Is History Marching in Obama's Direction?
One would hardly imagine the Economist would be among those journals heaping accolades on Barack Obama's foreign policy trip. But the venerable magazine's American columnist with the pen name Lexington has been forced by events to admit that Obama had a very good week:
THIS week Americans have been bombarded with images of Barack Obama posing as the commander-in-chief. Mr Obama standing shoulder-to-shoulder with world leaders. Mr Obama flying in a helicopter over Iraq with General David Petraeus. Mr Obama shooting hoops with the troops. Mr Obama boarding a jumbo jet with his name emblazoned on the side. And John McCain? He was photographed on a golf cart with the 84-year-old George Bush senior.Lexington paints a picture of a candidate playing to win, instead of not to lose:
This was the boldest move in a campaign marked by bold moves. Democrats usually adopt a defensive crouch when it comes to foreign policy. Bill Clinton and Al Gore all but ignored it in their runs for the presidency. John Kerry wore his service in Vietnam like a shield. But Mr Obama has marched into Republican territory with his head held high.Frank Rich write in the New York Times that Obama's timing was just right:
It was also a risky move. There was the risk of looking presumptuous. Presidential candidates do not usually fly around the world in their own personalised versions of Air Force One. There was the risk of crossing the line between talking to foreign leaders and negotiating with them. And there was the risk of a gaffe; Michael Dukakis never recovered from looking silly in a tank.
But these worries have been silenced by events. The decision of the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, more or less to endorse Mr Obama’s timetable for withdrawing American troops from Iraq sent shock waves through Washington, DC, discombobulating the White House and driving the McCain campaign into panic. And the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan underlined Mr Obama’s argument that America needs to devote more resources to the country that nurtured Osama bin Laden.
Even the Bush administration played into Mr Obama’s hands. It signalled its willingness to work with the Iraqis on a “time horizon” for troop withdrawals. And it dispatched a high-ranking State Department official, William Burns, to participate in multilateral talks with Iran over its nuclear programme. Mr Obama had made talking to Iran a centrepiece of his campaign, something the Republican right has fiercely resisted.
But to dismiss Barack Obama’s magical mystery tour through old Europe and two war zones as a media-made fairy tale would be to underestimate the ingenious politics of the moment. History was on the march well before Mr. Obama boarded his plane, and his trip was perfectly timed to reap the whirlwind.As if to demonstrate that they are not just fools for Obama (as they once were for McCain), some of the media's biggest stars started asking whether Obama shouldn't admit that the sight of events turning his way wasn't proof that McCain wasn't right all along:
It was laughable to watch journalists stamp their feet last week to try to push Mr. Obama into saying he was “wrong” about the surge. More than five years and 4,100 American fatalities later, they’re still not demanding that Mr. McCain admit he was wrong when he assured us that our adventure in Iraq would be fast, produce little American “bloodletting” and “be paid for by the Iraqis.”I am not particularly concerned with the question of whether Obama gets a bump in the polls from the trip. I think the most important effects will be long term, as voters become more comfortable with him representing our country on the world stage.