Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton questioned Sen. Bernie Sanders’ foreign policy knowledge during an interview on Meet the Press.
Clinton told host Chuck Todd on Feb. 7, 2016, that her Democratic rival was inexperienced with the subject. She said Sanders was markedly unprepared compared to her 2008 primary opponent, then-Sen. Barack Obama.
"There really isn’t any kind of foreign policy network that is supporting and advising Sen. Sanders," Clinton said.
Clinton has used her years heading the State Department to her advantage, building a council of advisers to help her campaign. But we wondered if she was correct that Sanders was lacking a team of his own, and at that stage, just how unusual that is.
It’s no secret Sanders’ campaign has been much more focused on the economy and domestic issues. His foreign policy credentials have become a bigger issue as his threat to Clinton’s campaign has grown.
And it’s also no secret, that as a former secretary of state, Clinton has many experts to whom she can turn. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, for instance, is supporting Clinton’s campaign. Also in Clinton’s circle are former defense secretary and CIA chief Leon Panetta, and former national security adviser Tom Donilon.
Sanders’ campaign did not respond to our requests, but Sanders addressed Clinton’s criticism on Meet the Press.
"I’ll tell you that we have met recently with people like Larry Korb, who actually worked in the Reagan administration," Sanders said. "We talked to people like Jim Zogby, talked to the people on J Street, to get a broad perspective of the Middle East, and I’ve been meeting with a whole lot of people."
Sanders has mentioned these same sources before. He told CNN host Jake Tapper on Jan. 31 that he consulted Korb, and gave Politico a list of consultation sources that included Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute, and Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of pro-Israel group J Street.
Politico reported that many of the people on Sanders’ list did not consider themselves advisers, but did say they had spoken with the Vermont senator. Ben-Ami said he briefed Sanders, but noted he met with many members of Congress and presidential candidates. Tamara Coffman Wittes, director of the Brookings Institution Center for Middle East Policy, told Politico she met with Sanders once in August 2015, but couldn’t remember any details of the discussion beyond some points about Islamic State.
Korb, a former assistant defense secretary under Ronald Reagan and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, told PolitiFact he met with Sanders, likely in early December. The discussion ranged from defense policy to the Middle East to climate change. Korb said they talked for a couple of hours and found Sanders to be "insightful" and "knowledgeable."
Korb said he didn’t necessarily consider one meeting a qualification as being a Sanders adviser, but he had advised on subjects for other presidential campaigns, too — including for Obama, who had a much more extensive and sophisticated foreign policy group during his 2008 run.
"I’m not involved with the Sanders campaign or have an official role," Korb said. "As far as being an adviser, I have provided advice to him, so …"
All of that said, it’s probably fair that Sanders doesn’t have the same established network of foreign policy experts that Clinton has, or Obama did.
But Sanders has talked to experts, who have offered him advice on pressing foreign policy issues.
Eliot Cohen, who advised Mitt Romney in 2012 and is a professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins, said it may not matter much that Sanders lacks a roster of well-connected foreign policy experts and assistants.
"Some campaigns have in-house staffs, others have a policy person or two and a group of people that they consult more or less regularly — but not highly organized," Cohen said. "This early on, I’m not sure you have to have a formal organization, as opposed to some experts to bounce things off of."
Some 2016 Republicans are in the same position. Donald Trump, who is leading the polls in New Hampshire, appears to have no organized foreign policy network of advisers.
Clinton said, "There really isn’t any kind of foreign policy network that is supporting and advising Sen. Sanders."
It’s not a network in the same sense of Clinton’s, but Sanders has met with several foreign policy experts. It doesn’t appear he has any team with which he regularly discusses foreign policy.
An expert who advised Mitt Romney said that’s not all together distressing or upsetting, giving the nature of the campaign.
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