Bob Corker values trips to world's trouble spots

Bob Corker values trips to world's trouble spots

March 31st, 2014 by The Tennessean in Local Regional News

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., is shown at a meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in this March 12 photo. Corker has visited more than 50 countries as a committee member and says there's no substitute for seeing first-hand the situations the committee deals with.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Corker's travel itinerary

Sen. Bob Corker has visited these foreign countries since joining the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2007:

* Africa: Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Kenya, Mali, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania and Tunisia.

* Americas: Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Panama, Mexico and Nicaragua.

* Europe: Belgium, Czech Republic, England, France, Republic of Georgia, Germany, Greece, Greenland, Hungary, Malta, Italy, Russia, Switzerland and Ukraine.

* Middle East: Bahrain, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, plus the West Bank and Gaza.

* Asia: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, India, Japan, Pakistan and South Korea.

Since becoming ranking member in January 2013, Corker has stopped in:

* Munich: Munich, Germany for the Munich Security Conference (February 2013)

* Africa: Senegal, Mali, Algeria and Tunisia (February 2013)

* Asia: Japan, China and South Korea (March 2013)

* Middle East and Southeast Asia: United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan and Pakistan (July 2013)

* Middle East: Turkey, Jordan and Iraq (August 2013)

* Middle East: Saudi Arabia, Oman and Bahrain (December 2013)

* Switzerland: World Economic Forum (January 2014)

WASHINGTON - It was midnight when the plane carrying Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker landed in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in December on a Senate Foreign Relations Committee trip.

But there would be no time to relax and freshen up.

Instead, Corker, who was wrapping up his first year as the committee's ranking Republican, heard that Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, chief of Saudi intelligence, wanted to meet with him immediately at the Royal Palace to discuss the ongoing civil war in Syria.

"He wanted to talk through what was happening on the ground," Corker said.

It was nearly 3:30 a.m. before the meeting broke up. By dawn Corker would have to be ready for meetings with other Saudi officials.

But after seven years on the panel and visits to 55 nations, Corker says there is no substitute for travel if committee members are to take seriously their role in shaping foreign policy.

But Corker acknowledged that the routine sometimes gets wearisome.

"I really wanted on the committee in the first place to broaden my background," the former mayor of Chattanooga says.

He flies commercial, he says, because, "It saves the taxpayers a fortune."

Corker learned early on that the political landscape wherever he lands can change in a hurry.

In May 2010, for instance, Corker visited Damascus, Syria, where he met with both U.S. officials stationed there and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It was before the beginning of civil war there -- and before Assad became a pariah to the West.

When Corker returned to the region in August of last year, he found himself meeting with victims of that civil war at refugee camps in Turkey and Jordan and hearing their horror stories about what was happening in Syria.

"I will never forget that," the senator said.

Upon his return to the Senate in September, Corker sponsored a resolution authorizing the use of American military force in response to Assad's use of chemical weapons.

Corker said he came upon a refugee situation equally as disturbing in the Darfur region of Sudan in May 2009, where he witnessed the "utterly horrible conditions" that prevailed there.

Now it is Ukraine that dominates the headlines. Corker told a room full of Washington reporters last month that he feared a Russian invasion similar to the one that occurred in Georgia in August 2008.

Corker had been in the Georgian city of Gori at the end of August 2008, just a couple of weeks following a battle for the city between Russian and Georgian forces.

"We saw where Russia was going into Georgia," he said.

Corker visited the Ukraine in November of that year and says he will never forget entering the parliament building in Kiev and having to take a call from Henry Paulson, treasury secretary under former President George W. Bush, about the financial crisis still unfolding in the United States.

"I always find it (travel) incredibly beneficial," Corker says. "Unless you understand what's going on on the ground it is hard to put together good policy."

Contact Paul C. Barton at pbarton@gannett.com.