WASHINGTON – The recent Cleveland debates featuring all 17 Republicans who want to be president revealed that within this vast array of mostly professional politicians, there are only a couple with some international affairs knowledge, and no one with real, hands on, experience.
Governors make good Presidents
For sure we have a sizable number of Governors and former Governors who are running. Here is the long list: Scott Walker from Wisconsin, John Kasich from Ohio, Chris Christie from New Jersey, Bobby Jindal from Louisiana, Jeb Bush from Florida, Jim Gilmore from Virginia, George Pataki from New York, Mike Huckabee from Arkansas. And this is good, (at least we hope so).
The conventional wisdom is that good Governors are potentially good Presidents. After all, they do most of the things that Presidents do, albeit on a smaller scale.
They are states’ CEOs. They run things. They are responsible for large budgets. They have to create coalitions. They have to prioritize and lead in order to promote the economy, business creation, employment, education, and general welfare.
No foreign affairs experience
However, Governors have almost nothing to do with foreign and security matters. At best, some of them are involved in some limited international economic and trade issues, such as investment and export promotion.
And so, here is the picture. If any of these 17 GOP candidates gets into the White House, America will be led by a President who has practically zero experience in international and security matters. This is not good. (I should mention that Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina is a defense and security issues expert. However, his chances of getting the GOP nomination are extremely low).
In this respect, at least looking at formal credentials, Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic Party nominee, looks a lot better. She has been Secretary of State for 4 years. Prior to that, as Senator from New York, Clinton served on the prestigious Armed Services Committee.
Nobody focused on this weakness
Well, be that as it may, nobody pointed out this huge weakness of total inexperience in a crucial area. The issue of foreign affairs competence does not even come up in any analysis of the GOP candidates.
In fact, it looks as if nobody really cares about this huge shortcoming. Within the Cleveland main debate, (featuring the 10 top candidates), there was only little time devoted to foreign policy. And the few questions that were asked focused entirely on current affairs: Iran, ISIL and Putin’s Russia.
Europe and Japan, America’s key post-war allies, were not even mentioned. Nothing specific about the rise of China. Nothing about major international trade negotiations. Nothing on the impact of globalization on the US economy. Nothing about large emerging countries such as Brazil or Indonesia. Nothing about relations with the Arab world. Nothing about the future of US-Israel relations.
A new President who knows nothing about foreign policy
So, here is the thing. Assuming a Republican victory, America may get (I hope) a competent, “let’s-get-things-done”, former or sitting Governor as Chief Executive.
But this new President, even if he is excellent on domestic issues, will be totally clueless about US foreign policy. He will have no intuitive understanding about the national interest and how best to protect it. And he will be unknown in the rest of the world.
Given all this, most likely he will depend upon the advise of experts whose judgement is often clouded by ideological agendas.
Please remember the Iraq disaster ordered by former Texas Governor George W. Bush. Bush was another state CEO who came into the White House knowing practically nothing about the world.
Because of his ignorance, he relied on the supposedly sophisticated insights of the neo-cons who had a dream about creating democracy in Iraq. And so he ordered an invasion, and spent close to US $ 1 trillion trying to make Iraq into a modern democracy. The whole enterprise was and is a gigantic failure, due mostly to gigantic bad judgment.
Who will be in charge?
This being the case, let’s hope that the next President, lacking any substantive understanding about foreign and security affairs, will have the common sense of picking level-headed people to run the Pentagon and the State Department, and a sensible professional as National Security Adviser.
If he picks ideologues with agendas, then we are in deep trouble.