Clinton’s aides point to her extensive travel to more than 80 countries as First Lady and her 1995 speech at a U.N. conference on women in Beijing. “She helped represent the United States abroad throughout the ’90s,” says Howard Wolfson, Clinton’s communications director. “Obviously, that’s an important qualification. She went to China and gave a very famous and important address when she declared that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights. That electrified the world.” But these sanitized, ceremonial trips abroad are hardly preparation for the middle-of-the-night call from the Situation Room. After all, Laura Bush has also traveled extensively as First Lady, taking in 68 countries either with her husband or on her own. No one is saying she has the experience to be commander in chief.
Obama stresses life experience. At a private meeting with journalists and executives in Manhattan last week, he claimed he had better judgment than “any other candidate.” “And I don’t base that simply on the fact that I was right on the war in Iraq,” he said, according to a transcript provided by campaign staff. “But if you look at how I approached that problem, what I was drawing on was a set of experiences that come from a life of living overseas, having family overseas, being able to see the world through the eyes of people outside our borders. The notion that somehow from Washington you get this vast foreign-policy experience is illusory.”
That may be well phrased. But in reality, Obama lived overseasâ€”in Indonesiaâ€”for just four years as a kid. And voters may not warm to a candidate whose judgments are shaped by overseas relatives. (In combating Clinton’s criticisms, Obama has an unlikely ally in Bill Clinton. Obama aides unearthed comments from Bill’s first campaign, in which he eloquently deflected the same kinds of charges of inexperience she’s now leveling at Obama.)
I find Barack’s response a bit refreshing actually, but still…what’s the conclusion?
There is little in the rÃ©sumÃ©s of either Clinton or Obama that will help them negotiate their way through the vast and complex array of foreign-policy challenges the next president will faceâ€”in Iraq and beyond. Over the coming months, we may get to hear from them in detail on these points. Yet so far, the bickering over experience reveals more about the character of the campaigns than the qualifications of the candidates.
It all comes down to answering the question, “Who do you trust to make the right decisions when the time comes?” That’s it.
And let me be blunt…after we trusted Bush for 8 years, I don’t think Hillary or Barack are going to be much of a stretch…