The Foreign Policy “Experience” Games – Starring Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton

Though they’ve thrown charges of “inexperience” back and forth at each other off and on during the course of their respective campaigns over the last year or so, this week the Obama and Clinton campaigns have launched an all out assault on each other’s claims of “foreign policy experience,” mostly with Team Clinton trying to defend their assertions about the Senator’s time as First Lady and the traveling she did to foreign countries, and accusing the Obama campaign of waging a “fundamentally misleading attack” on the junior Senator from New York regarding her foreign policy experience assertions.

The Obama camp put out a memo today, quoting former Clinton administration State Department Policy Planning Office director Greg Craig – now an Obama foreign policy advisor – as saying Hillary Clinton is not to be believed when she describes the visits she made overseas as First Lady to places like Bosnia and Ireland as trips where she played a “key role” in the peace process and advancing “women’s rights,” yada yada.

I give Senator Clinton the edge on this argument, even though she grossly overstated it back when she said that the WH would send her on “dangerous” overseas trips no one else wanted to go on, as if it is routine for any president to knowingly send his wife – the First Lady – on a dangerous trip anywhere, and she is, of course, exaggerating somewhat on her “experience” now. But there isn’t any question that Senator Clinton both as Senator and as First Lady, has met with many foreign diplomats in various countries. Remember, for all intents and purposes, she was Bill Clinton’s “co-president” and it’s not exactly a secret that she took a more active role in his administration – both on foreign and domestic policy – than you typically see First Ladies assume.

If visits overseas alone qualified a candidate as a viable contender for the role of Commander in Chief, Hillary would far outshine Barack Obama on this front. Fortunately for BO, the number of visits alone doesn’t automatically make one a suitable for CIC, but unfortunately for BO, his skimpy record on traveling overseas in an official capacity should be troubling for any serious-minded voter who wants to hang their support on a proven track record of experience in foreign relations, rather than promises of what one claims they will do in talks with officials from foreign governments once they are elected president. BO claimed last December that he has indeed traveled to Europe, but he admitted it was not with a Congressional delegation. In other words, he was not there on business – not in any official capacity, even though he claims that “on my way back from Russia” [a trip he made with GOP Senator Richard Lugar in summer ’05] he met with Tony Blair. Even if it’s true, it’s still an awfully thin resume.

Also consider the true claim made by the Clinton campaign that as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on European Affairs, a position Obama held starting in 2007 (at the beginning of his presidential campaign), he never held a single policy hearing on anything, not Afghanistan -a place he says we need to refocus our attentions on instead of Iraq – or otherwise. BO has never even visited Afghanistan, and visited Iraq once – for two days – back in 2006. Senator Clinton has visited both places, Iraq three times, and to Afghanistan at least once.

For better or for worse, Hillary Clinton does have experience in this area. It’s not enough, nor is it the right kind of experience, but it is experience.

Something that no one seems to be talking about today as it relates to BO’s attacks on Clinton’s foreign policy experience is the fact that the Team Obama isn’t citing any extensive foreign policy experience of BO’s to counter Clinton’s charge that his record is too skimpy. Considering he was quoted in November as saying, “Probably the strongest experience I have in foreign relations is the fact I spent four years overseas when I was a child in Southeast Asia,” it’s not hard to understand why BO’s campaign isn’t touting any extensive foreign policy creds – because he doesn’t have them.

All of this bickering back and forth and posturing on who has the bigger muscles when it comes to the experience factor benefits John McCain who, I should note, will be visiting Europe and the Middle East next week, and perhaps will make his 8th visit to Iraq.

Comments are closed.