Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"Experience is Overrated" (UPDATED)

UPDATE: Katrina vanden Heuvel, from her commentary "Why Obama Got it Right":
Above all, foreign policy is a matter of simultaneously projecting American confidence and American humility. In signaling that he was willing to meet with the leaders of these countries, Obama was signaling that the United States has the confidence in its values to meet with anyone. But he also signaled a certain humility that reflects the understanding that the next president must reach out to the rest of the world and not merely issue conditions from the White House and threaten military force if it does not get its way.

Ari Berman (The Nation):
Mark Schmitt had an excellent op-ed in the New York Times today about how detailed presidential policy papers are given far too much credence. I'd like to suggest that "experience"--a buzzword every election cycle--is also overrated.
At every turn Hillary Clinton invokes her years as First Lady and New York Senator as a not-so-subtle contrast to Barack Obama's supposed inexperience. In his piece criticizing Obama this morning, my colleague David Corn writes that Clinton and John Edwards are "steeped in the nuances, language, and minefields of foreign policy."

That tenure prompted both Clinton and Edwards to support the war in Iraq, along with virtually the entire Democratic foreign policy elite. They had years of PhDs, postings abroad and negotiations with dictators (the kind bemoaned by Clinton and embraced by Obama in last night's YouTube debate) under their belt. And they came down on the wrong side of the biggest foreign policy question of their generation.

So it's a little disturbing to see Clinton surrogates like former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright giving reporters a tutorial today on how to negotiate with hostile regimes. In a follow-up interview with a newspaper in Iowa, Hillary piled on by calling Obama's comments "irresponsible and frankly naive."

Let's step back a second. The Obama camp could argue that it was "irresponsible and frankly naive" for Senator Clinton to hand President Bush a blank-check to go to war and then claim that she was only giving the Administration the authorization to win over the United Nations and keep weapons inspectors in Iraq until they finished the job. It was painfully obvious, except maybe to Senators and their advisors in Washington, that Bush would use Congressional approval as a mandate to invade.

Hillary's evolution on the war appears to some as more motivated by calculation than conviction. She supported the war for the better part of four years, began to express a few qualified misgivings and then, once she entered the presidential ring, quickly introduced a withdrawal proposal and a plan to de-authorize the war.

Convenient timing. So next time the Clinton campaign touts her foreign policy experience, why doesn't the Obama campaign accuse her of pandering?

Ironically, David reminds me that George H.W. Bush tried to use Bill Clinton's inexperience in foreign policy against him in 1992. Al Gore employed the same tactic against George W. Bush in 2000.

Those were legitimate questions. Experience matters. But good judgement matters more.
Howie P.S.: Obama responded to Clinton's charge that his willingness to meet with hostile leaders was "'irresponsible and naive' ":
what was "'irresponsible and naive' was voting to authorize the Iraq war."

“What she’s somehow maintaining is my statement could be construed as not having asked what the meeting was about. I didn’t say these guys were going to come over for a cup of coffee some afternoon,” he said.

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