Running On Passport Stamps
Clinton has boasted in the past that her experiences as First Lady and as New York Senator have provided her with a unique opportunity to do some serious international traveling – to several dozen countries, in fact. It’s a boast that serves to suggest that she has gained some strong, first-hand background in international politics. Contrary to her claims of worldliness, however, these kind of from-the-airport-to-the-embassy trips don’t exactly provide a wealth of understanding about local political dynamics. Obama made a similar point recently:
“Experience in Washington is not knowledge of the world. This I know. When Senator Clinton brags ‘I’ve met leaders from eighty countries’–I know what those trips are like! I’ve been on them. You go from the airport to the embassy. There’s a group of children who do native dance. You meet with the CIA station chief and the embassy and they give you a briefing. You go take a tour of a plant that [with] the assistance of USAID has started something. And then–you go.”
As those who’ve spent spring break in Cancun know, a few days south of the border isn’t going to put you on the fast track to a PHD in Latin American Studies. It doesn’t really matter if you had “several conversations” with a local vender, you’re not going to come away with much more of an understanding about the effects of NAFTA on local business. The truth is, you’re barely more of an expert than when you arrived. One analyst put it like this:
What kinds of experience did Hillary Clinton gain from all those trips abroad? She grew accustomed to admiring rose gardens (every wife of every world leader seems to have one) and accepting gifts from children through interpreters. She practiced “the wave,” the dressy formal photo-op and the “arrive and hold.” She learned how to walk the cordons of different militaries. She perfected the proper facial expression for watching one’s husband place wreaths on the graves of fallen soldiers. She grew in patience and fortitude for yet one more staged hospital tour and pass-through observation of women making crafts. She grew familiar with the quick introduction and the brief intimacy and learned how to make the most of surface human interaction. As the timelines of her itineraries reveal, she seldom had the opportunity to meet with foreign women for any meaningful length of time. Indeed the protocol of these trips was stultifying. Hillary Clinton might as well have been Lady Curzon visiting the Raj or Queen Elizabeth on annual progress.
Clinton’s posturing about her foreign policy credentials is based upon a high degree of fantasy and manipulation. To suggest that her several-hour, highly-scheduled trips abroad (in which she is carefully fed the information that suits local embassy/military officials) give her some deep insight is both naive and misleading. The kind of foreign policy leadership required to be president isn’t measured by how many times a candidate has crossed the border or flown across the Atlantic; instead, it’s based on the person’s understanding of history and of regional political trends, an ability to think clearly in situations of stress, the selection of good advisors, a willingness to receive outside advice, and a strong set of morals. If Clinton wants to run on foreign policy, that’s fine, but she shouldn’t expect to win people over by bragging about the number of stamps in her passport.