Hong Kong prior to the handover to China. He got a popular, dynamic, articulate challenger to his wobbly premiership out of the country, inaccessible for back bench scheming.
    Tony Blair did somewhat the same by putting Neil Kinnock, his predecessor as Labour leader, in Brussels as one of two UK commissioners. (Though Kinnock was more dangerous as an embarrassment than as a rival.)
    By giving away key jobs abroad, a leader can ensure that the opposition lacks the direction to coalesce. And those tied to foreign lands are never really trusted at home again.
    Whether it’s your own party or the opposing party, it’s a smart thing for a new president or prime minister to do.

    Reply

  12. velvet says:

    He co-chaired John McCain’s presidential campaign?
    Might want to downplay that when touting the guy’s credentials.
    Working to get John McCain elected President of the U.S.A. is not exactly a vote in favor of someone’s judgement.

    Reply

  13. kovie says:

    Why do I get the feeling that Huntsman will run for the presidency in 2016, win the GOP nomination, and then the general election, and that Obama will be a big reason why? If the GOP has any hope of coming back any time soon, he will be a key part of it. This “exile” to one of the most important countries in the world right now is smart, as he has a perfect excuse to stay above the internecine battles that will roil the GOP for the next few years, until it finds its bearings again, and thus stay untainted by them, and offend and alienate no one. As ambassador he would be expected to remain above politics, of course. Then, when he returns, he can jump back in and quickly work his way to the top.
    It would almost read like how triumphant Roman generals, having spent some years as governor of some important province, returned home to become emperor. Only, let’s skip the emperor part this time.

    Reply

  14. Saadia says:

    I don’t understand why there are colons in this article. Am I supposed to be a Republic, or Jon Huntsman now?

    Reply

  15. michael claussen says:

    I’m sorry, but giving a Mormon with less political
    and social naivety a place at the international
    table isn’t much better than asking a child to act
    as the adult when the parent is too hung over to
    make dinner. The net result will be a messy
    kitchen at best and a smoke filled house at worse.
    This is a time to make the Chinese realize that
    human rights do count. If we as an electorate
    listened to President Obama champion human rights,
    worker’s rights, fair trade and keeping jobs in
    America and therefore said you’re our man, he owes
    it to all of us to follow through with his pledges
    or history will say he was no different than all
    the rest. His leanings to the right are not
    leanings to the center. He started in the center.
    China needs a scholar, not just another tired
    businessman with a penchant for spreading the
    gospel of whatever kool-aid he’s drinking. China
    understands the danger of religious fanaticism,
    and they will form a barrier just under the
    surface of any relationship. They will smile and
    nod their heads, but something else will be behind
    that smile and it won’t be in our interests.
    The only nod to the left that I see from Obama is
    when he wants something from us. Anything of
    substance heads so far to the right to appease the
    rich and powerful that the rest of us are left
    with nothing. Single payer health care is off the
    table, gitmo detainees are back to military
    tribunals and the truth of the prior 8 years is
    swept under the table. Now he wants to have a
    person who thinks the Republican philosophy of
    greed at the expense of the many is a viable
    philosophy. I am very disappointed in this choice
    as well as most of his first 100 plus days of
    genuflecting to the rich. I know the alternative
    would have been worse, obviously.
    Steve, I hope you can find it in yourself to not
    sip anymore of that strange Republican brew. You
    feel everyday their prejudice and hate. What could
    you possibly see in their world that makes you or
    anyone else any better. Remember, they are the
    party of Rush and Savage and O’Reily. Why not come
    over from the dark side. There are plenty on our
    side that can take the place of any Republican on
    the world stage, and we (you) won’t have to be
    ashamed of what the world thinks anymore.

    Reply

  16. jeffrey smith says:

    I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the state,
    with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical
    discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and
    warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of
    the spirit of party, generally.
    This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its
    root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under
    different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled,
    controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is
    seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.
    George Washington, Farewell Address

    Reply

  17. Don Bacon says:

    Americans who don’t live or travel in the US border areas don’t realize how these areas are becoming militarized, with roving military-type patrols and rudely intrusive highway checkpoints far from the border. And it’s rapidly getting worse, as the Department of Homeland Security, despairing of catching terrorists and illegal aliens in proportion to its growing numbers, is shifting into the escalating drug war.
    These are real problems affecting real Americans, including Native Americans. To these people especially, the US relationship with Canada and Mexico, the latter involving a large and lengthy steel fence, is paramount to any considerations involving far-off China.
    Other factions are interested as well, including manufacturers and people who simply yearn, for various reasons, to have friendly relations with our US neighbors. Is that too much to ask? Who’s the US ambassador to Mexico, anyhow?

    Reply

  18. non-hater says:

    “America’s relationship with China is the single most important bilateral relationship it has”
    Oh, please. Canada is, followed by Mexico and the UK. China might be the most important relationship to improve, but it isn’t the most important.

    Reply

  19. David says:

    I can’t see the Republican Party, which Charles Barkeley left because, as he said, the Republican Party had lost its mind, coming to its senses any time soon. There simply aren’t enough moderate, level-headed national Republicans with any clout to constitute a quorum for any kind of birth of a rational loyal opposition. And the wisest thing a Democratic president can do in modern day America is to include a solid sampling rational, non-ideological, competent, reality-based Republicans in the administration. In this case it looks like the selection was driven by a desire for the person best suited and most qualified for this ambassadorship. It certainly wasn’t any kind of political payoff, which ambassadorships apparently all too often are.
    So long as Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Steele, Mitch McConnell, Eric Cantor, Kit Bond, John Cornyn, etc., etc., are the faces and forces of the national Republican Party, it will continue to be a close-minded, ideologically misguided party.
    I remember when Lowell Weicker thought the Republican Party was going to shed the right wing extremism and come back to its senses. It is the party of Reagan, only without whatever redeeming qualities he evinced from time to time. Until it can become the party of thinking, knowledge-and-insight driven Republicans, which Republicans it mostly drives out (the misnamed RINOs), it will continue to serve no useful purpose for the nation’s well being, and will mostly continue to be an obstacle to the national well being.
    Democrats stand rightly condemned for one thing: they did not prevent the invasion of Iraq, the greatest single failure of my party in my lifetime, in no small measure because they refused to pay attention to people like Bob Graham and Lincoln Chaffee.
    But the current incarnation of the Republican Party has absolutely nothing to offer to the well being of the ship of state, which is really sad, considering that its ranks did at one time include Lincoln Chaffee and still include Chuck Hagel and Olympia Snowe, but they are essentially persona non grata.
    While I understand the desire for a competent repository of alternate political views, this Republican Party has made itself anathema to such a service to our collective political life. Sad, truly sad, and thanks for nothing Karl “So What If I Helped Out a CIA Operative” Rove.

    Reply

  20. Clay Thorp says:

    Don’t know very much about Huntsman. I’ll have to do some more research on him. But you’re absolutely right about China. They should be our number one priority right now. Not only because they own a large majority of our debt, but because they are already surpassing us in the economics of it all. China actually makes things. We don’t.

    Reply

  21. Don Bacon says:

    Largely under the radar, there have recently been substantial changes in their longstanding bellicose relationship between China and Taiwan. No longer can the US use the tripwire of defending Taiwan as a pretext for war with China. The US will have to justify its Pacific Ocean carrier groups some other way.
    On April 26th the two sides inked deals on boosting cross-strait flights, joint-crime fighting, and financial cooperation. They also issued a statement on allowing Chinese investment in Taiwan. Now Taiwanese business people will be able to fly directly from Taipei to Beijing or Shanghai without going through Hong Kong.
    Also China Mobile Ltd. agreed to buy 12 percent of Far EasTone Telecommunications Co., the first investment by a Chinese state-owned company in Taiwan since a civil war ended six decades ago. “This is a landmark deal. China Mobile will lead the way for other Chinese companies that have been waiting to invest in Taiwan but were hesitating,” said C.Y. Huang, vice chairman of Polaris Securities in Taipei. “This will open the floodgates for more Chinese investments into Taiwan.”
    The Pentagon still hasn’t got the message. A March 25th DOD news release: “The capabilities the Chinese are putting in place “could in the future be used to pressure Taiwan toward a settlement of the cross-Strait dispute on Beijing’s terms while simultaneously attempting to deter, delay or deny any possible U.S. support for the island in case of conflict,” the report says.”
    But it’s a whole new ballgame now, with greatly improved China/Taiwan relations and with Australia taking a larger, Commonwealth-based role in a new Asia that is China-based. If China can swing Japan over, the US diminution in Asia would be complete. Stopping that will probably be tops on the new ambassador’s agenda.

    Reply

  22. Karl says:

    This is a really stunningly good pick. Both politically and diplomatically. Huntsman is a brilliant pick.

    Reply

  23. Dan Kervick says:

    What are Huntsman’s positions on labor and environmental issues?

    Reply

  24. DonS says:

    All this post partisan suff is very nice I suppose, but as long as Obama continues to stand in the way of meaningful accountability of the supra partisan canker that continues to grow daily — the history of torture, fixed intelligence, abuse of privacy, totalitarian mindset — everything that prevents an America that can begin to ‘hold it’s head up’ — it’s just so much window dressing.
    Far from just not standing in the way, Obama should be leading the charge to shed light on corruption. Instead he has his head in the sand. Shame on him. His disgrace grows daily. Wishing away the past is cowardly, and will not work, no matter how many rhetorical flourishes.

    Reply

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