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Passport Not Required

Without addressing anyone in particular, I’d like to suggest that not holding a US passport is NOT the same thing as being unversed in foreign policy matters. I strongly believe that the right kind of person could do well in foreign affairs or even as VP without a passport. What counts are knowledge and curiosity.

Let’s take me, as a brazen example. I did apply for and receive a US passport back in 1985. It expired in 1995 without ever being stamped. I took two trips to Baja California in the late 1980s. I stayed a week each time and worked at an orphanage digging ditches and other unskilled labor. That’s the limit of my foreign travels. But I think I’ve got a good enough grasp of foreign affairs to be vice-President. Why’s that?

1) I have a bachelor’s degree in history. I took many classes in 20th Century European history and at least three semesters in the Ottoman Empire and the modern Middle East. I understand the Shia/Sunni split. I’ve learned about how the West imposed borders that cut across tribal lines and gave us nightmares like Wariziristan. My studies enabled me to be unsurprised that the Kurds find it difficult to stay in a unified Iraq.

2) I am a voracious reader of books on history, current events and other cultures. By reading the documented opinions of experts on other countries, cultures and foreign relations, I better understand foreign countries.

3) I read the media of other countries like Britain, Australia and the English language services of non-English speaking countries. This gives me a sense of what other countries priorities are.

4) I read and understand a foreign language (Spanish). I haven’t really mastered speaking it, but I know enough Spanish to read Latin American newspapers and get a good sense of what’s important in those countries. My work at trying to understand Spanish also helps me to sympathize with non-native English speakers — most of whom speak better English than I speak Spanish.

If some candidate for high office could meet the four conditions above, I’d be happy to have them in the White House. It wouldn’t matter if they had a passport or not. I’d really like to see the press stop equating travel with knowledge. Travel is often broadening. But I’d rather have someone well read on foreign affairs in culture than someone who skies in Switzerland and Argentina every year who never learns the local culture. No matter how long they’ve held their passport.

For the record, while I think I have the foreign policy knowledge to be Vice President (or President, for that matter), I know I’m not cut out for high office. I don’t have the temperament, stamina or patience.

Please not that this post is subject to my temporary comment policy. If the constant press about “You can’t know foreign policy without a passport!” and “You are obviously ignorant because you picked up your passport in 2006” didn’t affect me personally, I wouldn’t be writing about it. So comments about this general topic are welcome but comments about specific politicians it might pertain to are not.

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