GOP Hopefuls Use Foreign Trips to Boost Resumes

GOP Hopefuls Use Foreign Trips to Boost Resumes

By Erin McPike & Scott Conroy - December 8, 2010

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has tentative trips planned early next year to the Middle East and to Europe. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is trying to schedule visits to Israel and to the United Kingdom, primarily to visit former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who is one of her political idols. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee will make his 15th voyage to Israel in January.

Most of the likely contenders for the Republican presidential nomination are planning later entries than are typical in the off year, giving them some extra time to burnish their foreign credentials. The overseas trips are attempts to bone up on their knowledge of American interests abroad and project a strong grasp on foreign affairs as they gear up to launch potential campaigns.

Kay King, a vice president for the Council on Foreign Relations who focuses on Washington initiatives, suggested that foreign trips are particularly important for presidential candidates who have fewer relationships abroad.

"I do think governors do have some foreign policy expertise," she added, noting that they develop relationships from trade missions and sister city programs.

Romney and South Dakota Sen. John Thune are among the most well-traveled of the bunch.

Romney crisscrossed the globe during his years as a businessman and has attended every Olympic Games since he was appointed to run the Salt Lake City Olympic Committee in 1999. The former Massachusetts governor gave a major speech on Iran during a trip to Israel in early 2007 prior to launching his last presidential campaign, and according to spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom, made three overseas trips -- to Guantanamo, Iraq and Afghanistan, and China -- during his governorship.

Thune serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee and has traveled extensively in his official capacity. During his six years in the upper chamber, he's toured Iraq four times, made three visits each to Jordan and Kuwait, and taken two trips apiece to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Israel and Germany. He also has visited China, Turkey, Morocco, Lebanon, Georgia, the Czech Republic, Spain and Liechtenstein. His schedule for next year is not yet public.

Indiana Rep. Mike Pence doesn't have any foreign trips planned early next year, spokesman Matt Lloyd said, but he's been to Iraq and Afghanistan every year since his election to Congress and recently returned from a trip to Afghanistan.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who is leaving the governorship for a likely presidential bid, does not yet have any foreign trips on his agenda, but spokesman Alex Conant noted that Pawlenty also has traveled abroad extensively.

"He has made five trips to Iraq and three trips to Afghanistan in support of our troops," Conant said. "He has led trade missions around the world, including three missions to China and missions to India, Israel, Chile, Brazil, Poland and the Czech Republic."

Palin's travel outside North America has thus far been limited to a trip as governor to Germany and Kuwait for military visits, and to Hong Kong in 2009 for a speech on the economy. When she was the GOP vice presidential nominee in 2008, her aides initially included a refueling stop in Ireland as an additional foreign visit.

Amid all of the emphasis within the Republican Party on the return to small government principles on the domestic front, none of the top-tier Republican presidential hopefuls has pushed for a pullback of U.S. influence on the world stage. While each calls for acting within the constraints of America's self-interest, the would-be GOP candidates have advocated interventionist policies on issues ranging from Middle East diplomacy to Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Palin has engaged more frequently on a range of hotspot issues such as the European financial crisis, and Romney and Thune remained dogged in their opposition to the New START nuclear arms treaty with Russia. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, speaking at a conference last week that was designed to spread conservative ideals within the Hispanic community, said that the drug wars in Mexico were "more important to the future of the United States than the conflict in Afghanistan."

Still, the GOP presidential field generally has focused their foreign policy comments on the Middle East and the war in Afghanistan, placing less emphasis on other flash points, including the recent crisis in North Korea.

Most of the potential GOP contenders have criticized the Obama White House heavily over the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, suggesting that Obama has not been adequately pro-Israel.

Huckabee has laid out the starkest contrast to the longstanding outline for negotiations, stating unequivocally that he opposes the "two-state solution," which Palestinian, Israeli, and U.S. officials agreed to as the framework of the peace process at the Annapolis Conference of 2007.

"This may put me in such a small minority, but I think this two-state solution is nonsense," Huckabee told World magazine last year. "If we're trying to get these two warring factions to occupy the same piece of real estate with two political entities layering over each other, that's absurd."

Palin and Romney have been particularly harsh critics of Obama's stance on Iran, arguing for even tougher sanctions than the ones that are already in place. The former Alaska governor recently told FOX News that denying Tehran a nuclear weapon was the most pressing current foreign policy issue facing the United States.

For his part, Romney said in a campaign appearance in October of 2007 that he would be willing to employ a military blockade or a "bombardment of some kind" in order to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels differentiated himself a bit from the other potential candidates in an interview with FOX News last month when he said that the most pressing foreign policy issue facing the country is "managing the Chinese relationship." Daniels also has focused his foreign travel on visits to Asia.

Daniels has been to Japan every year with the exception of 2008, when he ran for reelection. He also visited China each of the last two years and has ventured to South Korea, Germany and the U.K. as governor.

Daniels spokeswoman Jane Jankowski added, "It's too early to know what he may do next year."

Erin McPike & Scott Conroy

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