Thursday, September 18, 2008

What is Foreign Policy Experience, Anyway?

Clifford May asks this important question today over at National Review Online. Important, because it's something that everyone's talking about even though it's not at all clear that we know what we mean by it, or that we all mean the same thing. Does Governor Sarah Palin's gubernatorial experience with foreign trade delegations count? For something, maybe. Does the fact that Alaska is kinda close-ish to Russia, or that she is nominally Commander in Chief of the Alaska National Guard? Hardly. Similarly, the other three candidates are from the Senate, where they have had at best a spectator's experience of foreign policy. Even if any of the candidates did have experience in executive decision-making, it still comes down to a fundamental problem of looking to experience in electing any executive: the new leader will face situations nobody will have predicted, few if any of these situations will be directly analagous to anything he has done before, and even an entire lifetime's worth of experiences is too limited a library for anyone to rely on past personal experience. A candidate's record matters insofar as it provides a witness by which to make judgements about his judgement. As May puts it, "The best a voter can do is attempt to discern ... a candidate’s values, temperament and, yes, ideology — which is to say his political philosophy." He then poses a series of key questions, the sort I wish the media were asking of all the candidates. Let's stop arguing about who has foreign policy "experience", and start looking for evidence of foreign policy judgement.

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