A couple of weeks ago, after I mentioned John Kerry had chosen a foreign policy novice for a running mate, my e-mail basket filled up with responses: When it comes to world affairs, I was told, John Edwards is more experienced, or at least no more inexperienced, than George W. Bush was when he first ran for president. So there.
Comparing the international expertise of Bush, circa 2000, and Edwards, circa 2004, is an unenlightening exercise if only because of what has happened in between: Sept. 11. Which is what I wrote back. Since New York and Washington came under attack, all leadership decisions must deliberately reflect our dangerous times: Tapping a foreign-affairs flyweight for the vice presidency in the middle of a long-haul war does not. In fact, I would say it reveals a cavalier disregard for national security.
But if inexperience on the Kerry team is a liability, it turns out experience in foreign affairs is no bargain, either. I'm thinking, foremost, of Sandy Berger, the former National Security Advisor to Bill Clinton who has been a foreign policy adviser to the Kerry campaign. Berger has plenty of experience. In fact, maybe too much. After news broke that the former Clinton adviser is the subject of a federal criminal investigation into the removal of highly classified documents from the National Archives in a) his leather portfolio b) his jacket c) his pants and d) very possibly his socks, Berger parted company from the Kerry campaign. Or vice versa.
Clearly, this is not the sort of experience a presidential candidate prizes in a campaign adviser, although at least one ex-president has already pronounced the whole affair hilarious. "We were all laughing about it," Bill Clinton told the Denver Post, reminiscing about his former NSC chief's messy desk. Clinton added he'd known about this "non-story" -- the non-story that Berger's mishandling of top-secret terror documents was under investigation -- for several months. (Did Kerry? When asked, the Democratic presidential candidate told NBC's Tom Brokaw, "I didn't have a clue, not a clue.")