Ballot Box

The Worldview of Carol Moseley Braun

Her instincts on foreign policy and national security.

Slate is running several series of short features explaining who the 2004 presidential candidates are, what they’re saying, and where they propose to take the country. The first series summarized their personal and professional backgrounds. The second series analyzed their buzzwords. The third series outlined what each candidate would focus on as president. This series sketches how they would manage America’s role in the world.

After communism collapsed, American voters lost interest in defense and foreign policy. But those subjects can consume most of a president’s time, and 9/11 returned them to the forefront. It’s difficult to anticipate which hot spots a candidate would have to deal with as president, but it’s possible to get a sense of how she approaches war, diplomacy, trade, and other challenges abroad. This series pieces together a picture of each candidate’s instincts based on her words and her record. Today’s subject is Carol Moseley Braun.

Getting along: Next to Dennis Kucinich, Braun is the most war-averse of the candidates. She staunchly opposed the 2003 Iraq war and insinuated that oil was a significant motive. She emphasizes peace, diplomacy, and international institutions. Often, she spins this as a gender difference. On Feb. 15, 2003, alluding to President Bush, she said, “The people can and must demand an end to the saber rattling that has made us hostages to fear.” On March 19, again alluding to Bush, she told Democrats, “We will not be intimidated by the disparaging of our allies [and] the threatened destruction of our international institutions such as NATO and the United Nations.” On March 3, she suggested, “Maybe by learning to work well with others we could do a better job in defeating terrorists.”

Diplomacy: Braun is the only candidate who has served as a diplomat. From 1999 to 2001, she was the U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand. Her portfolio included Samoa, the Cook Islands, and Antarctica. During her tenure, there were no major disputes or crises between the United States and New Zealand. One minor dispute occurred in 2000, when New Zealand canceled a $700 million deal (agreed to by its previous government) to buy 28 American F-16s. Braun expressed surprise and disappointment, but things were patched up, and the countries promised to continue working together on security issues.

Dictators: In 1996, then-Sen. Braun took a six-day trip to Nigeria, where she met with dictator Sani Abacha. Earlier that year, Braun had voted against sanctions on Nigeria, which was under scrutiny for human rights violations. Her trip wasn’t secret but was surreptitious enough that her chief of staff quit over not having been notified of it. Braun visited Abacha with her ex-fiance, Kgosie Matthews, a former lobbyist for Nigeria. The trip, which Braun called an attempt at “quiet diplomacy,” was criticized by Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and other black American leaders for lending legitimacy to Abacha. It was also criticized by the Clinton State Department as free-lance foreign policy. When asked about the trip, Braun said, “Senators travel. That’s what senators do. Senators deal with foreign policy.” Two years later, she said it was a mistake only because she hadn’t suitably publicized the visit beforehand. Today she admits it “sent the wrong signals.”