Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Just Not Another Texan

Recently I had a long argument with a friend about why this isn't true. I don't know the ins and outs of Bill and Hillary Clinton's power-sharing arrangement, but it's clear that she wasn't just Mrs. Clinton the way Laura is Mrs. Bush. America has a long tradition of First Ladies who stood out from the "Good Housekeeping/Better Homes and Gardens" archetype. Eleanor Roosevelt, of course, sets the standard. Roslyn Carter was another. Whether you admire her or despise her, Hillary Clinton definitely falls into this category. What's more, her work as First Lady was more closely intertwined with the President's function than the first two, who blazed their own trails.

As for today's "Re: foreign policy experience" campaign press release battle, the one criteria that everyone's ignored -- oddly enough, given that foreign policy is all about dealing with foreigners -- is how the candidates are perceived abroad. And on that score, Hillary Clinton is a known and recognized commodity among foreign policy makers, widely respected and by no means considered unqualified for the job of representing the United States to the world by the people who represent the world to the United States.

Barack Obama, on the other hand, is certainly less of a known quantity, but there's every reason to believe that people abroad would take him just as seriously and be just as impressed by him as everyone who has ever crossed the guy's path his entire life. It's possible that some of our strategic rivals might see fit to test him out early on in his term more than they would Hillary (think China and the Hainan airmen), but it's not certain.

Finally, a quick glance at post-War presidencies is enough to demonstrate that foreign policy experience or the lack thereof is far from a predictive factor with regards to performance. George W. Bush had none and the results have been disastrous. Bill Clinton had just as little with the results being a relatively successful mixed bag. Reagan, Carter, Kennedy and Truman had no meaningful foreign policy experience to speak of. Neither did FDR, for that matter, unless you count his appointment as Asst Secretary of the Navy during WWI. Ike, Nixon and Bush I, meanwhile, were all pretty fluent in the ins and outs of international diplomacy when they entered office. And on the whole, history treats all of them pretty well.

In fact, if you examine American post-War presidencies, it becomes clear that when the foreign policy hand you're dealt includes dominant military power, hegemonic economic influence, infectious cultural inventiveness and a tightly-knit network of alliances, it's pretty difficult to seriously screw things up. All of them stumbled, some of them fell. But all of them, save two (Bush II and LBJ), had their major successes that strengthened the country's standing as well.

So there's really no way of predicting, based on experience, whether someone will be a successful foreign policy president. There does seem to be a predictive factor for foreign policy failure, though, and it's not lack of experience. It's being from Texas.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   Politics   

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