Obama's Foreign Policy: Amateur Hour at the White House

During the 2008 Democratic primaries, Hillary Clinton's most famous ad was about Obama failing to answer the 3 a.m. phone call. It played on the idea that he was completely inexperienced in foreign affairs, and that it would be too risky to have a rookie in there managing things.

The problem was that Hillary herself was hardly more experienced in that realm, unless you count being the spouse of a two-term president -- which is ordinarily considered no experience at all.

But it's really not all that unusual for first-term presidents to lack knowledge of foreign affairs. After all, where would they get it? On a senate committee, perhaps, or as a member of something like the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is where Hillary got her own modest amount of pre-2008-campaign experience.

Governors don't tend to deal with foreign affairs, either; it is widely forgotten that the context for Sarah Palin's statement about Russia and Alaska ("You can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska") was an interview with Charles Gibson, who was questioning her foreign policy credentials and who specifically asked her about Alaska and Russia ("What insight into Russian actions particularly in the last couple of weeks, does the proximity of this state give you?").

So Obama's lack of foreign policy chops was hardly unusual; his experience was limited to short stints on a few committees. But much more importantly, unlike so many of his inexperienced predecessors, he didn't have the humility to understand that he was deficient in that area, and to compensate for it by choosing a knowledgeable secretary of State. Instead, he appointed Hillary Clinton to the post, so now there were two foreign policy naifs in charge of the whole shebang.

Obama's predecessor Bush II lacked such experience as well -- although, like Hillary, he was a close family member of someone who did have it. But Bush knew enough to know what he didn't know, and appointed actual experts to man (and woman) the job, such as Condoleezza Rice. Obama's arrogance led him to believe that a few years of childhood spent in Indonesia, and some visits to Pakistan in early adulthood, would be enough -- or actually, more than enough:

Ironically, this is an area -- foreign policy is the area where I am probably most confident that I know more and understand the world better than Senator Clinton or Senator McCain.

It’s ironic because this is supposedly the place where experience is most needed to be Commander-in-Chief. Experience in Washington is not knowledge of the world. This I know. When Senator Clinton brags "I’ve met leaders from eighty countries" -- I know what those trips are like! I’ve been on them....

You do that in eighty countries -- you don’t know those eighty countries. So when I speak about having lived in Indonesia for four years, having family that is impoverished in small villages in Africa–knowing the leaders is not important -- what I know is the people....

I traveled to Pakistan when I was in college -- I knew what Sunni and Shia was [sic] before I joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.