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Beyond the presidential résumé

Modern presidential history shows that experience does not guarantee policy success.

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Does Barack Obama have enough experience to be president? Does Hillary Clinton? That's a major point of debate in the white-hot race between these Democratic front-runners. History, however, shows experience is of mixed value, especially in national security and foreign policy.

Presidential candidates typically come with qualifications in domestic governance. They've led a state or legislated in Congress. If there's a hole in their résumés, it's on the foreign side.

That's perhaps why Senator Clinton touts meeting world leaders as first lady and her Senate experience, while Senator Obama points to his experience of a childhood in Indonesia and relatives in Kenya, as well as overseas trips as a lawmaker. (Interestingly, Republican front-runners are sparring less over such experience than over values, character, and illegal immigrants.)

In recent history, the presidency of Bush No. 1, George Herbert Walker, lends strength to the argument that foreign qualifications lead to successful foreign policy.

Before becoming president, the senior Bush was also vice president, Central Intelligence Agency chief, ambassador to the UN and China, and a congressman. He was equipped to handle the diplomatic earthquake triggered by the fall of the iron curtain. And after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, he led the world to roll it back.

Bush No. 2, George W., was short on foreign and national security experience. He did, however, surround himself with seasoned advisers who helped him oust the Taliban in Afghanistan and prevent another 9/11-style attack on the US. But faulty intelligence, poor execution, and other factors trumped experience and skepticism vis-a-vis Iraq – and the US now finds itself bogged down there.


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