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Jon Huntsman's unforced error: Being seen with Henry Kissinger ...

Published June 17, 2011 4:38 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

As he gears up for the formal launch of his presidential campaign, Jon Huntsman Jr. has a fair amount of baggage around his political neck.

He's little known outside Utah. Strong elements in his own party are suspicious of him because he's Mormon, because he served in the Obama administration and because he's thought a little squishy on such hard-core issues as climate change, same-sex marriage and basing health insurance reform on an individual mandate.

All of this is firmly on the record, but he has as much chance as any other candidate of finessing the facts to his advantage.

Troubling, then, that his pre-announcement announcement last week — look for him at the Statue of Liberty Tuesday — accompanied a huge unforced error. There in New York, the center of the media universe, was the fair-haired Huntsman having a pleasant chat with one of the most pernicious ghosts of the 20th century, Henry Kissinger.

Kissinger, Richard Nixon's national security adviser and secretary of state, is best remembered for engineering the opening of diplomatic relations between the United States and China. A good thing, that, as it never is wise to pretend that 1.3 billion people do not exist. And Huntsman, being what they used to call an old China hand himself, may thus feel some admiration for the diplomat who pulled that off.

But China is not all that Kissinger has on his résumé.

Before Sept. 11, there was Sept. 11. That was the day in 1973 that the democratically elected government of Chile was violently overthrown by the military, headed by Gen. Augusto Pinochet. There is no dispute that the coup, which resulted in the death of President Salvador Allende and thousands of other Chileans and the forced exile of hundreds of thousands more in a 17-year reign of terror, torture, murder and disappearance, was supported, if not outright orchestrated, by the Nixon administration in general and Kissinger in particular.

That's only the most well-known of Kissinger's crimes. His fingerprints are all over the sabotage of Vietnamese peace talks in 1968, which prolonged American involvement in that bloody and pointless war for four more years; the secret bombing of Cambodia, unintended but clear precursor to the Killing Fields; Operation Condor, an unholy alliance of military dictatorships throughout Latin America designed to help one another eliminate all traces of opposition; Indonesia's 1975 invasion of East Timor, another prelude to genocide; and disgustingly cozy relations with despicable dictatorships in Iran and Pakistan.

Other Republican candidates, as ignorant of Kissinger's past as the American media pretend to be, might want to stand next to the old globetrotter to earn some foreign policy gravitas. But, if anything, it was Kissinger who was riding Huntsman's media coattails, Huntsman who drew the spotlight to what was nominally the launch of Kissinger's latest book, On China.

What might make Huntsman more electable than the other Republicans is his potential to deliver what Barack Obama promised but so far cannot claim to have accomplished: winding down the war in Afghanistan and dealing with the rest of the world in an honorable and knowledgeable way that earns the respect, rather than the contempt (see: Bush, George W.), of other nations.

Still possible. But not if too many more pictures of Huntsman with Kissinger show up in the papers in Santiago, Tehran and European Union nations where Kissinger cannot travel for fear of being slapped with the same kind of arrest warrants that were issued for Pinochet before he died.

Huntsman made a big mistake last week. He's going to have to ride that motorcycle a long way to shake it.

George Pyle is an editorial writer for The Salt Lake Tribune. The foregoing views are his own. Email: gpyle@sltrib.com. Twitter: @debatestate.