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Friday, July 25, 2008

Assessing the Political Implications of Barack Obama's World Tour

With his world tour wrapping up, it is time to assess the political implications of the tour. I see four specific issues that will have lasting impact on the campaign. In my opinion, whether or not this trip was a success depends largely on how each of the candidates use the trip. So, far the polling has been indefinite and thus there is not yet a clear sign whether not this trip has benefitted Obama. Let's look at the four major events.

1) Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki's call for timetables changed the dynamic of the trip entirely. Rather than being on the defensive, Obama immediately went on offense during the part of the trip that was thought to be his most difficult. At worst, for Barack Obama, Maliki's statement is confusing and muddies the waters. At best, it will be seen as supporting Obama's position. Maliki's statement can now be used by Obama's supporters to legitimize his own call for timetables. Dick Morris said it best...

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has cut the legs out from under John McCain by basically endorsing Sen. Barack Obama’s troop-withdrawal plan.

Just when McCain had Obama on the defensive over the Democrat’s plan to surrender after we’ve won in Iraq, Maliki has made McCain look the naïf for opposing a timetable for withdrawal.

Maliki's statement has changed the entire dynamic of the debate on Iraq and unless McCain pivots, he loses the issue, as Morris explains further.

Unless McCain changes his approach, he’s lost the use of this issue. He can’t come out for staying in Iraq longer than the government we support wants.

The Republican needs to shift the debate to Iraq’s future. Neither Obama’s belaboring of his previous opposition to the war nor McCain’s attacking the Democrat’s opposition to the surge is relevant - both lines are history lessons best left in the classroom. What voters want to know is: What now?

So, we will see what the long term effects are but the short term effect was a huge political victory for Obama.

2) Obama would still not vote for the surge? Just as quickly as he received a political victory, Obama handed McCain a huge issue with his awful answer to both Terry Moran and Katie Couric about whether or not he would support the surge.

This could wind up being a huge political boon for McCain. I can just see the ads coming and frankly they could mirror the opening of Couric's piece with Obama's statements about still not voting for the surge being transcribed afterwards. Obama went onto admit and acknowledge that his withdrawal plan diverges entirely from General Petreaus' plans for Iraq. It speaks for itself when a one term Senator with scant foreign policy experience insists on totally contradicting a proven General. This could turn out to be a huge boon for McCain if he uses it properly.

3) Obama looked comfortable and welcome everywhere. Take that to mean what you want but he certainly didn't have a Dukakis moment in the tank. Obama did indeed look Presidential. He gained foreign policy credibility with his demeanor everywhere. Just how much is of course anyone's guess.

4) His speech yesterday in Berlin. The political effects of the speech are difficult to determine and only time will tell how it will play. First, it will be nearly impossible for Obama to portray this as anything but a campaign rally. He had two hundred thousand adoring fans hanging on every word and cheering loudly. That may backfire badly on Obama. It is simply in horribly political taste to go out of country and campaign. That's essentially what he did with this speech. Furthermore, I don't know how well it will be received by Americans that Germans love Obama. In my opinion, it won't be received very well. Finally, the line that will linger is this one...

I speak to you not as a candidate for President, but as a citizen - a proud citizen of the United States, and a fellow citizen of the world.

Now, John McCain recently had a campaign ad that ended with him saying "country first". McCain's biggest strength and Obama's biggest weakness is their patriotism gap. Here again Obama reinforces anyone's concern over his own patriotism. He isn't merely a citizen of the United States but the world. Of course, the President of the United States represents the United States not the world. Americans are not going to be comfortable with a President that takes a world view. The President is supposed represent the best interests of the United States at all times. That is NOT something that you worry about with McCain. Yet, Obama just gave people another reason to worry about it.

All in all, it was a mixed bag. Each side has opportunities to use parts of it to their advantage and only time will tell which will use them more effectively.

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