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Dodd pledges to reach out to world

Dodd pledges to reach out to world

Reaching out to world leaders on a personal basis would distinguish his presidency, he pledged. He's an expert on Latin America, an interest that dates to his service in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic 40 years ago. He speaks fluent Spanish and says he knows almost every head of state in Latin America. And he's traveled the globe as a longtime member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic in the 1960's.

Dodd pledges to reach out to world

Dodd pledges to reach out to world


May 5, 2007

Spend an hour with Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, and you'll tour the world.

In his meeting with the Register's editorial board on Thursday, he mentioned 22 nations - about half in the Middle East, a half dozen in Latin America, plus China, France and Iceland thrown in for good measure.

But the name dropping - of world leaders as well as countries - wasn't a show. It reflects the life he's lived as a senator for 26 years and congressman for 32. He's an expert on Latin America, an interest that dates to his service in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic 40 years ago. He speaks fluent Spanish and says he knows almost every head of state in Latin America. And he's traveled the globe as a longtime member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Reaching out to world leaders on a personal basis would distinguish his presidency, he pledged.

He spoke admiringly of "Bush 41" - George H.W. Bush, President Bush's father - who made contacts with people the world over. The elder Bush once asked Dodd what South American leader Bush should call. Dodd recommended a former president of Uruguay, Julia Maria Sanguinetti, who served in the late 1980s. Dodd ran into Sanguinetti later, and, sure enough, Bush had begun calling him regularly.

Dodd contrasted that with George W. Bush's go-it-alone mind-set:

"During the Hezbollah-Israeli conflict in August of last year, the American president did not speak once to the prime minister of Lebanon ... or the prime minister of Israel for 30 days. In the middle of the conflict. Two friends," he said, his voice rising with incredulity. "That kind of absence of leadership has been devastating to us as we've become more isolated around the world and less secure and far more vulnerable."

It's not that Dodd focused solely on foreign policy; it's more that he shifted easily between domestic and foreign policy and frequently connected the two. While talking about changes needed in the No Child Left Behind education law, he also emphasized teaching foreign languages, saying it worries him that "we're tongue-tied" as a country. While outlining his energy policy - the most aggressive of all the candidates, calling for a corporate carbon tax and an auto-fuel standard of 50 miles per gallon - he referenced the Iraq war: "Let's not kid ourselves. If Iraq were producing turnips and not oil, we wouldn't be there."

Or, he would add a layer of insight missing in most discussions of a topic. Outlining his approach to immigration, he mentioned Mexico's own border-security problems, as Bolivians, Colombians and others pour into its southern states.

Despite his detailed policy responses and frequent worldly references, it wasn't an egghead discussion. He's a raconteur, comfortable with dropping anecdotes along the way and poking fun at himself.

With only a few minutes left in the session, he was asked about reforming health care: "How much time do we have?" he said, quickly. "I was doing a national TV program a couple of years ago. It was not the normal host, and he said, 'Senator, we have 30 seconds left. The Middle East.'"

Though Dodd is of medium height and build, Iowans who meet him will see a commanding figure, owing in large part to his almost shimmering white hair. He's struggled to gain traction in a race dominated by the star-power candidacies of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. But those who seek out Dodd may find someone who can charm, challenge and inspire an audience to once again "be a part of something larger than yourselves."

Asked about his vision for America, Dodd, 62, talked about his two young daughters, ages 5 and 2, the oldest born two days after the Sept. 11 attacks. "I'm very fearful of what kind of world my daughter is going to grow up in," he said.

"I've been asked a million times why I joined (the Peace Corps). The only answer I've ever given was because an American president asked me to...

"There are clear choices for us to get this right, or at least a lot better than it is, and do we have political leadership that's going to be bold enough, honest enough, serious enough about this, mature enough, knowledgeable enough, to invite a generation of us to sort of meet that challenge, so that child of mine can one day look back and say we did OK."

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