Huntsman predicts civil war in Afghanistan, says ‘let’s recognize what we’ve done and move on’

Steven Nelson Associate Editor
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Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman joined the cast of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Wednesday morning for a discussion about his presidential campaign, China, and the war in Afghanistan.

Huntsman said that he has dealt with China for 30 years, including in his recent role as American ambassador, and that there were “years when we had real leverage over China because of our vast market and because of our economic leverage. We’re losing that economic leverage,” Huntsman said. “They know it and take advantage of that at the negotiating table.”

Huntsman said that the Chinese would need to consider taking a prominent role in Afghanistan after an American military pull-out.

“China loves and hates the fact we’re in Afghanistan,” Huntsman said. “They love the fact we’re holding down the peace and maintaining stability so they can basically move in and transact business. They hate us because we’re in a neighboring nation state which is one of the real sensitivities on the Korean peninsula.”

The former ambassador continued, “China is going to have to stand up and say, ‘we’ve got to play a role in our own backyard.'” He added, “that’s going to be very interesting to see how that plays out.”

Huntsman said that he agreed with critics of the war on the need to reduce American forces in the country. “I’m here to tell you that America’s future is not going to be won or lost in the prairies of Afghanistan,” Huntsman said. “It’s going to be won or lost based upon our ability to compete in the 21st century.”

(‘Morning Joe’ for Huntsman? Scarborough and Brzezinski make the ‘centrist’ case)

Asked whether he would consider evolving his perspective on gay marriage, as President Obama claims to be doing, Huntsman said that he would not, but that he favored an equalization of rights.

“I believe subordinate to marriage, we have not done an adequate job in the area of equality,” he said. “I’ve spoken out about that, my support of civil unions, some people like it, some people don’t. Folks have said, people will hold it against you in the Republican primaries, I answer that question all the time. Listen, it is where I am and who I am and people can take in any way they want.”

Huntsman said that he had “zero” contact with the people involved in laying the groundwork for his campaign before he returned from China earlier this year.

“I didn’t even know who these people were until I got off the plane,” he said. “One person I knew from the McCain campaign, but the rest of them were all new.”

Civility, he said, would be important to his campaign, saying that the actions of campaign staff reflect on the candidate, and if actions are “not consistent with where you are, you have to change it.”

(Right out of the gate, Huntsman fields Democratic attacks)

Huntsman said that he would like President Obama to announce during his Wednesday evening address on Afghanistan that “we’re going to recalibrate our strategy and move away from a heavy expensive boots on the ground strategy to a counter-terror strategy.”

“Let’s get real about where Afghanistan is today, where it’s likely to be next year and five years from now. We’re not going to change culture,” Huntsman said. “I believe there will be civil war to some extent whether it’s this year or whether it’s five years from now. I’m not sure there’s anything we can do about it. What we have done is put Karzai in power, we have routed out the Taliban and disrupted al Qaeda. We have achieved a lot. Let’s recognize what we’ve done and move on.”