Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Stay-at-home Barack Obama comes under fire for lack of foreign experience

From Timesonline.co.uk: "Fresh doubts over Barack Obama’s foreign policy credentials were expressed on both sides of the Atlantic last night, after it emerged that he had made only one brief official visit to London – and none elsewhere in Western Europe or Latin America.
Supporters of Hillary Clinton, who has seen Mr Obama tighten the Democratic presidential race over recent weeks, say that his relative inexperience contrasts with her extensive overseas travel and personal relationship with many world leaders.

Yesterday they underlined this message by pointing to reports showing that Mr Obama had failed to convene a single policy meeting of the Senate European subcommittee, of which he is chairman. There was also strikingly robust criticism from an independent Washington think-tank about a “disconcerting void” over transatlantic relations in Mr Obama’s foreign policy, as well as from a former British Minister for Europe.

Mr Obama’s advisers say that he has an “intuitive grasp” of world affairs because he spent part of his childhood abroad. “The benefit of my life of having both lived overseas and travelled overseas is, I have a better sense of how they’re thinking and what their society is really like,” Mr Obama said last month.
Reacting to the latest attack on his international credentials, Mr Obama’s advisers pointed out that he had met Tony Blair, among other world leaders, in Washington or on official trips to Africa, the Middle East, Russia and former Soviet Republics.

In a statement emphasising his early opposition to the Iraq war – which Mrs Clinton backed initially – and his support for Nato in Afghanistan, a spokesman said: “Barack Obama will be a leader who understands that the security of the US and Europe is shared. As someone who has lived in Indonesia and has family in Kenya, he will also be uniquely able to bridge the divide between the G8 nations and the developing world.”

The spokesman said that Mr Obama had held European subcommittee hearings on the nomination of two US ambassadors in the past year when he had been busy with his presidential campaign.

But Steve Clemons, the director of foreign policy at the New American Foundation in Washington, said that such hearings were not the same as convening full meetings on pressing policy issues such as the future of Nato. “Someone who is seeking the presidency should have some facility for the most important anchor in global affairs, which is the transatlantic relationship,” he said. “The major threats in the 21st century are changing but what is not changing is the vital necessity of Europe and the US collaborating in meeting those challenges with Europe, for instance, in the lead on dealing with Iran. This is a very disconcerting void in Obama’s profile.”

Mr Obama’s visit to London in August 2005 was a one-day stopover when he returned from a trip to Russia with other senators on the Foreign Relations Committee and met Mr Blair in Downing Street.

Denis MacShane, a Minister for Europe in Mr Blair’s Government, said he had been troubled by comments Mr Obama had made on the Middle East peace process and the prospect of military action in Pakistan. He added: “A lot of people are concerned that international policy is not his strongest suit, just as it was not with George Bush in 2000.

Mr Obama also met Mr Blair twice in Washington, and Nicolas Sarkozy, then the French Interior Minister. But anecdotes are circulating in Washington about how he has turned down requests from other visiting foreign dignitaries, such as an Italian opposition leader who was told that the senator was in “presidential mode” and only seeing leaders of countries.

Foreign relations

— George Bush visited China, Japan, Mexico, Spain, UK, Israel, Ireland, The Gambia, Italy and Egypt before becoming President

— When Theodore Roosevelt travelled to Panama in 1906 to visit the Panama Canal he became the first President to leave the country

— In 1992 Bill Clinton criticised President Bush for his foreign travel. In office President Clinton made 133 trips abroad

— Hillary Clinton claims to have visited 82 countries when her husband was in the White House

— This year Rudy Giuliani claimed that his work as a security consultant, combined with his time as New York Mayor, had taken him on more than 90 foreign trips, “more than any other candidate for president in the last 5 or 6 years”

Sources: National Taxpayers' Union; Encyclopaedia Britannica