Joe Biden is probably sending the ex-Utah governor furtive, barely-appropriate DMs for this:
When asked whether he could support "taking out the surge troops.. by 2012," Huntsman said: " I think that we need to transition into a counter-terror effort as quickly as we can. " But, what about getting troops out faster? " Definitely, get American troops out faster," said Huntsman. "Transition into what would be more in line with intelligent- intelligence collecting, uh, special forces on the ground, some training needs obviously with the Afghan army, and that's not a hundred thousand soldiers."
People are focusing on the fact that Huntsman won't win. But that doesn't matter. What matters is the fact that he can easily shift the Overton Window on security questions. The structural dynamic of the GOP race is that it's the most foreign-policy starved that the party's fielded in a generation. Huntsman's ambassadorial experience might not grant him that much electorally, but for the purposes of the other candidates, it means Huntsman is the yardstick by which the press will measure the gravity of their foreign policy pronouncements. (And I missed that in my earlier post.) When Huntsman says, We need a counterterrorism-centric Afghanistan strategy -- obviously, the others can still contradict him or disagree. But they'll have to defend their statements more strenuously.
That's why McCain sniped at him on TV today, to deny Huntsman the position of centrality on foreign policy that his primary bid will grant him. McCain understands: he enjoyed the same position with regard to his rivals during his own two primary bids. And it's why Tim Pawlenty is trying to use the "isolationism!" magic word to brand his opponents and grant him some sort of distinction besides Other Romney.
But calling Huntsman an isolationist or a declinist is self-evidently absurd. The rest of the GOP field, at some point, will have to grapple with his foreign-policy positions. Because they're going to be asked about them, and their own will be judged against his, again and again and again.