March 3rd, 2008 by Rightsideup

This is one of those times when my two worlds collide: technology (which is what I do for work) and politics (which is what I do for fun). Netscape founder Marc Andreessen has a blog entry up about a meeting he had last year with Barack Obama, and technology blog TechCrunch has an article about it.

Both articles / blog entries draw the same conclusion about this particular exchange:

We then asked, well, what about foreign policy — should we be concerned that you just don’t have much experience there?

He said, directly, two things.

First, he said, I’m on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where I serve with a number of Senators who are widely regarded as leading experts on foreign policy — and I can tell you that I know as much about foreign policy at this point as most of them.

Being a fan of blunt answers, I liked that one.

But then he made what I think is the really good point.

He said — and I’m going to paraphrase a little here: think about who I am — my father was Kenyan; I have close relatives in a small rural village in Kenya to this day; and I spent several years of my childhood living in Jakarta, Indonesia. Think about what it’s going to mean in many parts of the world — parts of the world that we really care about — when I show up as the President of the United States. I’ll be fundamentally changing the world’s perception of what the United States is all about.

He’s got my vote.

The TechCrunch blogger (Erick Schonfeld) then goes on to add:

That last point is a pretty powerful rejoinder to the criticism that foreign policy is not Obama’s strong suit. His unique life history arguably puts him in a better position than any other candidate to change the anti-American attitudes rife in many other countries. What other candidate could do that simply by being elected?

This is the nub of the matter, isn’t it? That liberals (Democrats, whatever) think the goal of foreign policy is to get everyone outside the US to like us more, and therefore the key qualification here is being likable by non-Americans. Conservatives (Republicans, whatever) know that foreign policy is about securing the United States against foreign attackers and ensuring that the interests of the United States are protected.

The question about Obama’s foreign policy experience is entirely legitimate, because he has spent no time at all immersed in the real business of foreign policy, namely the art of diplomacy and the art of war (or “the continuation of diplomacy by other means,” as Clausewitz once said). He mistakenly believes that having spent time in foreign countries and having relatives there is the key thing (recall that George W Bush was criticised for not having spent enough time outside the US – whatever the failings of his foreign policy, they don’t have their roots in where he spent his vacations).

Obama’s arrogance on the topic of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is pretty breathtaking too. That committee is headed by Joe Biden and Dick Lugar, both of whom have several decades of foreign policy experience. For Obama to suggest that in the few months he spent in the Senate before running for President he amassed more knowledge than these two men or the others who serve on that committee is preposterous, and again suggests he is dangerously naive about the real meaning and importance of foreign policy experience.