Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Foreign Policy Experience

Regardless of what one thinks of Sarah Palin (and while I'm inclined to like her, I'm waiting for the debate to see if she's got what it takes to lead the country), it's time to put to bed this canard about "foreign policy experience."

Liberals and the media hold up so-called "foreign policy experience" as the Holy Grail of the presidency--except when they're trying to elect someone with absolutely none of it (see: Clinton, Bill). But all that the vaunted "foreign policy experience" really means is "worships at the altar of the U.N. and pays obeisance to the Council on Foreign Relations and the massive State Department bureaucratic apparatus."

The best foreign policy president of my lifetime was Ronald Reagan, and it was always the same knock against him: "no foreign policy experience" (and a governor to boot). I would argue that it was Reagan's very lack of such "experience" that allowed him to win the Cold War, since entanglement in the State Department miasma leads to an utter inability to distinguish good from bad, up from down, and black from white. It's no coincidence that most Secretaries of State are mamby-pamby functionaries so lost in nuance that they can't see what's straight in front of them and almost always wind up unable to even distinguish a dictator from an elected president. They are always the very definition of squishy moderate (or, in some cases, outright Leftist), even if that wasn't the case when they were appointed. Mere proximity to the foreign policy apparatus of the nation turns them into chess players with no moral clarity or big picture. (See Powell, Colin; Albright, Madeleine; Christopher, Warren; Eagleburger, Lawrence; Baker, James; Muskie, Edwin; Vance, Cyrus; Kissinger, Henry; Rogers, William, etc. etc. ad nauseum. There's not one single person on that list I'd want to be president.)

In the modern era, probably the epitome of the "foreign policy experience" president was Richard M. Nixon. He's the one who opened relations back up with the Chicoms (propping that regime up for another 35 years and counting) and established the policy of detente with the Soviet Union (which the State Department functionaries hallowed), a series of endless treaties and maintaining a "balance of power" where the U.S. tacitly agreed to never try to actually win the Cold War. Thankfully, Reagan, who had never been blinkered by the State Department establishment and wasn't crippled by what the liberals called "foreign policy experience" came in with his own policy of "we win, they lose." Needless to say, all hell broke loose among the establishment foreign policy wonks. Every step along the way they whined as this "cowboy" with no foreign policy experience called the Russkies on the carpet, walked out of summits, amped up weapons systems, and ultimately put 'em out of business.

George H.W. Bush was another so-called "foreign policy president" having been CIA director and an ambassador, as well as a former director of the Council on Foreign Relations. A proponent of the so-called "New World Order," he's the one who actually tried to prop the Soviet Union back up at the last minute before their collapse and help Gorbachev maintain his power. He also stopped short in the Gulf War despite the advice of many around him, leaving hundreds of thousands of Kurdish rebels who'd helped us in the war to be exterminated by Saddam Hussein, as well as leaving Saddam in power to be dealt with again later, the repercussions of which we're still dealing with on a daily basis.

So in my estimation, "foreign policy experience" ain't' worth a hill of beans. Give me someone with simple moral clarity a thousand times over the experienced, amoral wonks like Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon and the like. This isn't brain surgery; most times all that's required is to know right from wrong.

(Most of these thoughts I first posted the other day over at A Better Country.)

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