Governor Tom Vilsack has just returned from a trip to Israel. The trip is seen as an attempt by Vilsack to bolster his foreign policy credentials as he mulls a run for the White House.

Vilsack met with Israel’s prime minister as well as leaders of the Palestinian Authority. He was also briefed by Israeli security officials. “It was a phenomenal trip. It was an opportunity, first and foremost, to learn about homeland security,” Vilsack says. “They obviously have very serious and significant concerns about people coming in and out of their country intent on doing harm.”

While the first President Bush had an extensive network of overseas contacts through years of travel outside the U.S., the current President Bush had not been outside the country before he was inaugurated. Vilsack says a president must have perspective, and he suggests visiting other countries accomplishes that. “I think it’s important to have an understanding of the world and (an) understanding of different cultures and a different approach,” Vilsack says.

Vilsack delivered the commencement address at Grinnell College today (Monday) and he used the occasion to list what he sees as faults in President’s Bush conduct of foreign policy. “America’s security, first and foremost, has been compromised by our effort in Iraq,” Vilsack said. “We were wrong about the reasons for going to war, we were wrong about planning the aftermath of war, we were wrong about how best to win the peace, and we were wrong about (the) treatment of prisoners.”

Vilsack called that a list of “critical errors.” Vilsack says while the fighting may continue, the “actual war” in Iraq and Afghanistan is over. He says that means the local governments have responsibility now for maintaining safety and building a functioning economy and the U.S. should be bringing home more troops from Iraq, though he says we may need more in Afghanistan.

Vilsack visited Iraq and Afghanistan over the Easter weekend, and he mentioned his other travels during his speech in Grinnell. In the last year I’ve traveled to China, to India and South Korea — three highly-motivated economic competitors of the United States,” Vilsack said. “The people of these great nations want only what we want here: a decent job to support their family, food on the table, a safe place to live, healthcare when they need it and, perhaps, a little left over for a few of their wants.”

While he was in Israel, Vilsack, who is Catholic, visited sites of significance to Christians. “It’s a deeply moving experience to go to the place where Christ was crucified, to go to the place where Christ preached, where he gave the Sermon on the Mount, where he talked about the loaves and the fishes, where he found his disciples,” Vilsack says. “It’s an amazing country.”

And the old adage that it’s a small world was driven home to Vilsack, who says he ran into several Iowans who were visiting the holy land, too.
“We were right near the Dead Sea and we were on ruins, and I was sitting down just taking a breather and somebody came over and said ‘Governor Vilsack?'” Vilsack says. “We had a nice chat.”