Times of London on Obama's Europe Void

05/25/2011 12:20 pm ET
  • Steve Clemons Washington Editor at Large of The Atlantic and founder and senior fellow of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation.


The Times of London has picked up on the issue that Senator Obama has not convened a policy-related hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee on Europe and added to this something I reported yesterday -- which was that Europe does not figure into Obama's travel profile.

Many people are wondering why any of this travel experience matters -- particularly a bunch of my Obama-supporting friends.

This debate started with the Boston Globe's endorsement of Obama in which it proffered a strange line:

America needs a president with an intuitive sense of the wider world, with all its perils and opportunities. Senator Barack Obama of Illinois has this understanding at his core.

My friend and New America Foundation board member Fareed Zakaria furthered this debate in a direction I don't agree with -- by suggesting that identity trumps experience and expertise.

We've had a president who rules from the gut -- and it was a huge mistake for the nation to go with someone who lacked the experience and facility with global affairs that George W. Bush came to office with.

I want to be clear to friends on all sides of this political campaign that I know Barack Obama has international experience, but it is not wrong to note that there are deficits in the profiles of the people we are considering to live in the White House.

If I'm being asked to support Obama because of innate instinct, I refuse. I would say the same about Hillary Clinton if asked. What we need to know about all of these potential candidates is not only how they operate and work but what the basis of their experience is. Then, for me, I want to see some evidence that the candidate is thinking creatively about how to leapfrog out of today's national security and foreign policy morass into some more stable order that propels American and global interests back in a positive direction.

At the beginning of the John Bolton battle in which I played a substantial part, Barack Obama and Russ Feingold were two early holdouts in our uniting the Democratic caucus on the Foreign Relations Committee against him. After watching a video tape of John Bolton "losing it" on the subject of the UN, when Bolton said that one could take some ten floors out of the UN and no one would notice (in an angry, frustrated voice), Obama changed course and opposed Bolton. This impressed me -- but there was nothing innate in Obama's thinking.

Hillary Clinton, in contrast, might have leaned more toward a minority constituency in New York that was supportive of Bolton, and allowed the "identity" of the situation trump sensible policy. Clinton's people listened to many -- and just knew that when it came to shouldering responsibilities for the American people in the world's most important international institution, Bolton was the wrong person for the job.

I hate this debate about experience vs. identity in making this choice. Both candidates have strengths and weaknesses.

But with me, experience -- or demonstrating bold capacity to requisition that experience -- is the primary driver of my political support. Obama supporters, I hope, will drop this cult-ish promulgation of identity politics and will get back on the experience track.

Then, we can have a sensible discussion about the differences between Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Joe Biden -- and the rest.

It still bothers me that Mike Huckabee has been to Europe and Obama hasn't.

-- Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note

P.S. I want to make one note about Senator Obama and European travel. According to the Times of London story, Barack Obama stopped in London for a quick stopover on the way back from Moscow. I was not given this information by Senator Obama's office, so I am not adding it as of yet. The official material from the Obama office did not include this trip and thus may need to be amended at some point. Steve Clemons