<em>Times of London</em> on Obama’s Europe Void

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The Times of London has picked up on the issue that Senator Obama has not convened a policy related hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee on Europe and added to this something I reported yesterday — which was that Europe does not figure into Obama’s travel profile.
Many people are wondering why any of this travel experience matters — particularly a bunch of my Obama-supporting friends.
This debate started with the Boston Globe‘s endorsement of Obama in which it proffered a strange line:

America needs a president with an intuitive sense of the wider world, with all its perils and opportunities. Senator Barack Obama of Illinois has this understanding at his core.

My friend and New America Foundation board member Fareed Zakaria furthered this debate in a direction I don’t agree with — by suggesting that identity trumps experience and expertise.
We’ve had a president who rules from the gut — and it was a huge mistake for the nation to go with someone who lacked the experience and facility with global affairs that George W. Bush came to office with.
I want to be clear to friends on all sides of this political campaign that I know Barack Obama has international experience, but it is not wrong to note that there are deficits in the profiles of the people we are considering to live in the White House.
If I’m being asked to support Obama because of innate instinct, I refuse. I would say the same about Hillary Clinton if asked. What we need to know about all of these potential candidates is not only how they operate and work but what the basis of their experience is. Then, for me, I want to see some evidence that the candidate is thinking creatively about how to leapfrog out of today’s national security and foreign policy morass into some more stable order that propels American and global interests back in a positive direction.
At the beginning of the John Bolton battle in which I played a substantial part, Barack Obama and Russ Feingold were two early holdouts in our uniting the Democratic caucus on the Foreign Relations Committee against him. After watching a video tape of John Bolton “losing it” on the subject of the UN, when Bolton said that one could take some ten floors out of the UN and no one would notice (in an angry, frustrated voice), Obama changed course and opposed Bolton. This impressed me — but there was nothing innate in Obama’s thinking.
Hillary Clinton, in contrast, might have leaned more toward a minority constituency in New York that was supportive of Bolton, and allowed the “identity” of the situation trump sensible policy. Clinton’s people listened to many — and just knew that when it came to shouldering responsibilities for the American people in the world’s most important international institution, Bolton was the wrong person for the job.
I hate this debate about experience vs. identity in making this choice. Both candidates have strengths and weaknesses.
But with me, experience — or demonstrating bold capacity to requisition that experience — is the primary driver of my political support. Obama supporters, I hope, will drop this cult-ish promulgation of identity politics and will get back on the experience track.
Then, we can have a sensible discussion about the differences between Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Joe Biden — and the rest.
It still bothers me that Mike Huckabee has been to Europe and Obama hasn’t.
— Steve Clemons
P.S. I want to make one note about Senator Obama and European travel. According to the Times of London story, Barack Obama stopped in London for a quick stopover on the way back from Moscow. I was not given this information by Senator Obama’s office, so I am not adding it as of yet. The official material from the Obama office did not include this trip and thus may need to be amended at some point. Steve Clemons

Comments

25 comments on “<em>Times of London</em> on Obama’s Europe Void

  1. 1950democrat says:

    It’s good to see someone of Obama’s background and ‘international instincts’ getting into the pipeline for high office in the USA. I plan on supporting him in 2024, after HIllary has cleaned up the White House and Bush’s voting machines, so that Obama and other lightweight Dems will have a chance to GET elected.
    Please distinguish:
    1. instincts, childhood environment
    2. adult experience
    3. what choices you made to get from 1 to 2 (character?)
    For instinct, Obama’s are good for future international relations; Hillary’s for governing all the people and issues of the US (see Concord Monitor profile).
    For adult experience, Hillary’s is best for governing (see above) and for dealing with the current international situation in the real world. (It might be good for her to have an advisor or ambassador with Obama’s background, but she is the one with the nuts and bolts knowledge and skills and reputation.)
    For character — Obama grew up in a promising environment, but what did he choose to do with it? Both he and Hillary have ivy league credentials and some liberal activism experience. But he chose Chicago inner city ‘bareknuckle’ experience: getting ‘elected’ by bumping ALL his opponents off the ballot. Currently he refuses to pledge not to import out of state kids to pack Iowa caucuses. This is not the ‘right kind of experience.’
    US presidents are limited to two terms. By 2024, Obama may have achieved more constructive experience and dropped some of his street-fighting ways — and actually be electable.
    Hillary 2008! Edwards 2016! Obama 2024!

    Reply

  2. Kathleen says:

    POA… rare form today….

    Reply

  3. Publius says:

    I’m with PoA here. Of all presidents, the only two that come to mind with any sort of substantive foreign policy experience, i.e., actually dealing with foreign governments on behalf of the U.S., prior to taking office are Jefferson and Eisenhower. Beyond that, what? Senators, congressmen, presidential spouses? Gimme a break. “Fact-finding” tours, photo ops, cushy vacations at taxpayer expense, is what all of that is. And besides, who cares? This nation is in trouble right here at home.
    The very fact that Hillary Clinton supported the Iraqi misadventure and the violations of American civil liberties might well cause alarm amongst leaders of free states around the world. Of course, the leaders of China, Russia and other oligarchies might well be comfortable with her. Free states might be more comfortable with Obama; at least he’s pretty consistent in supporting bedrock American values, some of which those other nations seem to kind of like.
    Hillary Clinton would be another Bush: authoritarian, with all of the answers. Like Bush, she would surround herself with a coterie of true believers and would be hostile to opposing views. Granted, she’s smarter. But then, who isn’t? Another reality about Hillary: were it not for her somewhat famous husband, no one would have ever heard of her. If she were merely Hillary Rodham and not Hillary Rodham Clinton, we wouldn’t be discussing her. Her fame is reflected fame. What has she ever done on her own? It’s really sad that she is even viewed as being on the same plane as people such as Obama, Edwards and Richardson, who’ve actually done it themselves. This isn’t sexist, either. Nancy Pelosi is more deserving of a ticket to the big circus than is Hillary Clinton.
    Give Obama and Edwards a break. Foreign policy and/or experience isn’t the most important thing and it sure won’t tip my vote one way or the other. Actually, foreign policy becomes laughable when the nation represented is being eaten away internally. Fix the internal rot and overseas relationships will become meaningful.
    When it comes to all of this great emphasis on foreign connections and experience, I’ll give you two names. Nixon. Kissinger. Great job they did for the U.S., eh?

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  4. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “When I read computer science experts talk about how easy several of the voting machines are to hack, I’m truly amazed Steve hasn’t studied/pushed this fundamental issue to guarantee our form of government.”
    What, and draw attention to Hagel’s extremely questionable (criminal?) behaviour in regards to his past holdings in ES&S?
    But hey, at least Hagel’s visited Latin America. Which reminds me, I used to surf south of Puerto Vallarta as a teenager. Do I get to be President now?

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  5. PissedOffAmerican says:

    What a bunch of horseshit. I see Chertoff is about to get his domestic spy satelite off the ground, so to speak. And how about the amnesty for the com giants like ATT? Seen Rice respond to the Congressional subpoena that Waxman sent her way? Gee, the EPA staffers all told their boss that California had dotted all its i’s in regards to its request to implement its state auto regs, but the slimy SOB fellated the auto manufacturers and George Monkey Boy Bush anyway. Isn’t that Mukasey somethin’? Seems we don’t need no special council to investigate Bush’s latest efyou to the American people. Need I go on?
    Sorry Steve, until these sorry pieces of garbage start taking care of business here at home, I find it nigh on impossible to give a shit about their world travels.

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  6. joejoejoe says:

    You should either A) issue a correction about Obama never having visited Europe or B) admit you are as out of touch describing “Europe” as Fred Thompson is when he goes around calling Russia the “Soviet Union” in 2007.
    Happily, Europe is bigger than your narrow view.
    Sens. Obama & Lugar were scheduled to meet with Tony Blair in London and travel problems (being held in Perm, Russia by Russian authorities) delaying their trip forced Obama and Lugar to cancel the meeting with Blair.
    http://obama.senate.gov/press/050823-obama_to_visit/
    Note: Please click through the link in my signature. It’s a US government map of Europe. Fun fact, it includes Russia and the Ukraine!

    Reply

  7. Chris Brown says:

    I just watched a Congressman Wiener (I think) from New York say on CNN that Clinton has forgotten more about foreign policy than Obama could ever learn.
    Another foot in the mouth by a Clinton surrogate.

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  8. JohnH says:

    Well thought out post, Dan. I’m beginning to think that HRC is getting desperate and calling in her chits. Steve and then Joe Wilson, who offers a good first hand defense of her while trashing Obama:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joe-wilson/the-real-hillary-i-know-_b_77878.html
    But will going negative help the once inevitable Hillary? Zogby thinks not…
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-zogby/primary-2008-part-i-d_b_77857.html
    I agree, we need someone who will recognize the changing world and respond to its challenges with imaginative leadership. Hillary seems stuck in a past paradigm–no rocking the boats of the special interests that got us where we are today.

    Reply

  9. pauline says:

    “So let’s make sure that the election is open and fair…”
    And I assume they are including the computer voting machines being fair?
    When I read computer science experts talk about how easy several of the voting machines are to hack, I’m truly amazed Steve hasn’t studied/pushed this fundamental issue to guarantee our form of government.
    In all honesty, I could care less where Chuck Hagel’s next job might be. I’m tremendously concerned about a political insider/computer hacker who can reverse the votes of a computer voting machine.
    And if I was a betting person (I’m not), the HRC team could be the ones that know how to get this stealthfully accomplished. The bush team knew, why wouldn’t hers?
    want to learn more? see —
    http://www.bradblog.com/

    Reply

  10. Dan Kervick says:

    Both of these candidates – Clinton and Obama – are extremely well-informed about the world outside America. Both are extremely well-educated individuals who have traveled extensively while in government. Clinton traveled extensively as first lady. Obama actually lived abroad for the first ten years of his life. Both speak confidently and authoritatively about other countries and US foreign policy. Both have abundant gray matter under their scalps. When we compare these attributes to the foreign policy background knowledge and preparedness of the present occupant of the White House, we see we’re talking about very small differences. It’s like a debate about whether to go with Tom Brady or Peyton Manning to replace Ryan Leaf.
    So rather than focus on the broad area of foreign background knowledge and previous experience, I think it would be better to focus on the fact that both candidates have actually put forward detailed foreign policy proposals, and have elaborated on these proposals many times.
    In my view Clinton is a very hard worker who does a lot of homework, and clearly knows her stuff when it comes to the US’s established foreign policy directions and relationships. But I don’t think she has a lot of imagination. In fact, I would say her general foreign policy thinking is heavily relationship-driven, as opposed to intellectual. She is a standard boomer product of the postwar consensus, a 20th century view of the world which is in her blood, and her foreign policy vision seems to be little more than a sort of “return to normalcy”.
    Her bottom line story about Iraq, once all the talk about past votes and future directions are taken into account, is that had she been president when Congress voted the Iraq authorization, she would have managed these events differently and more intelligently. And that is no doubt true. Her approach would have been much more in keeping with the traditional bipartisan consensus organized around Atlanticist internationalism. But I don’t see her making any bold departures or stimulating any serious rethinking on US strategic priorities. It doesn’t seem to me that the Iraq war and its aftermath have lead her to do any serious re-envisioning of America’s approach to the world, and the Middle East. It’s still all about Europe and Israel for her; it’s all about the old relationships and maintaining them in perpetuity. I don’t think she has had anything really interesting to contribute on the decay of our relationship with Russia. I don’t think she fully grasps that there are underlying power shifts taking place that are a product of dynamic historical factors that go beyond the mistakes of the Bush administration. I don’t think she fully appreciates the new world that is emerging, the emerging great power conflicts which must be addressed NOW, before it is too late, and the need for imaginative new thinking for the US to find its place it that new world, and to build the new forms of international order that will be required to preserve the peace in this century.
    I prefer Obama because he seems to lean somewhat more in a Brzezinski direction, calling for some significant re-orientation in US policy, whereas I see Clinton as a defender of the establishment views represented by Holbrooke, Albright, and other Bill Clinton-era vets. I agree with Brzezinski when he said Clinton’s foreign-policy approach is “very conventional,” and that the country doesn’t need “to go back to what we had eight years ago.” He also said:
    “There is a need for a fundamental rethinking of how we conduct world affairs. And Obama seems to me to have both the guts and the intelligence to address that issue and to change the nature of America’s relationship with the world.”
    That seems right to me.
    I have a friend who is the president of a local company, and who travels frequently to Europe, Latin America and Asia on business. He talks frequently about the catastrophic collapse in the US reputation around the world. He told me recently that he was supporting Obama, because Obama is the figure who is best positioned to repair the US reputation in the world. This is not just a question of identity – though identity plays a role. It’s identity plus smarts.
    Obama and Clinton would certainly be different kinds of leaders. Clinton is a grinder, who is mostly about working legislative machinery and managing influential players. Obama seems to have a very good knack for legislative work as well, and has been successful at both the state and national level as a legislator. But Obama adds the dimension of inspiring moral leadership and charisma. The strongest presidents in US history were not just masters of the insider game. They have had the capacity to move and captivate masses of people, and thus to pull off end runs around the beltway power brokers and currently reigning national kingpins. Consider Lincoln and both Roosevelts as examples of what I’m talking about. I see Obama as having this kind of potential, something that Clinton – with her prickly and divisive relationship with the American people, just doesn’t bring to the table.
    Steve says:
    “Hillary Clinton, in contrast, might have leaned more toward a minority constituency in New York that was supportive of Bolton, and allowed the “identity” of the situation trump sensible policy. Clinton’s people listened to many — and just knew that when it came to shouldering responsibilities for the American people in the world’s most important international institution, Bolton was the wrong person for the job.”
    He’s asking us to take a lot on faith here. The delicately stated message is that Clinton’s pronounced partiality for pro-Israel lobbyists and Middle East hawks has just been a product of her need to please her New York constituency. I suppose we are invited to draw the same conclusion about her her fanatical pro-Israel drum-banging during the Israel-Lebanon war in 2006, something I felt was not constructive in the least.
    But I can’t take the chance Steve is inviting us to take. I have no firm, non-speculative reasons to doubt that the alliances and commitments Clinton has built up over the past seven years will stay in place once she is in the White House.

    Reply

  11. Kathleen says:

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    Reply

  12. Kathleen says:

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    Kucinich won over 75% of the votes cast on the Democratic side. (And Rep. Ron Paul won overwhelmingly on the Republican side).
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    Independents can swing the 2008 primary elections.
    44% of voters in New Hampshire are registered independent. Since New Hampshire is an “open primary” state they can vote in the Democratic presidential primary.
    Help us publicize the results of IndependentPrimary.Com in New Hampshire. And inform the state’s independent voters that they can vote in the Democratic Primary.
    This is an extraordinary election. All the pundits say independent-minded voters will determine the outcome. So let’s make sure that the election is open and fair and voters are educated about their choices.
    Please contribute. Your donation will help us buy radio spots and newspaper ads that publicize the results of this very important poll of independent-minded Americans.
    A $100 contribution will pay for one 30-second radio ad. Give $25, $50, $100 or be a sponsor and give $250. Be a friend and give $500 and purchase five radio ads. Click here>
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    Reply

  13. JohnH says:

    Obama’s trip to Russia can be interpreted as another example of his good judgement. Moscow is at the epicenter of the new great game, something that the foreign policy/national security mob is acutely aware of but refuses to discuss openly and candidly with the American people. Since Obama must prioritize his time, it’s hard to argue with Moscow as a top choice for a fact finding trip on foreign policy.
    In 2005, Europe’s energy noose was being created. In 2007 is was tightened. As M K Bhadrakumar notes, “It has been a triumphant year for Moscow in its energy rivalry with the US, trumping at every turn Washington’s efforts to promote Western interests from the Caspian to Central Asia. At the heart of the struggle in 2008 will be Iran, Europe’s only serious option for diversifying its energy imports. But already, Moscow is drawing Tehran more tightly into its embrace. A successful union would give the couple control of roughly 20% of world’s oil reserves and close to half of the world’s gas reserves.” http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Central_Asia/IL22Ag01.html
    Any aspiring candidate for President needs to be thoroughly steep in this issue. Obama was there, and hopefully he learned what he needed to know.
    [Disclaimer: I do not intend to vote for Obama in the primary elections, though I might if he wins the nomination.]

    Reply

  14. Kathleen says:

    Russ Feingold did not initially oppose Bolton???? Are you quite sure? What was his final position on Bolton then? That seems so out of character for Feingold, it’s hard for me to believe.

    Reply

  15. pauline says:

    I just saw “Charles Wilson’s War” and this is one great entertaining and surprisingly amusing film.
    I won’t give away the plot, but it’s about Wilson (Tom Hanks) as a deeply flawed but utterly compelling Texas congressman and his personal fight against communism. Throw in cia agents, world trouble spots, ladies at Wilson’s side and some very witty dialogue, this movie comes highly recommended as a holiday gift at your local theater.
    It was clear to me that by the end of the film, the beltway politicians are still oblivious to common sense and what’s really necessary to solve (this country’s most) significant issues or avoid fighting a war.
    Getting back to reality, I’m sure all the “real” 2005-2007 congressional travel junket boondoggles could fill books.
    btw, remember “travelgate”?
    If you want a review, see “Hillary’s False Testimony” —
    http://www.nationalreview.com/york/york061303.asp

    Reply

  16. PaulG says:

    How bizarre, making a case based on casual foreign travel. Amongst many things, my criteria for the next president include being thoughtful and having the ability to reason for him/herself. He/she will recognize the need for firmness as well as collegiality both domestically and internationally. Travel to Europe is not on my list.
    Obama seems to have more upside potential than the others and for now has my support.

    Reply

  17. JohnH says:

    Uh, Steve, last I checked Russia is part of Europe. And it is a critical area where we desperately need engagement. Obama’s trip included much more than the Ukraine: http://obama.senate.gov/press/050823-obama_to_visit/
    To dismiss it as “just Ukraine” is simply inaccurate and deserves a public correction. And he probably had plenty of face time with Lugar and the opportunity to learn about the issues from none other than the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
    I agree that we need candidates who have been engaged abroad, but it’s hard to get that experience at champagne breakfasts on official foreign visits. Witness Condi, who has travelled extensively, but seems to have learned nothing. I expect that much of Hillary’s foreign “experience” has been of the champagne breakfast variety as well, doing what was expected of any first lady.

    Reply

  18. J. Poitras says:

    Of all the places a senator could travel, Europe is the most stable, the closest (culturally and politically) to the U.S., and thus probably the least essential to a rookie senator deepening his views of the world.
    I would be more worried if a candidate had only visited Europe and hadn’t seen any of the Middle East, the Third World, etc.
    One wonders whether senatorial junkets provide a real “on-the-ground” view of the conditions in a given country. Limos, security, four- or five-star hotels, and meetings with officials don’t exactly provide the perspective of life on the street.

    Reply

  19. BernieO says:

    I find the fact that Obama has not convened any policy hearings of the Subcommittee on Europe more disturbing than his lack of travel there. What does that say to the Europeans about his priorities? And why does he deserve to chair this committee if he isn’t willing to do the job? Bush has badly damaged our country’s relationship with our European allies, something we need to fix ASAP. Obama’s record does not reassure me that he grasps the importance of this issue.
    As for identity politics, if we all thought like that Hillary would win, since women outnumber men or African Americans.

    Reply

  20. Mathew says:

    Steve: Hillary’s experience can be summed up in this triplet: (1) she voted for the Iraq War; (2) she voted for the Patriot Act; and (3) she voted for Kyl-Lieberman. We simply can’t afford any more of Hillary’s “experience.”

    Reply

  21. Carroll says:

    I just can’t put that much importance on experience…or the travels of the candidates.
    You can “hire” experience.
    You can hire experts on regions of the world.
    You don’t have to personally have all the knowledge….you need to have judgement on who you hire to get what you need and be able to “judge” all the information they put forth. So I consider judgement somewhat more important.
    What seems to happen too often as well, is candidates/presidents and those specialist they hire tend to get bogged down in their particular expertise or interest which limits their working view…..whether it is their skill in working the system or some other field.
    Those who work in and around the government like SC and others involved in policy have a different view than the average voter. They are thinking of how things in their particular field get done in the current “system”.
    I think I would be correct in saying that average Americans right now aren’t concerned in engaging with the world as much as they concerned with the US getting it’s priorities straight here at home first. “Experienced” politican translates in the public’s mind too much to the same old, same old, system people are complaining about. Hence the recent switch in Hillary’s campaign to “change agent”. All of a sudden Hillary and Obama are now both “change agents”.
    Personally I don’t think it’s in Hillary’s favor that she “could have been” influenced favorably on Bolton by a “small group” in her district. If that was her first thought “until” advised against it…well, not a good sign. Satisfying a special interest group should not have been her first thought on Bolton.
    If I were going for experience right now I would settle for something like an “experienced” efficienty expert with a compassionate heart, a political blindfold, carrying a scale of justice in one hand.
    Haven’t seen any establishment candidates who fit that description yet.

    Reply

  22. Steve Clemons says:

    DLT….I get your point. I can’t add any more at this time to the reasons why any of these candidates went where they did. Perhaps other journalists and bloggers can delve deeper. What I got from some of the campaigns was a barebones architectural map of their international travel over a finite period of time. I assume that this travel all involved official duties — and meeting officials and others abroad on policy matters. That’s satisfactory for me — even though some would like to parse further.
    On the issue of Obama getting criticism for traveling too much — none of that criticism came from this corner. And I have a hard time believing it because he hasn’t traveled that much. Hillary has — and Biden and Hagel have. Romney is pretty light on travel in general.
    But I’m a person who believes that we need to be engaged in the world — and need to be out there. So, if Obama was/is/will be doing that, all the better.
    Steve Clemons

    Reply

  23. DLT says:

    Prior to his presidential announcement Obama was getting criticism for traveling too much. Steve, I understand your argument, but it’s difficult to reach any conclusions without any details regarding the purpose and results of these trips.

    Reply

  24. Zathras says:

    Reading Steve’s last couple of posts on this subject somehow reminded me that Theodore Roosevelt never went to either Russia or Japan. Nor had Richard Nixon ever been to China before 1972.
    I appreciate the value of foreign travel, having gained something from it myself. It isn’t a replacement either for general good judgment or for having thought seriously about foreign policy and national security affairs. Serious thought isn’t the same thing as having memorized talking points — not even very extensive talking points. It is hard to identify in 30-second responses to debate questions, and it doesn’t mean appearing receptive to the ideas of wonky types either.
    The surest guide to whether Presidential candidates have thought seriously about foreign policy is the work they have done in it. There are four candidates this year — three Democrats and one Republican — with a record of such work. We need to set wishful thinking and the hopeful projection of our own views onto blank cavasses aside long enough to recognize that all the others, including Sens. Clinton and Obama, are foreign policy novices now, and would be foreign policy novices if elected.
    This doesn’t make it certain that they would be unsuccessful Presidents in the foreign policy area or with respect to national security affairs. Harry Truman, whose only overseas travel before becoming Presidet had been with the Army fighting the Germans in France, did pretty well. So did Ronald Reagan. But we’ve had many more Presidents who got elected on domestic issues in years when foreign affairs were not uppermost in the minds of voters, and did very badly. Johnson was one. Carter floundered for four years. Clinton struggled, in times as easy as any President had seen since the 1920s.
    Bush, of course, has been a disaster on many levels. If the standard we’re to use next year is “better than Bush” we have quite an array of choices in the Presidential field — we’d have quite an array of choices in any 20 names picked at random from the Kansas City phone book. But this is a pretty low standard, and history suggests that if we elect another President who has absorbed only enough about foreign policy to get through the campaign the country and the world are likely to pay a heavy price for our repeating a mistake made several times before.

    Reply

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