Mainly for the hell of it, I recently spent $4 (about 26 RMB) on a big red “Jon Huntsman for President 2012″ bumper sticker. It arrived in my mailbox, and I promptly stuck it on my South Korean automobile, which I park in the guts of an old Japanese bathhouse in Seattle’s Chinatown and mainly drive up and down the I-5. I’m an American, and I can vote for whomever the hell I please, especially in the primaries. Even though I was questioning the shenanigan he pulled at the end of his tenure as U.S. Ambassador to China, I felt just a little more modern in supporting Huntsman’s primary bid: he has a better grasp of East Asia — by leagues — than his Republican counterparts, and he seemed to be setting an intelligent and measured tone, cooling down the “eternal war in the broader Middle East” meme which has been such a present part of our public discourse for so many years. Moreover, he talks about China, regularly, occasionally in Chinese (which, if nobody noticed, is kind of difficult to learn), and seemed to be saying something that was rare in the GOP, the traditional locus of the “China Lobby”: the United States should not take any interest in overthrowing the Chinese state, and that good commercial relations with China were going to help the US economy.
When you compare him to the shambling wreck of an intellect that is Herman Cain, Huntsman looks like a Nobel laureate, and he also goes toe-to-toe on foreign policy fairly well with his fellow Latter-Day Saints believer and former governor, Mitt Romney. (Like Obama and Romney, Huntsman supports expanded unmanned aerial drone attacks, but he also wants to move faster in drawing down from Afghanistan.) I also thought that a series of Huntsman-Obama debates in October 2012 would be genuinely good for the country: two intelligent leaders behaving civilly toward one another, cooling the passions and laying out the issues more in accord with a kind of global realism.
It appears that is not what we will get.
So I was somewhat disappointed to learn, last night in a Taiwan bubble tea joint across from Hing Hay Park in Seattle, at the time of night when the dim sum starts to dwindle and the crackheads emerge to exchange their crushed pills, that Huntsman made a gaffe which has led to his excoriation among Chinese netizens and young people. Huntsman seems to have implied that by using the internet and ties with millions of young Chinese, we, the United States, could some how “bring China down.” How does that make sense?
The Global Times vents its anger at Huntsman here, having already whipped him for showing up at an aborted “Jasmine Revolution” demonstration in Beijing last February.
Some contextualization for the statement and its reception in China can be found on Shanghailist and Ministry of Tofu.
And a bit of relevant background, courtesy Al Jazeera:
Prior to this particular statement, Huntsman was on the record as being the one GOP candidate who spoke regularly about human rights in China, doing so in a way that probably didn’t ruffle too many feathers in Beijing, but did give primary voters the idea that he could — in a nice redux on a major campaign theme of Obama’s in 2008 — stand up and best represent American values abroad when it comes to human rights.
Is he also talking about Ai Weiwei? Is it also just the case now that the German Chancellor is always going to be a stronger advocate for human rights in China than any given American president?
Now, I don’t know what I’m going to do about that Huntsman bumper sticker; it sure looks good on my Hyundai. The I-5 beckons. We’ll give the old ambassador a few weeks to recover. And I think I will be watching New Hampshire primary results from Shanghai in any event.
By way of context, and because it is related, here is my slightly acidic short commentary Republican debate last night, written in present tense:
The Republican debate on foreign policy conveniently skips the subject of IRAQ altogether. Fortunately, a man with a sense of history and a large jaw, Mitt Romney, decides to don the Bush codpiece, intoning that we “can’t cut and run” from Afghanistan and that he “hates evil.” His Iraq advisers, whose hands are still tingling at the thought of recovering power, like the lost limb of Hemingway’s Italian major, grow giddy. Facing Romney’s “moderate” stance are the questions at the debate, 80% of which float up from the forked tongues of documented Iraq War hawks (Fred Kagan, the Jabba the Hut of neo-cons, and Paul Wolfowitz, who would be publicly hanged by the crowd if his name were Timothy Geithner) associated with hawkish think tanks.
Yes, these are our experts, men who represent “consensus” even as they lap up the largesse pooling down at the foot of the bunkers of the Heritage Foundation and the (as) American (as an unmanned aerial drone strike ‘reaping’ an extrajudicial killing) Enterprise Institute. These are men with authority and confidence. With with ideas, with publications.
Take Kenneth Pollack, who wrote an influential book in 2002 pounding the war drums for Iraq, and who subsequently got a promotion at the Brookings Institution. Today, Pollack gives Congress advice with a straight face about “turning the screws” on Iran. Why, when I turn on C-SPAN, is he pounding the table? With a Ph.D. in this economy, with his track record, shouldn’t he be working at Wendy’s, or trying with desperation to get a one-year gig at a place like Antioch? But that won’t happen: he’s an establishment defense intellectual who, after shaking off the repressed memories of Saddam’s execution (not quite what he had in mind), probably has dreams about a cybernetic presidency (Romney 2012, or Cheney 2016), with himself — finally — as National Security Adviser, calling in a thrilling air strike on Tehran, flying into Islamabad with tan boots like Jerry Bremer and suitcases full of cash and nuclear codes, the war as a vehicle to the greatness he knows he can achieve. But I speculate, and he still has an office in Washington, D.C., and a secretary, and an immense megaphone. Men and women with degrees in Soviet foreign policy (Condi and Kagan in particular) do love to denounce the mullahs. Meanwhile, “fringe” candidates get applause for advocating religious profiling in America and strengthening the “PATRIOT” surveillance act.
Clearly this Party has changed, because there are “new” robots on the stage: Mitt Romney evokes collective sacrifice of higher oil prices so that we can take on Iran, and Newt “I’m a corrupt pig wallowing in proofs of my latest Reagan animation for kids and $37 million in HMO fees” Gingrich advocates a land invasion of the Islamic Republic. Nary a word about North Korea, but the demented Texan reminds us that Red China loves abortion and hates Jesus. And this is all happening as we, the people, their presumptive auditioners who would actually like to listen to a man like Eisenhower describe how things might be different, wail and gnash teeth over massive debt and high oil prices. I don’t want to mimic the rhetorical style of (Skeletor’s unholy minion and the spawn of Scylla’s groin) Ann Coulter and tell this barbed cabal to simply shut up, but, really, have they no shame? Have they no shame at all? As farcical as their gyrations are (with Herman Cain as the ultimate sideshow, the play within a play) this shadow government is absolutely primed to return, and they know EXACTLY what they want to do.