Huntsman: Romney Missed Foreign Policy Opportunity

The former ambassador questions his party’s candidate’s criticism of the president.

Former China ambassador Jon Huntsman questioned his fellow Republican Mitt Romney’s criticism of the Obama Administration’s Middle East policy on Friday after nearly a week of unrest across the Muslim world in which four American diplomats were killed.

“I think there’s a lot to the criticism,” Huntsman told NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell. Democrats have chastised Romney for describing the government’s response to the violent demonstrations outside the American embassy in Cairo, Egypt as “disgraceful” because it did not initially “condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions but [chose] to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

While agitators were storming the walls of the embassy compound in the Egyptian capital on Tuesday, the embassy issued a statement that read in part, “We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others,” referring to an anti-Islam film in which the Prophet Muhammad was mocked that allegedly stirred the unrest.

The embassy quickly retracted the statement. The next day, it was reported that the American ambassador to Libya and three members of his staff had died in an attack on the consulate in the city of Benghazi that night. President Barack Obama condemned the incident later in the day. “No acts of terror,” he vowed, “will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, also on Tuesday, insisted that there was no justification for the violent demonstrations in Benghazi and Cairo. “Violence like this is no way to honor religion or faith.”

Huntsman, who himself ran for the party’s presidential nomination until January when he endorsed Romney, said that his candidate had missed a chance “articulate America’s goals in the region.” He shouldn’t deal “with the tactical issues playing out,” rather “the long-term strategic play. What do we want in the region?”

Americans don’t know what our interest are in the Middle East and what we’re going to do to protect them.

Huntsman rejected the possibility of cutting off foreign aid as a “cheap political line” when aid is useful is a lever. “You’ve got to use aid in pursuit of America’s interests,” he said.

Although he was ranked as one of the most conservative chief executives in the country while he served as governor of Utah between 2005 and 2009, Huntsman did not attend this year’s Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida where Romney was formally nominated for the presidency. He said that he was frustrated about his party’s unwillingness to confront the “bigger” issues facing the United States. He added, “I encourage a return to the party we have been in the past, from Lincoln right on through to Reagan, that was always willing to put our country before politics.”