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Jewish World Review March 5, 2001 / 10 Adar, 5761

Julia Gorin

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World travel: Less is more -- CITING his limited travel experience, everyone from pundits, to actors, to the barely coherent man on the street has questioned George W. Bushís qualifications to direct foreign policy.

Aside from the fact that, from the get-go, Bushís experiences dealing with Mexico eclipsed Candidate Clintonís own foreign policy non-experience, there was the following little nugget last month in the Washington Post recapping the difference in work ethic between the two men and dismissing it as rotely as any Clinton scandal:

"Early each morning when other Washingtonians are soaking up the sports pages or stuck in traffic, President Bush digs into the "Presidentís Daily Brief," a 10-page guide to the world prepared by the CIA for an eager student with much to learn. Bushís reading is followed by a briefing by a CIA senior analyst, a six-times-a-week session that President Bill Clinton DECLINED because he felt he DID NOT NEED it." (Emphasis added.)

Imagine the opportunity: An intelligence insider to personally brief you on the real, inside, up-to-the-minute goings-on in the world. I would PAY for that! He was going to get it for free, six days a week.

But of course he didnít need it. Foreign intelligence was always irrelevant to Bill Clinton. Advice from the Pentagon or CIA was the obstacle. National security was not the goal. He would simply charm the world. Besides, if youíre Bill Clinton, then youíre not there to serve America but to serve Bill Clinton. So what use would such a briefing be?

Foreign affairs are complicated, and no matter how much traveling youíve done, youíd have to actually understand whatís being said in an intelligence briefing to make sense of the world. That means discerning friends from enemies and, of course, understanding that thereís a difference between the two.

There are some people who understand what they read, and others who get ahead with the help of a photographic memory. There are some who go abroad to complete the Rhodes Scholarship course of study theyíve won, and others who win it and just go abroad.

So why wrack your brain and clutter it with information when your support base doesnít know the difference between foreign policy and foreign film? If you donít get it, the electorate wonít know the difference. Youíre a worldly guy. Youíve tasted life. Thatís what matters. Youíve traveled. George W. hasnít really. And limited travel is worse than travel done to avoid being drafted, and worse than travel to hostile territory to protest oneís own country. Itís worldliness that counts; that is the ultimate measure of intellectual competence (along with reading novels).

If the number of frequent flyer miles youíve accumulated and trees youíve slept under are the standard, then any pot-smoking hippie who climbs across Europe from hostel to hostel is more qualified to handle foreign policy than our current president is. Not like our last one: He actually went to Yugoslavia, but still couldnít figure out that Albanians were going to turn their fire against his peacekeepers once the troops no longer served their purposes. Thatís because Bill Clinton did his own research on the Balkans: "Iíve been reading up on the area," and decided to pronounce Kosovo with an accent on the second "o" instead of the first "o."

And do you really need to go to China to understand why we support an independent Taiwan? (Bill Clinton went, and still got it wrong, announcing that "the U.S. is not for an independent Taiwan.") Maybe the briefing would have helped here, but why would you want to be reminded of where we stand with China if you need the pocket money theyíre providing you with?

Similarly, does anyone really have to go to Cuba to understand why a young mother would drown trying to get her son out?

(On second thought, scratch that; half the country might need to take that trip.)

But do you really have to go anywhere to know that itís better here? And that itís folly to sign America on to the internationally-run war crimes tribunal which promises to undermine our independence? Unless, of course, your goal is to make America accountable to a global hierarchy, and put it in the middle of the international muck and mire which its strategically advantageous geographical position has for years afforded it to circumvent. And your highest ambition isnít the presidency but the Nobel Prize or the UN general secretary slot.

Indeed, information like that offered in the daily briefing only angered the Clinton White House. Take, for example, the CIA report advising that any bailouts of Russia would be swallowed up by government and "business" leaders who control all banking and industry. "I never want to see this (expletive) thing again" was Russia liaison Al Goreís response.

As current Treasury Secretary Paul OíNeill remarked recently, "Have you ever tried to do business in Russia? Ever try to write an enforceable contract? . . . It doesn't take a genius to figure out it's not a great place to put capital."

"Troubling." That was the adjective used by the editorial board of the Washington Post to describe this new tone in foreign policy. And those people have traveled.

JWR contributor Julia Gorin is a journalist and stand-up comic residing in Manhattan. Send your comments by clicking here.


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10/10/00: If the world is watching the fighting in the Middle East, let it also watch "Rules of Engagement"
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09/06/00: A cornerstone of 20th Century America: Sticking it to the rich
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03/19/99: The Thin Yellow Line
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10/19/98: Got milk? Donít know. Do I?
07/30/98: Kofi Annan's crimes against sensibility
05/15/98: Susan McDougal: a real stand-up kinda guy
01/08/98: In defense of the appetizing shiksa

© 2000, Julia Gorin