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Friday, April 18, 2014
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Published: 7/29/2008

Obama's journey

SEN. Barack Obama's trip to South Asia, the Middle East, and Europe was a success for him as a candidate and for the United States.

He didn't break major policy ground, nor should he have, consistent with his stated position as a senator and the Democratic presidential candidate, not president.

The trip wasn't intended to be a long seminar on what U.S. foreign policy would be if Mr. Obama is elected in November. If anyone wanted to know that, they could read his campaign's position papers, listen to his speeches and interviews, and then extrapolate what he would do in the White House, once faced with the hard realities of America's situation in the world.

Think back to George W. Bush's first campaign in 2000. The image of Mr. Bush's proclaimed "humble" foreign policy does not correspond closely with what his policy was to become. Sept. 11 intervened. The obsession with invading Iraq intervened. His apparent affinity for Latin America as a former governor of Texas evaporated. And good luck to anyone who can find the open attitude promised to America's traditional allies by Mr. Bush in what he has done as president.

What Mr. Obama had to do on his trip was make his way across the foreign policy creek on stepping stones without falling into the water. Particularly overseas, plagued by the time change, face-to-face with representatives of sometimes feral foreign media, challenged by the "if it's Tuesday, this must be Belgium" phenomenon, any senior American traveler is at risk of ending up with at least one shoe full of water.

By those standards, Mr. Obama gets credit for having survived the trip unscathed, but it was much better than that. It had to warm the hearts of Americans to see him welcomed by a crowd of 200,000 in Berlin; to have his troop withdrawal schedule endorsed by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki; for him to have the sense to meet with both Israeli and Palestinian officials, and to have begun work on working relationships with King Abdullah of Jordan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Each of them could have been more careful to stay neutral than they did. Instead, their enthusiastic welcomes probably helped Mr. Obama, although there is no reason to believe they wouldn't have been equally hospitable to the likely Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain.

The foreign leaders certainly gave the impression that they believed the Illinois senator is about to become what Mr. McCain sarcastically calls him: "The One."

Mr. Obama proved once again that he is politically nimble, he can shoot the foreign policy three-pointer, and that his popularity on both sides of the Atlantic is not to be underestimated. These attributes can only help this nation in the future.



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