Bush lacks Gore's foreign policy expertise
How much international experience have past presidents had?
June 24, 1999
Web posted at: 1:43 p.m. EDT (1743 GMT)
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, June 24) -- Vice President Al Gore's experience with world affairs is one of his main selling points as a presidential hopeful, offering a sharp contrast with his likely Republican rival, George W. Bush, who has no such foreign policy resume.
That experience gap has been a campaign issue before.
During the 1992 campaign, President George Bush made it very clear what he thought of Bill Clinton and Al Gore's international policy credentials.
Former President George Bush
"They criticize our country and say we are less than Germany and slightly better than Sri Lanka. My dog Millie knows more about foreign affairs than these two bozos," then-President Bush said.
In 1999, now-Vice President Gore makes much the same argument about Bush's son, Texas Gov. George W. Bush -- although Gore has been more restrained.
"You deserve a leader who has been tested in it, who knows how to protect America, and secure peace and freedom," he says. Gore's point: That the current GOP front-runner lacks the experience to lead America in a complex and dangerous world.
At a photo opportunity in Kennebunkport, Maine, former President Bush answered that criticism by comparing his son with yet another big-state governor with no international policy experience: "My predecessor, for whom I have great love, affection and respect, Ronald Reagan, had come in having been governor of a state and not having had the various jobs."
Last week, George W. Bush told "New York Times" columnist Maureen Dowd, "I'm smart enough to know what I don't know."
On the stump, Bush lays out his vision of the world in broad terms.
"The world we live in is still a world of terror and missiles and madmen. And we're challenged by aging weapons and failing intelligence," he said.
Presidential candidate George W. Bush
But he's also made some gaffes, calling Greeks "Grecians," Kosovars "Kosovians," and the East Timorese "East Timorians."
Then at an event this week in Richmond, Virginia a reporter from Slovakia asked Bush whether he would make the Central European nation a priority.
Bush's reply?: "The only thing I know about Slovakia is what I learned firsthand from your foreign minister that came to Texas, and I had a great visit with him. It's an exciting country. It's a country that's flourishing, and it's a country that's doing very well."
Answering a follow-up question, Bush backed off a little: "I think it was the foreign minister, if I'm not mistaken. I need to check my records. A high-ranking official from your country came to visit. I was very impressed."
Bush was right to be hesitant. He didn't meet the foreign minister; he met the prime minister. And it wasn't Slovakia, but Slovenia.
While the junior Bush may lack his father's resume -- CIA director, ambassador to China, architect of the Gulf War victory -- George W. has inherited some of his father's top aides, and with little experience of his own, Bush says he will rely on their advice.
Foreign policy experience of past presidents
Just how much do new presidents need to know about international affairs?
Franklin Roosevelt had experience and led successfully during World War II. But when he died, the presidency passed to Harry Truman, who was so out of things Roosevelt had never even told him about the atomic bomb. But Truman had many foreign policy successes: the end of World War II; the Marshall Plan to rebuild Western Europe; the policy of containing the Soviet Union; the Berlin airlift when the Soviets tried to cut the city off; the United Nations; and so on.
Former President Harry S Truman
He couldn't end the Korean War, but in foreign policy, he had many more pluses than minuses. Dwight Eisenhower had lots of experience. He was the allied commander in World War II; ended the Korean War; demanded, successfully that Britain, France and Israel abandon their seizure of the Suez Canal. Successes.
John Kennedy grew up on foreign policy. His father was ambassador to Britain. And JFK wrote a study of British policy between world wars called "While England Slept."
As president, he had one big failure: the botched Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. But it was followed by a big success: resolving the Cuban missile crisis by getting Nikita Khrushchev to remove Soviet Missiles from Cuba in exchange for withdrawing U.S. missiles from Turkey.
Lyndon Johnson had no direct experience aside from Senate debates. His administration passed historic domestic legislation: the civil rights and voting rights acts. But the unresolved war in Vietnam destroyed his presidency.
Richard Nixon had experience as Eisenhower's vice president and had solid success: detente with the Soviet Union, opening relations with China after decades of silence.
Former President Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter had no experience, failed to free American hostages held in Iran, and said he was surprised when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.
Ronald Reagan was completely inexperienced and had great success: negotiated arms reduction with the Soviets, urged Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin wall, which actually happened during George Bush's presidency.
Does experience matter? Yes, if you look at Johnson or Carter; no, if you look at Truman or Reagan.
Maybe it matters less now.
"With the end of the Cold War now, there is much less premium, I think, on the idea that you have to have someone with a foreign policy or military background," said historian Robert Dallek.
Dallek thinks the current crop of candidates will talk about something else: "It's cultural values, and you're going to see, I think, both candidates stressing more and more their religious faith, their family values."
Unless there's a war, of course.
CNN's Judy Woodruff and Bruce Morton contributed to this report.