Patterico's Pontifications


What it Means to Have Foreign Policy Experience

Filed under: 2008 Election,International — DRJ @ 10:23 am

[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.


25 Responses to “What it Means to Have Foreign Policy Experience”

  1. There’s a lot of myths about Americans in, for example, Germany. I think a German politician who lived for a while in the states you listed could credibly claim it gave them “knowledge of how ordinary people in these other countries live” leading to a “greater foreign policy understanding than politicians who merely take junkets to” the US (especially if the trip to New York. Nothing against NYC, which is arguably one of the greatest cities in the world, but it’s fairly unrepresentative of a lot of America).

    Polybius (14e4f1)

  2. The best foreign policy credential is to have been mayor of New York on 9/11.

    Moops (444e9b)

  3. Personally I don’t think Presidents should come into office with a lot of “foreign policy experience,” that meaning working for years or decades in the State Department or at some other government agency that deals with foreign policy. Think of how bad a President who had developed his foreign policy views in the cauldron of Foggy Bottom would be.

    I think most common Americans would be better at foreign policy if they were President than most of our Presidents actually have been and the vast majority of the government foreign policy men.

    chaos (9c54c6)

  4. “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.”


    Democrats… like Richardson?

    The Dems are more interested in solving problems in America than “solving” problems in third-world countries bereft of common sense…

    … but if any Republican candidate wants to make the election about foreign policy, Richardson’ll beat him like a red-headed stepchild.

    Leviticus (b987b0)

  5. Why?

    davod (5bdbd3)

  6. You are correct, Leviticus, Richardson has a lot of foreign policy experience, like leading the Dept of Energy while it was leaking nuclear weapon secrets to the Chinese and helping try to place inconvenient bimbos from the White House in the United Nations ambassadorial staff.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  7. Levy assetrts Richardson has a better knowledge of foreign affairs than do GOP candidates. I’d agree with him since Richardson has had major experience in acting as the Clinton’s bagman in selling the secrets of our weapons labs to the PRC. This involved thousands of documents and the curtailment of layers of national security to accomplish.

    Such foreign policy expertise is needed at the highest level of the politboro.

    On a more serious vein, a candidate who has experience with the CIA, FBI or State is a major plus. Realizing how incompetent these agencies are and the agendas they push would serve any president well in a serious crisis. I’ve seen clients of pizzerias with a better grasp of foreign affairs than our analysts at State or the CIA.

    Thomas Jackson (bf83e0)

  8. Real original, Thomas Jackass. Try not to plagiarize SPQR next time.

    SPQR: Richardson was a staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

    He was the US representative to the United Nations.

    He negotiated the release of US aerospace workers in 1995 (with Saddam Hussein, no less: see what talking can accomplish?)

    He spent a year negotiating energy policy with the government of North Korea.

    He negotiated the release of an American journalist in Sudan.

    Insofar as your Wen Ho Lee bullshit goes, I grew up in Los Alamos: my dad worked at the lab. Everyone in town knew that the accusations against Lee were ridiculous, even before the government
    dropped 58 of the 59 charges levelled against him
    and the US district judge apologized to Lee for essentially ruining his life.

    So… yeah. Your argument is pathetic. Richardson is somehow guilty of espionage for withholding judgement on a complicated case, rather than jumping to patriotic (albeit stupid) conclusions about an unfortunate Chinaman? Excuse me all to hell if I count that “sin” payed for in full by previous (and subsequent) accomplishments, the likes of which your pool of sacrificial lambs have only dreamed.

    Leviticus (b987b0)

  9. This is a joke, right. Obama did not really say that. Nobody, but nobody, could be that dumb.

    Really, from both parties, we have some of the thinnest resumes running for President that I can recall. Maybe they are pretty thin every time around, but they seem particularly thin this year, especially on the Dem side.

    JD (33beff)

  10. He spent a year negotiating energy policy with the government of North Korea.

    Fuckin’ hell of a lot of good that did us. What, did NK demand that they be ready for nukes in 8 years, and Bill said, “How about we stretch that out to 10”?

    Levi – Fuck load of good your defending Richardson is going to do. He was actually principled before he entered the primary. He actually acknowledged that there was a problem with illegal immigration when he was acting as Governor. As a candidate, Republicans are scared of the brown people.

    JD (33beff)

  11. I agree it is silly for Barack Obama to claim foreign policy experience based on living overseas as a child. But I wonder if the whole exercise of looking for such experience isn’t also silly, or at least likely to prove fruitless, since I doubt the correlation between success and experience in foreign policy. Here’s why:

    1) Which President or Presidents since WWII has had the most foreign policy experience? Maybe Bush the 1st, having been head of the CIA? I can’t think of anyone from State, am I missing someone? Perhaps a long-term head of a relevant Congressional Committee? I guess VP is as relevant as anything, which still gives the nod to Bush Sr.

    2) Does military experience count? (I would think so in the case of Eisenhower, who was significantly a diplomat among the allies, but I would tentatively say, not generally.)

    3) Has any President since WWII had less foreign policy experience than Harry S. Truman?

    4) Has anyone attempted to compare Presidential foreign policy (presumably, as distinct from military) records along this continuum of experience? Would any consensus on such records come out?

    5) For example, does Jimmy Carter have a good or a bad foreign policy record?

    6) Are we looking more at chair-filling, or at actual pre-Presidential decisions made? For example, for a person who opposes the Iraq War, does Barack Obama have better foreign policy credentials than Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and even Joe Biden (long-time member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations), based on Obama’s public 2002 opposition when these others were bravely voting for the AUMF?

    DWPittelli (2e1b8e)

  12. Leviticus, our warhead design still made it into chinese hands during his tenure. Richardson helped coverup how that happened just as he tried to coverup Clinton’s bimbo. As for your father, I’ve still got friends in Los Alamos and they spit out Richardson’s name with more epithets than any other.

    As for North Korea, between Jimmy Carter, Madeleine Albright and Richardson, North Korea was punted for the grownups to handle.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  13. If he had only said that he had herded goats … I could relate to him more.

    nk (09a321)

  14. Re: Richardson…
    and, don’t forget that while he was our Representative to the United Nations, the Oil-For-Food Scandal Program got up and running.

    I don’t think the denizens of Foggy Bottom, or Langley, have exactly covered themselves in glory the past few decades.

    As Casey Stengel would say:
    Can’t anyone hear play this game?

    Another Drew (8018ee)

  15. Leviticus, I don’t think that Thomas Jackson was speaking of the Wen Ho Lee case, more likely the Loral missile technology (non-)case, where a firm which was a big Clinton donor was given permission to fix China’s problem with its satellite-launching rockets blowing up on launch. Unfortunately, China’s nuclear ICBMs use the same, now-reliable launcher.

    DWPittelli (2e1b8e)

  16. Kumbaya politics.

    Beldar (7e7631)

  17. Military and foreign policy experience is not and should not be a pre-requisite to become a president. There’s enough elitism in the system already.

    glasnost (c83ef1)

  18. Since he was Clinton’s unofficial envoy to Cuba (pre BTR shootdown)N. Korea (right after the Agreed Framework) Iraq during the time of several
    confrontations with the US (in 1994,1996,1998) One would be tempted to ask what did he promise in return. Now about a dozen years he wants an immediate and total deployment from Iraq (does he not realize the consequence of limited
    ‘redeployments’ from the region in 1983 and 1993)
    Biden would seem to be the Democrat’s version of
    Lugar; yet his comments about partition of Iraq
    back to the three vilayets that they were in 1918
    is profoundly unserious.

    narciso (d671ab)

  19. Somehow this thread has become about Richardson instead of Obama. Out of all the D candidates, Richardson seems the sanest, and if he ends up running against Giuliani or McCain I may well decide to vote for him. It would be that or write in the ghost of Barry Goldwater.

    Milhouse (f10fb3)

  20. Out of curiousity, just what were the foreign policy credentials of our current president before he took office? The strongest one I’m aware of is having a Columbian sister in law (ie, Mrs. Jeb).

    I think this is simply a candidate with pathetic credentials trying to BS what he has into something more than he can reasonably claim. Rather like the movie ad that is forced to quote the movie columnist of the Podunk Pennysaver because no other critic said anything remotely complimentary about the film.

    kishnevi (2e0ef8)

  21. As for North Korea, between Jimmy Carter, Madeleine Albright and Richardson, North Korea was punted for the grownups to handle.

    And they were, until 2000.

    (FTR, I agree Obama’s comment was silly. Combined with other politically naive things he’s done, well, strictly as a public speaker, rhetorically I think he’s better than Clinton or Reagan were – probably on par with Kennedy, but I think he needs more experience before he’s ready for the WH. Note: I’m talking strictly about speaking skills, not content. Clinton is much more comparable by virtue of being closer to navigating modern media, and was far better in unscripted situations, something I think came from experience.)

    fishbane (1f2790)

  22. Fish for brains – Still not amusing. The Norks weren’t put in a box until Bush got other countries serious about reigning them in. Carter and the Clintonistas just negotiated treaties they could begin and did begin cheating on day 1, not very adult behavior.

    Obama’s content, as has been shown is not as ready for prime time as his rhetoric. The entire attack our friends and negotiate with our enemies gambit was comedy gold. A regular foreign policy genius he is alright.

    daleyrocks (906622)

  23. “As for your father, I’ve still got friends in Los Alamos and they spit out Richardson’s name with more epithets than any other.”

    – SPQR

    Well, I guess it’s just your word against mine, then… and that won’t get us anywhere.

    So, let’s return to the Realm of Objectivity: It’s time for you to come up with a Republican candidate who has a more extensive foreign policy resume than Richardson.

    Good luck.

    “Leviticus, I don’t think that Thomas Jackson was speaking of the Wen Ho Lee case, more likely the Loral missile technology (non-)case, where a firm which was a big Clinton donor was given permission to fix China’s problem with its satellite-launching rockets blowing up on launch”


    How is that Richardson’s fault, again? Did he give the firm permission to fix China’s problem?

    I doubt it, since the Loral “scandal” took place in 1996, and Richardson wasn’t Secretary of Energy until 1998.

    Leviticus (43095b)

  24. Richardson should lose the bluejeans and buy himself some dark blue suits. JC Penney can fit you off the rack for $80.00 including tax. We want a President who looks presidential.

    nk (09a321)

  25. Leviticus, you are right. I did not check the timelines before assuming that was what Thomas Jackson meant. I’m not sure what he could have meant, as the Wen Ho Lee case — while it may reflect badly on the judgment of various US Government actors — did not show the kind of payoff giving reason to think there was an obscenely improper quid pro quo, as did the Loral case. Perhaps TJ can enlighten us as to his meaning or specific claim of malfeasance. (I’m not a big fan of Bill Richardson as I do not find him especially moving, and think his plan to flee Iraq is disingenuous folly, but I don’t know of any serious scandal attached to him, as there is with, say, the Clintons.)

    DWPittelli (2e1b8e)

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