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.
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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.