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Obama, McCain campaigns go global

The two presidential candidates plan trips abroad to build their foreign-policy credentials.

By / July 2, 2008

Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., disembarks his campaign plane.

Jae C. Hong/AP

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Washington - Globalization has hit American presidential politics.

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As never before, the two main candidates have carved out international itineraries that are taking them to major world capitals and hot spots – a diversion from the usual hopscotch campaign map that tends to favor the swing regions of, say, Ohio and Florida.

For Republican John McCain, multiple trips to Iraq, a recent visit to Canada, and a swing through Latin America that begins Tuesday showcase an already strong international profile from his Navy years, followed by more than two decades on the Senate Armed Services Committee. A meeting (and photo op) in Washington last Saturday with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani shows that Senator McCain doesn't even need to leave the country to burnish his foreign-policy credentials.

For Democrat Barack Obama, a multinational tour of Europe and the Middle East scheduled for mid-July aims to add some heft to the Illinois senator's light foreign-policy résumé – and, in Europe at least, tap into the Obamamania that's already in full flower.

America's image abroad has taken a major hit during the Bush presidency, with an unpopular US-led war in Iraq and positions on global warming at odds with much of the developed world. Both candidates seem eager to repair that. But the messages will be aimed as much at American voters as at foreign audiences.

"They will be saying, 'Yes, as a political candidate, I am doing the things that are necessary to ensure American leadership abroad,'" says Tom Henriksen, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. "So they reassure the electorate."

Obama to visit Iraq

Senator Obama has announced visits to Israel, Jordan, Britain, France, and Germany. Campaign advisers say he also plans to visit Iraq and Afghanistan this summer, but have declined to release details for security reasons. Obama has visited Iraq only once, on a congressional delegation in 2006, a point of derision for McCain, who has visited Iraq eight times. McCain had proposed they visit Iraq together, but Obama dismissed that as a "political stunt."

Obama has opposed the Iraq war from the start, a major contrast point between him and McCain. On GOP.com, Republicans have fixated on Obama's paucity of Iraq visits by clocking down to the second how long it's been since he last visited (904 days, as of Monday).

The McCain camp called Obama's plan to go to Iraq and Afghanistan "a good thing," then goaded him to change his policy views. "Hopefully he will be moved by the facts on the ground," campaign adviser Carly Fiorina said in a conference call with reporters. "He will have to acknowledge that the surge is working, and perhaps this will cause him to change his position."