As Jon Huntsman Jr. begins his tour as U.S. ambassador to Russia, the road before him will demand deft navigation to assure a stable relationship between the two superpowers. With his depth of diplomatic experience and a penchant for levelheaded pragmatism, we believe Utah’s former governor is up to the task.
Certainly, there is much on the line. U.S.-Russian relations are quite possibly at a historic low point. We are in conflict over interventions in Ukraine and in the Middle East. We are not in sync on how to deal with North Korea, and we are saddled by trade disputes and controversy over meddling by the Kremlin in the American electoral process. These are all large points of conflict — the disposition of each will be consequential in maintaining global security. We are pleased by the selection of Huntsman for the job and optimistic his skills will help prevent conflicts from spiraling.
His task is made difficult by the unconventional approach to foreign policy so far exhibited by the Trump administration. The White House has quarreled with Congress over the imposition of sanctions against Russia. The president has publicly bickered with his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, to whom Huntsman will report as ambassador, over policy with regard to North Korea and in other arenas. It creates an unusual situation for someone steeped as Huntsman is in the subtleties and nuances of diplomacy.
There has been largely positive reaction to Huntsman’s appointment in Moscow, where he presented his diplomatic credentials in a formal ceremony after which Russian authorities and commentators made frequent mention of his experience and reputation for integrity. What roils beneath the surface, though, presents a different picture. Not since the Cold War have the two countries faced off over so many points of conflict, most of which are not likely to go away easily, or soon.
There is evidence that Russian-backed operatives attempted to influence the 2016 election, and there are investigations into whether advertisements placed online and on social media were intended by Russia to sow ongoing conflict and division among U.S. voters. There are signs of similar intrusions in European affairs, which speaks to an attitude in the Kremlin of an almost institutionalized animosity toward the West. Breaking down that animus, to the extent it exists, is a daunting task. Huntsman’s job will be to find seams in the enmity in which to pursue better understanding and future cooperation.
It is to the administration’s credit that it has chosen a man with a history of looking at issues with a global perspective to be its frontman in a country with whom a durable relationship is in our nation’s highest interest.