1/28/2004

The Wanna-Be Presidents as Global Citizens

By Doug McGill
The McGill Report

ROCHESTER, MN -- Among the handful of human skills that voters look for in presidential candidates – how good a spouse they are, how good a parent, how good a patriot – should be added how good a global citizen.

Foreign policy experience is the yardstick normally used to measure a candidate’s skill at handling potential challenges from abroad. But in reality this measurement is limiting. Whether a candidate has ever lived abroad and shown skill at living in a foreign culture is the best test of global skills.

Living abroad is one of the toughest life challenges there is – right up there with leaving home for college or a job, getting married, or becoming a parent. Whether a candidate has sought this severe challenge; how they’ve coped with it; and how their worldview matured as a result are all important ways to judge the character and skills of a presidential candidate.

In the present field of Democratic presidential candidates, only three – Wesley Clark, John Kerry, and Howard Dean -- have lived abroad for significant periods of time. And among these, General Clark is by far the frontrunner in terms of years spent living overseas and, more importantly, of having demonstrably mastered critical international skills as a result.

He attended Oxford College as a Rhodes Scholar and then spent the majority of his 34-years military career abroad, first in Vietnam, then in Europe in a succession of posts culminating as Supreme Commander of NATO in 1997.

The Main Proof

The experience transformed Clark into a patriotic cosmopolitan – firmly and deeply American, yet widely knowledgeable and comfortable with many kinds of people and cultures. His successes as a leader in NATO, during which time he often bucked his superiors in America in the service of global humanitarian aims, is the main proof.

The time comes for every American who lives overseas that the worldview and aims of the “foreigners” you live with clash with those of your bosses and friends back home. In other words, you begin to feel more like “them” than like “us.” You are plunged into an internal crisis as your loyalties and even your sense of self is tested.

Clark performed brilliantly at this juncture. While keeping American casualties low and international standing high, he continued high-pressure bombing campaigns against the dictator, Slobodan Milosevic, which ultimately served the humanitarian goal of limiting two genocides – one in Bosnia, and one in Kosovo.

John Kerry, a Vietnam War hero, went to boarding school in Switzerland and owns a family home in Brittany, France. He also lived for a time in Oslo, Norway, where his father was in the Foreign Service. But with the exception of Vietnam, his overseas experience was in privileged expatriate quarters, and his record as a U.S. Senator is not distinguished by international accomplishments.

Joe Lieberman has never lived abroad but his immigrant parents and Orthodox Judaism has given him a strong internationalist outlook. His religious training stressed the tradition of serving God by serving other people, as well as the practice of “tikkun olam,” or literally taking upon oneself the task of “healing the world” as a religious duty.

A Better Man

John Edwards has not lived overseas for significant periods nor mentioned in any of his official biographies any international experience that’s been deeply meaningful to him.

Howard Dean didn’t collect the global skills that Clark did during his years abroad, but he did have what I consider the minimum requirement of global exposure for any aspiring U.S. president.

He left the U.S. for one year and came back a changed and better man.

Between high school and college he spent a year at school in England. There he was exposed for the first time in his life to smart, articulate, passionately political people who disapproved of the United States. A shocker!

More important, Dean hitchhiked around Europe, visited northern Africa, and twice crossed the Iron Curtain on trips to Turkey.

Dean’s family members say that he left the U.S. as a longhaired, bright, aimless student, and that he came back as a goal-driven, patriotic, community-minded and focused family man.

A good long look at the real world will do that to a guy. It turns every liberal into a conservative, in the sense of realizing what a miraculous thing we’ve got going here in the United States – and wanting to conserve it.

As a whole nation, we should take such a trip.