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|Barack Obama abroad|
This past week Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama toured the Middle East and Europe presumably to shore up his flagging marks in foreign policy. This photo-op cum lade was not merely another exercise in presidential posturing but an opportunity for the world to subscribe to Obama-mania.
They treasured him in Jerusalem, venerated him in Berlin and offered him the keys to the Louvre in Paris. In Bethlehem, the mayor took Obama to the very manger where the Illinois Senator was born so many Christmases ago. Rumor has it that Obama to this day carries a piece of straw from that manger as a reminder of his humble roots.
And, in London…our "special relationship" with England became even more special with Gordon Brown (who has his own problems and may not be in office by the end of this year). Brown and Obama glad-handled each other like two deacons at a church picnic.
You get the picture. Or maybe not.
In an interview, Obama claimed, "The reason that I thought this trip was important is that I am convinced that many of the issues that we face at home are not going to be solved as effectively unless we have strong partners abroad and unless we get a handle on Iraq and Afghanistan."
I have to wonder what issues? Does anyone actually think that Germany or France will commit more troops to Afghanistan because Obama turns on the charm? Will Berlin and Paris completely alter their foreign policy based on the cotton candy politics and puny platitudes of hope and change being spewed from the O-man himself? Would any European state ignore their own domestic pressures to make life easy for any American president?
We have to accept that Europe and the United States often have different agendas and, regardless of who occupies 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., always will. But, we agree more often than we disagree. Even under President George Bush, the United States has become closer to Europe over the past year as her major states have made a decidedly conservative shift. Besides, is the benchmark for doing what is correct a thumbs-up from the European Union? I hope not. Ask the Bosnian Serbs about European policy and doing the right thing.
In the Middle East is where Obama actually made the biggest splash. (Note: no more 'born in a manger' jokes). But, not in the way some would have liked. His meetings with Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and subsequent reaction from Israelis and, more importantly American Jews, was not the public relations coup many had hoped.
Following Jewish tradition, Obama with yarmulke lightly affixed and a penitent expression went to the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, to offer his prayer (that was later shamelessly stolen and published in the newspaper Maariv) for forgiveness against pride. That appeared sincere but who can say.
Afghani President Hamid Karzai may turn out to be Obama's biggest supporter as the senator tries to re-focus attention on Al-Qaeda (remember them?) and not Iraq. This point is a sound one and could, in fact, be a way out for Obama's immediate withdrawal policies.
As for Iraq, even CBS anchor Katie Couric, known as a softball throwing political lightweight disposed to fluffy interviews, rattled the senator.
Obama responded at one particularly heated moment when Couric pressed him about the surge, saying, "I have no idea what would have happened had we applied my approach…what I can say is that there's no doubt that our U.S. troops have contributed to a reduction of violence in Iraq. I said that-- not just today, not just yesterday, but I've said that-- previously. What that doesn't change is that we've got to have a different strategic approach if we're going to make America as safe as possible."
Let me translate: Though the strategy that I vehemently opposed and voted against worked, I would radically alter that so that I could claim at least partial credit in Iraq but only if Americans fighting in Iraq and living here at home are put in jeopardy. Oh, goody!
So what did the grand tour accomplish?
Well…step right up…come on in… (Sorry about the George Jones reference).
For those who liked Obama, this was proof that he is just what America needs to restore our tarnished image abroad. For those against him, this was proof that he is politically naïve and dangerous.
In other words…nothing changed.
However, one thing remains to be said. In critical economic times, Americans look inward and care little about foreign policy. Ask George H.W. Bush what issue cost him the 1992 election. Thus, we should not see any more of these stunts.
The 200,000 Germans flocking to see Obama last week will not cast a single ballot this November. This election will not be won in Paris, Berlin or London. But in Pittsburg, Baltimore and Little Rock.
Domestic economic and energy issues will be the driving factor for voters. Whether Obama or McCain has any answers here remains to be seen.
John W. Sutherlin, PhD, is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Louisiana-Monroe. He also is co-director at the ULM Social Science Research Lab. He can be reached by e-mailing Sutherlin@ulm.edu.