The Campaign Spot

Questions For Obama’s Upcoming Overseas Trip

The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz reports that Brian Williams, Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric will be traveling with Obama overseas next week, with each one getting an interview at a stop on the Democratic nominee’s world tour.

Kurtz asked me a few moments ago whether I thought the disparity in coverage for McCain’s foreign trips was unfair. Maybe I have outrage fatigue — who can have a restless night with New Yorker caricaturists running loose in the streets? — but I’m not that bothered that McCain’s spring trip got modest coverage. That series of meetings with leaders in Iraq, Israel, Jordan, France, and the United Kingdom was pretty much par for the course. But McCain’s two more recent trips probably deserved more attention, because they underlined particular contrasts in the candidates’ foreign policy visions.
Obama is supposed to be the candidate who will improve the country’s image abroad; the Washington Post poll today finds that Americans think Obama would be better at that by a margin of 2 to 1. But the alleged diplomatic messiah has already irked the Canadians by talking about a unilateral withdrawal from NAFTA, and in Colombia, Alvaro Uribe has done just about everything the United States has asked of him, and could use a trade deal to help his country’s economy. But Obama toes the union line and opposes the trade deal, basically dismissing the highest-priority of a terrorist-whupping U.S. ally.
Having said that, Obama’s upcoming trip is newsworthy, if for no other reason than he’s barely done this sort of thing before. For starters, while Obama has been mocked for not visiting Iraq in 920 days, many don’t know that Obama has never been to Afghanistan before.
In Great Britain, Obama will have the standard handshaking photo-op with Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and the two should hit it off. But will the press mention Brown’s Defense Minister declaring, “I’m no fan of timelines in changing operational environments like in Iraq or Afghanistan” last week? Will that difference in policy even come up in their meeting?
France’s Nicholas Sarkozy will be a gracious host, and probably get along well with Obama, even if all Obama can say is “merci beaucoup.”
In Germany, will the networks mention that Obama’s campaign has already put Angela Merkel in an awkward position by publicly floating the idea of the Brandenburg Gate address? The proposal essentially forced the German and Berlin governments to de facto endorse a candidate — approve the speech and help out Obama, or decline the speech and help out McCain.
In Israel, will the networks mention the hullabaloo in the region over the confusion over whether he supports an “undivided Jerusalem” or not? Will Obama mention to Olmert that he actually does not insist upon an undivided Jerusalem?
In Jordan, when Obama inevitably talks about the importance of this U.S. ally in the war on terror, will the networks point out that the word “Jordan” does not appear on Obama’s web site in the sections entitled “Foreign Policy” “Defense” or “Iraq“? (The closest to a mention that the Kingdom of Jordan gets is one sentence on the Iraq page referring to diplomacy with “all of Iraq’s neighbors.”) Or that the only reference to Jordan on his site in any official capacity is announcing the trip? (Obama community bloggers have mentioned the country, but I can’t find any other reference to the country; no mention of Jordan in Obama’s speeches “The Cost of War“, “The World Beyond Iraq,” “Lessons From Iraq“, his speech at a Foreign Policy Forum or his speech at AIPAC.)
But if Obama can get through the week without revealing the location of CIA stations again, it will be a moral victory.

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