WASHINGTON – With Hillary Clinton seeming to express a more hawkish view of world affairs than President Obama and publicly questioning his decisions on Syria, liberals may be wondering what an Elizabeth Warren alternative would look like.
The answer? It’s a big question mark.
More than a year and a half into her Senate term, the Massachusetts senator is one of just four current US senators who have not taken an official overseas trip.
Warren rarely talks about foreign policy and has built her political resume almost exclusively on domestic issues, specifically concerns for the financial well-being of the American middle class.
A Warren aide said the freshman senator is planning to join a congressional trip to Israel, but given her aggressive schedule campaigning on behalf of Senate Democrats it likely will come after the midterm elections in November.
That trip could raise speculation that Warren is trying to add to her foreign policy portfolio ahead of a potential presidential run, but it also could be seen as her playing catch up to other freshman senators who have already traveled abroad.
“Senator Warren has been hard at work in Massachusetts and Washington, DC and has not traveled on an official [congressional delegation trip] yet,” Warren spokeswoman Lacey Rose said in a statement.
Warren declined several requests for an interview. Her office also would not discuss her lack of foreign travel, disclose whom she consults for foreign-policy advice, or say whether Warren has ever traveled abroad in a private, unofficial capacity.
Many of Warren’s supporters want her to run for president in 2016, but Warren has repeatedly said she has no plans to run. If she did make a bid, her lack of foreign policy experience would likely present a problem -- although perhaps not an insurmountable one. As Noam Scheiber pointed out in the New Republic, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean stoked liberal enthusiasm in the 2004 Democratic primaries with his opposition to the Iraq War.
Clinton’s views on foreign policy could create an opening on the left. The former secretary of state, senator, and first lady has taken a much more robust view of American intervention. In an interview with the Atlantic last week, Clinton characterized Obama’s philosophy of “not doing stupid stuff” as inadequate. She also criticized Obama’s approach in Syria and said his unwillingness to take a more aggressive approach helped lay the groundwork for the current unrest sweeping throughout the region.
“The failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled,” Clinton said.
Clinton called Obama to clarify her remarks and the two are scheduled to see each other Wednesday night at an event on Martha’s Vineyard, where a Clinton spokesman said she looked forward to “hugging it out” with the president.
In general, Warren seems anti-interventionist and takes a skeptical eye to any US military action. In February, during her only speech on foreign policy in the year and a half since she took office, she warned of using military might without considering the implications.
“When military action is on the table, do we fully and honestly debate the risk that while our actions would wipe out existing terrorists or other threats, they also might produce new ones?” Warren said in a speech at Georgetown University.
She also said the military engagement following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks illustrated the downsides of harming civilians and risking inciting insurgents.
“The failure to make civilian casualties a full and robust part of our national conversation over the use of force is dangerous – dangerous because of the impression that it gives the world about our country and dangerous because of how it affects the decisions that we make as a country,” Warren said.
Last week, responding to the latest conflict in Iraq, she said she supported Obama’s decision to take limited action and provide humanitarian relief. But she also expressed deep reservations.
“I remain concerned about possible unintended consequences of intervention,” she said. “We must not get bogged down in another war in the Middle East.”
Earlier, when asked last year to respond to President Obama’s decision to begin arming the Syrian rebels, Warren used almost identical language.
“I am deeply concerned that our aid might have unintended consequences,” she said in a carefully worded statement in June 2013. “We need clear goals and a plan to achieve them or else the United States could get bogged down in another war in the Middle East.”
Warren has often avoided foreign policy issues, sometimes literally. When she was questioned in a hotel lobby last month by the Capitol City Project, a conservative-leaning news website, about her views on the war between Hamas and Israel, she made a beeline down a hallway.
In her recent book, “A Fighting Chance,” Warren doesn’t mention Israel or China. She mentions the wars Afghanistan and Iraq, but only to discuss young troops being lured into financial scams.
A Globe review of official travel records shows that, aside from Warren, the three current senators who have not undertaken official travel -- -- either on a congressional trip or one paid for by an outside group -- are Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat who was elected in October 2013; John Walsh, a Montana Democrat who was appointed in February and recently dropped out of his race following charges of plagiarism; and Brian Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat who was appointed to his seat in December 2012 and is now running to keep the seat.
The committees that Warren sits on are mostly focused on domestic policy: Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs; Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions; and a special committee on aging. But other members of those committees have been traveling. There have been at least nine committee trips to 22 countries.
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.