[Guest post by DRJ
There was a time in American politics when national leaders were evaluated on their foreign policy experience: Had they worked in government positions that exposed them to weighty foreign policy debates and issues? Did they study and were they knowledgeable about history and foreign affairs?
In recent years, politicians who do not have hands-on foreign policy experience or a background in foreign policy studies claimed foreign policy experience from frequent overseas junkets, often at government expense.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that today’s version of foreign policy experience is living in another country … as a child:
“Democrat Barack Obama said Monday his childhood experience in Asia and his family in Kenya give him a greater foreign policy understanding than politicians who merely take junkets to other countries.
The first-term Illinois senator is frequently asked whether he has the foreign policy credentials to be president, and he faced the question again at a town hall meeting in Clarion. “I spent four years living overseas when I was a child living in Southeast Asia,” said Obama, who was born in Hawaii and spent four years in Indonesia. “My father is from Kenya. That’s where I got my name. He’s passed away now, but I still have family.”
“A lot of my knowledge about foreign affairs is not what I just studied in school. It’s actually having the knowledge of how ordinary people in these other countries live.”
I agree with Obama that his knowledge of the people who live in Kenya, for instance, is greater than that of a Senator whose insight is based solely on a three-day or three-week junket to Africa. I don’t agree that living in a country as a child gives Obama better foreign policy perspective than someone who studies or is briefed by experts on area history, politics, and government or someone whose work involves dealing with foreign policy issues.
Would a leader in Germany or India seriously contend they are knowledgeable about US government and policies because they lived in Wyoming, Alabama, or Wisconsin as a child? They might but it would be a ridiculous contention. Not only would their understanding be limited because it arose from a child’s perspective but it would also be influenced by geographical constraints. What of real value would anyone learn about contemporary American government and policies from living as a child in one US town?
This seems like another example of Democrats believing the point of foreign affairs is to understand and be liked by the people of the world.