Sunday, August 24, 2008

Can we rethink this?

Barack Obama named Joe Biden as his running mate yesterday. As an Obama supporter, I'm fine with that...Biden is a good guy, well-spoken, popular with traditional Democratic constituencies, and acquainted with the night, as Robert Frost would say. In other words, Biden has known a lot of adversity in his life, suggesting he can see beyond the minutiae of politics. But I'm puzzled by one thing: Biden's alleged plethora of "foreign policy experience." They say that of McCain, too: he's got great "foreign policy experience." What does this mean, exactly?

As far as I can tell, Congresspeople LEARN a lot about foreign policy through committee appearances by the Secretary of State and various individuals involved in resolving the nation's conflicts. They further have the opportunity to go on fact-finding missions to various countries, some of which are serious and some of which are not, e.g. golfing detours to Scotland and Ireland on the way to the globalization conference in London. They LEARN a lot, but how do these kinds of events render them "experienced" in foreign policy?

If you look at people like Richard Holbrooke and Wesley Clark, they have a first-hand knowledge of contemporary conflicts, like Bosnia and Kosovo. It fell to them to dicker with the butchers of the Balkans, like Radovan Karadzic and Slobo Milosevic, in the negotations attending the end of the Bosnian and Kosovo wars. They had to cajole, threaten, deal and negotiate compromise in order to achieve their ends. Similarly, George Mitchell acquired a lot of direct experience in the Good Friday process in northern Ireland. He and his British colleagues faced a lot of meetings, travel, hearings and crises on the way to hammering out a power-sharing agreement that moved the street war in northern Ireland into the realm of politics. And Senator Dick Lugar has spent a lot of time with Russian counterparts in monitoring the disposal of chemical and biological weapons in the former Soviet Union. These people can be said to have actual "experience" in important foreign policy issues of current interest. But your average Congressperson? Not so much.

So let's make a point of challenging those cliches like "foreign policy experience," and ask for some definitions before we anoint these people "experienced." It's a real stretch for McCain in particular to describe himself in those terms.

1 Comments:

Blogger LaPopessa said...

Very good point. Then again, I'm sitting here listening to the 1000th time that "Washington is broken" in the latest McCain ad. Todays WaPo had a nice piece on the silliness of people who run against Washington in order to work . . . in Washington.

Not that those of us who live here full time, regardless of administration, get annoyed by it ... no, not at all ;).

8:52 PM  

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