Where in the World Have Clinton, Obama, Biden, Romney and Others Been? More on the Experience vs. Identity Debate

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On Facebook, of which I’ve become a fan, there is a Google interactive travel map titled “Cities I’ve Visited.” I’ve ticked off 227 cities listed in 42 countries. Each place has a little pin in it noting Steve Clemons has been there.
But in my case, South America, Africa, and Central Asia are pretty big voids.
But what about the Presidential candidates. I asked all of the campaigns to send me their contender’s travel roster for trips outside the US since 2004. I don’t yet have all of the data, but I will keep working on it.
An early snap shot though has produced some gaps as stunning as my own record in semi-public view on Facebook.
The biggest void that caught my eye was that despite serving as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee on Europe, Barack Obama has not been there (unless we count Ukraine. . .but I’m not ready to do that yet) — at least not recently. This was a bit of a follow-up to a piece I wrote the other day that Obama did not call any issue or policy oriented hearings in the Subcommittee during his tenure.


I spoke to a senior foreign affairs adviser to Senator Obama who I ran into at the foreign policy wonk-packed holiday party of the Center for a New American Security.
This adviser, who must remain unnamed, said that he/she had worked very hard to get Obama to Europe this past year — but that in the end, a planned trip fell through. This person also admitted that despite his/her own efforts to move Senator Obama towards more focus on Transatlantic issues and the fact that nearly all of the major challenges facing the United States today required significant, robust collaboration with Europe — “Europe just isn’t high on the list of Barack’s priorities.”
As I’ve written, Obama gets Cuba right in my view. I think he should have used his brave and politically shrewd stand on nudging forward better US-Cuba relations as a template to push other kinds of principled American engagement in complicated world problems — just as he had suggested in the debates in his comments that he would be very pro-engagement even with the world’s leading thugs-of-state.
The Obama Campaign reported to me the following:

Barack Obama — International Travel
2005

August-September

Moscow
Kiev
Baku
Azerbaijan

2006

January

Qatar
Kuwait
Iraq
Jordan
Israel

August – September

South Africa
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Kenya
Djibouti
Chad

On the experience side of things, Africa, Russia, the Middle East, the Caucasus, and Ukraine (which one could technically argue is now on the fringe of Europe — but I’m not in that camp yet) are clearly part of Senator Obama’s “experience portfolio.” According to Fareed Zakaria’s article that identity may trump experience, one might draw the conclusion that neither Obama’s ‘identity’ or ‘experience’ include serious exposure to Europe and its leaders.
I don’t buy Fareed Zakaria’s notion that somehow identity — meaning race, culture, language and the like — are more powerful than real world experience. Sean Wilentz goes after Zakaria’s argument pretty strongly.
There are many problems around the world — and it’s tough to be everywhere, but it does seem to me to be odd that only Moscow is on the list of capitals of UN Permanent Five nations. There is nothing on the roster from Europe’s major capitals. And on other fronts, if one wants real capital to do global institution building, Japan should be on the list. And this century, China is ascendant — and Obama needs to get to Beijing.
So, how do the others look?
In Hillary Clinton’s case, I was given a roster of travel by her Senate office, but it included not only her travel since 2004, but her entire official travel as a Senator. The material still tells an interesting story however.

Hillary Rodham Clinton — International Travel
Official Senate Trips

Afghanistan — Three Times
Canada — Two Times
United Kingdom — Two Times
Estonia
France
Germany — Three Times
Iceland
India
Iraq — Three Times
Ireland — Two Times
Israel — Two Times
Jordan
Kuwait — Three Times
Netherlands
Norway
Pakistan — Three Times
Singapore
South Africa
Ukraine

Hillary Clinton’s travel profile tells a very different picture.
While she has also not been to China or Japan — two key global players — one has to remember that she did lead the American delegation to the Beijing International Womens’ Conference years ago — and thus there is high level travel in her past not represented in this snapshot. She did not go to Russia — and her trips to Africa are thin.
Both Obama and Clinton have voids when it comes to South America.
But again, Hillary Clinton has traveled the entire world when she was First Lady — so my critique may seem unfair given her previous experience.
But then again, look at that list — even if over about 7 years, that’s a very thick roster of travel to some of the world’s messy regions. Both Obama and Hillary Clinton see the value in getting on a plane and going to see something — but it’s clear that Clinton balances places that are war-torn or having problems with trips where America’s closest allies are.
Joe Biden’s travel is also interesting. He is also not high on Asia or South America. But he does do hot spots.

Joe Biden — International Travel
2007

September

Kuwait
Iraq

2006

January

Israel

July

Iraq
Kuwait
Jordan

2005

January

Israel
Switzerland
France

May – June

Jordan
Iraq
Lebanon
Chad/Sudan border

August – September

Italy

December

Iraq

2004

January

Switzerland

February

Egypt
Libya

December

Iraq
Jordan
Bahrain
Israel

Joe Biden’s “identity” is very much American — to play off the Zakaria comment, “I know what it means not to be an American” — but I think that the experiences he has had globally inform him and his sense of what works and doesn’t in the world. To suggest that identity and “solving problems by the gut” is the way we should select our next President seems really wrong-headed.
Governor Mitt Romney’s travel, in contrast to the others, is very high on Asia, moderate on Europe — includes Iraq and Guantanamo, but also gives no attention to Latin America and includes no trips to Africa.
This is what Mitt Romney’s team shared with me:

Mitt Romney — International Travel
2004

None

2005

None

2006

February

Turin, Italy

March

Rome, Italy

April

Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

May

Iraq

December

Tokyo, Japan
Seoul, Korea
Beijing, China

2007

January

Israel

Despite my surprise about some of the voids in the various candidate’s travel profiles, all are travelers. All have passports — and given the anti-international pugnaciousness that used to be the fad in Congress, this is a good sign overall.
I still don’t have all of the travel profiles I’d like to have — and will post them as they come in. . .and if they come in.
— Steve Clemons

Comments

23 comments on “Where in the World Have Clinton, Obama, Biden, Romney and Others Been? More on the Experience vs. Identity Debate

  1. sarah musgrave says:

    Last I checked, Kiev isn’t a country…

    Reply

  2. Timothy says:

    Steve, I think you’re a lot more geographically challenged than any of the presidential candidates.
    Whether you think Kiev is in Europe or not (it is), Moscow is also in Europe. In fact, metropolitan Moscow has the highest population of any metropolitan area in Europe. Among big European cities it is also the fastest growing economically. And, given its history and current conditions, Moscow has an outsized influence on the rest of Europe, even beyond what its population would suggest. Moscow is also extremely important to Obama’s work in anti-proliferation.
    For all these reasons it makes perfect sense that Moscow would be the very first European city for a newly elected Senator Obama to visit.
    But I question the implicit premise in your criticism. There’s no contest to see which candidate can collect more stamps in their passport. The question is, does their travel have relevance to policymaking, and is there focus and discipline in getting policies enacted, treaties signed, etc? Whirlwind multi-city tours are probably not so effective, in policy terms — and so they are more likely to waste taxpayer money. Nixon spent a little over a week in China, for perspective, visiting only three cities (two of which, Hangzhou and Shanghai, are geographically rather close to one another).

    Reply

  3. va purchase loan says:

    fha guru, don’t you know Romney is out of the race.

    Reply

  4. Va refinance says:

    I don’t believe Romney did, but at this point better focus on McCain and the other two democratic freaks.

    Reply

  5. justin says:

    There is no doubt that Hillary would not have been to all of those places if it wasn’t for being the First Lady for 8 years.

    Reply

  6. fha guru says:

    Has Romney spent any time in South America?

    Reply

  7. Kathleen says:

    Pernicious Pavlovian….
    I feeeeeeel your painnnnnn.
    Geeezus, those leaders went that-a-way, son.
    Sometimes I call the oceans of flag lapel pins Pavlovian Patriots.
    Welcome to the wavelength.

    Reply

  8. Kathleen says:

    I’m with Steve, Dan Kervick and chet the vet, on the importance of travel to other parts of the world to one’s perceptions of other countries, the nature of the people and their leaders, personally. There is no comparisson to first hand experience.
    I would look to a candidate’s positions on the UN.. the degree to which they have particpated in the UN proceedings. That is a vital way to become familiar with governmental reps and non-governmental reps of every country in the world and learn about regional concerns, etc. I remember seeing Congressman Charlie Wrangle one time at the UN Commission for Human Rights. I think it was very valuable experience for him.
    Whether a candidate was fur or agin Revoltin Bolton, is a bottom line for me. Think about him and ElBaradei and WWIII. Would you want anybody who thought that was a good idea???
    Don’t you want a President who knows their way around the UN, too? That’s the best place to resolve conflicts peacefully.

    Reply

  9. chet the vet says:

    coming from someone who HAS been overseas in many different countries it makes a huge difference to actually go there versus read about it. It is a totaly different experience. An experience that anybody with a desire for good foriegn relations must have.

    Reply

  10. janinsanfran says:

    We know Romney hates the French according to the Boston Globe.
    http://snipurl.com/1vnuo

    Reply

  11. Chris Brown says:

    Steve,
    Thanks for your kind response.
    I certainly bow to your greater experience and judgment in the matter.

    Reply

  12. Steve Clemons says:

    Dave — thanks for your note about Turin and the Olympics. That is true — and his office did relay that to me.
    best, steve clemons

    Reply

  13. Dave says:

    I would assume that Romney’s trip to Italy in 2006 was tied to the Turin Olympics.

    Reply

  14. stagecoach says:

    Steve
    As a Chief Executive I believe that my role is to surround myself by talented people who know a whole lot more than I do and who are competent, trustworthy and speak truth to power.
    I would look at a candidate’s foreign policy team to draw a more accurate and relevant picture.
    To the candidate, the question is the vision and lens. Do we view ourselves as a morally superior country or behave in a morally superior way? And what morals and standards do we want to stand for. Leave the details to the team who are experts at execution.
    Finally, given I have travelled and worked with people of different faiths, it is key that these morals are expressed in as secular a way as possible. And of course we should mean what we say.

    Reply

  15. Jim Wilson says:

    I think there are two aspects to this, Steve. One is the travel a politician may have done on his or her own, typically as a younger (and less famous) person. This kind of travel can get you out on the streets, and provide an awareness — if you’re paying attention — of the similarities and differences among cultures. The other kind of travel is the official variety you’ve focused on, where the interactions are necessarily more scripted.
    Both aspects are important, I think, in shaping how a politician will approach foreign policy. And I’m less worried about the particulars of your lists than I am about politicians who feel that it’s completely unnecessary to leave the comfort of the US to understand what’s going on in the world.

    Reply

  16. DQuart says:

    I agree with POA, in that I fail to see your point here. Whether a presidential candidate has or has not traveled to a certain foreign country has no true bearing on how he or she will be as a president.
    I would imagine that the contacts one gets on these trips are truely the most valuable for mid-level officers who can build back channels to can communicate when the going gets tough. A president does not need these types of contacts.
    Reagan traveling (or not) to Moscow before his presidency had nothing to do with the personal relationship he built with Gorbachev. Whilst I will concede that for Bush I, his extensive experience probably did make a difference. And, on the same account, I would imagine that Bush II having traveled to Europe (in some capacity) had nothing to do with whether Schroeder or Chirac accepted or embraced Bush’s ideas.
    A candidate does not need to travel to Europe or Japan in an official capacity to realize that they are important allies.
    Lastly, I think you are entirely too dismissive on the role of identity politics in foreign policy. Identity and symbols matter just as much as carrots and sticks. An Obama presidency, while still retaining the tools of diplomacy, may be better positioned to frame needed shifts in American foreign policy to both domestic and foreign audiences in a politically feasible manner. Its also worth mentioning that an Obama presidency has as much or more symbolic weight at home as he would abroad.

    Reply

  17. Dan Kervick says:

    I don’t blame you Steve. I would have just posted the lists as given to me too.
    The absence of China on these lists is concerning. It’s depressing to speculate that in preparing for Presidential runs these major candidates, anticipating an outbreak of populist China-bashing in the 2008 campaign, didn’t want to have their pictures taken shaking hands with Hu Jintao.
    Or maybe they just don’t like the hotels in China, or the long flights.
    It’s especially suprising that Clinton hasn’t yet visited China during her entire stint in the Senate. However, maybe this is an after-effect of the China-related scandals from her husband’s administration, and a desire not to give her enemies any ammunition on that front.

    Reply

  18. Steve Clemons says:

    Dan Kervick’s post at TPMCafe is really useful…so I am posting his comment here as well:
    “It looks like Obama’s emphasis, for his first few years in the Senate at least, has been to visit the “front lines”, so to speak, of US strategic competition and conflict. The Caspian region, Africa and the Middle East are the places where the US, Russia and China are now hotly contesting for influence, clients and access against a background of political instability and war.
    Djibouti, for example, is the location of the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa; which Obama visited on his trip. Kenya also is a vital African relationship for the US. The US, I believe, still has an agreement with Kenya that allows it access to the port of Mombasa and airfields at Embakasi and Nanyuki. Obama’s trip to Kenya sparked an outbreak of “Obama-mania,” and so in itself contributed to positive US-Kenyan relations aside from any other business Obama did there.
    Chad is a crucial spot where the US appears to be cooperating with our new best buddies the French on a sub-Saharan strategy.
    Obama’s trips have tended to deal with substantive issues, not just fact-finding, networking and schmoozing with old friends. In advance of his trip to Africa, Obama and Leahy successfully passed an amendment to provide $13 million in assistance to the DRC for military reform and election assistance. However, his trip to the Congo was canceled, I believe, because of intensified violence.
    His trip to Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan with Dick Lugar was concerned with keeping tabs on Nunn-Lugar activities, and was followed up with the Lugar-Obama bill to extend Nunn-Lugar to conventional weapons proliferation.
    In South Africa, Obama vigorously and publicly criticized the South African government’s AIDS response, and he and his wife took an AIDS test there themselves.
    By the way, Baku is in Azerbaijan – it shouldn’t be listed as a separate stop.”
    – Dan Kervick
    (Dan, thanks for the note about Baku and Azerbaijan….I basically posted the material as it was given to me….so I am not going to correct this just so that the material that the offices distributed on this travel issue aren’t massaged by me. — Steve Clemons)

    Reply

  19. Dan Kervick says:

    I commented on the cross-posted version of this post at TPM Cafe.

    Reply

  20. Steve Clemons says:

    Chris — my point is that international exposure and trips that engage the people and the leaders of other nations really do matter. I’ve been on them. I’ve seen how important they are in the calculus that American political leaders use when making some important decisions. You may not accept my assertion that this is the case, and I can’t do much else at the moment other than assure you that what I’m suggesting here is correct and does matter.
    Best, Steve Clemons

    Reply

  21. Chris Brown says:

    Really, what can a USA politician learn about the realities of conditions in another nation during a scripted visit that one could not learn from a variety of sources without leaving home?
    Really, I don’t get your point.

    Reply

  22. PissedOffAmerican says:

    My questions would be…
    1)What did they do there?
    2)How much did it cost us to send them there?
    3)And what did we get for our money?
    My bet? “Damned little” to #1 and #3, and a “whole bunch” to #2.
    Really Steve, what conclusions can we draw if we have no idea what the purpose of their travels were? Hell, for all we know they were selling us out in one way or another, scoring contracts for cronies, and promising Ohlmert that he can rest assured his gravy train won’t be cut off, even if he does decide to kill a bunch more Muslims with cluster bombs.

    Reply

  23. Pernicious Pavlovian says:

    There’s no better way to say “foreign policy” than to be completely ignorant of the larger world we all live in. Oh merciful mother of the little that is left holy in our once fair land, where are the real leaders?

    Reply

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