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Huntsman chides ex-boss Obama on troop drawdown

world Updated: Jun 23, 2011 00:53 IST
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Former ambassador to China Jon Huntsman chided his ex-boss President Barack Obama on Wednesday for what he criticized as a too-tentative plan to draw down US forces in Afghanistan.

"I think that we can probably be more aggressive," Obama's former envoy to Beijing told NBC's "Today Show" one day after formally announcing his bid for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

"We've been at this for nine years and 50 days. We put Karzai in power, we've had democratic elections.... We've routed the Taliban, we've dismantled Al-Qaeda," the former Utah governor said hours before Obama was set to announce the size and pace of a US troop reduction in Afghanistan.

Sources have said that the president will announce a drawdown of 10,000 US troops by year's end and 30,000 by the end of 2012, but Huntsman said a much bigger pullout is called for -- in part to help fix a US economy groaning under a huge debt burden.

"What we need now is a healthy dose of nation-building here at home," Huntsman told NBC.

He pounded home his criticism speaking to another US television program, ABC's "Good Morning America," calling Obama's plans to gradually remove US troops "a little slow and a little cautious."

"When you look at one out of every six Defense Department dollars going in support of what we're doing in Afghanistan, I think over the next year, I think there is room to draw down more," he told ABC.

Huntsman, 51, said he believed war-weary Americans want a "fairly aggressive" reduction and that he worried more about the United States losing ground to economic rivals.

As envoy to China, Huntsman -- the son of a billionaire businessman -- helped Washington navigate a particularly thorny time in relations between the world's top two economies as they battled over everything from the yuan and trade to Taiwan and Internet freedom.

But Democrats have pounded Huntsman in a sign that they take seriously the potential threat he poses just two months after he ended a 20-month stint in Beijing.

Huntsman also has assailed Obama over historically high unemployment and declared "we need more than hope," a mocking reference to the "hope and change" mantra of the Democrat's historic 2008 campaign.

Polls showed Huntsman trailing his rivals for the Republican nomination, notably former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, a fellow Mormon and the frontrunner in the crowded field of candidates looking to deny Obama a new term.