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Obama takes show onto global stage

His foreign-policy credentials will likely be tested as he travels abroad.

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"In my experience, fact-finding missions usually work best the other way around: First you assess the facts on the ground, then you present a new strategy," said McCain prior to addressing a town hall meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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Right now the US public appears evenly split on the question of whether Obama would be a good commander in chief. According to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll, 48 percent of respondents said that Obama would be an effective leader of the military. Forty-eight percent said that he would not.

On policy for Iraq in particular, 47 percent of respondents said they would trust McCain more to handle the war. Forty-five percent picked Obama.

Thus Obama's coming trip could be a crucial way for the candidate to bolster his international credentials and draw distinctions with the current administration and his rival McCain, say political experts.

Images of a rapturous reception could help. Obama is a subject of intense interest overseas, and all signs point to a turnout of large crowds to greet him in Europe. John F. Kennedy, as both a candidate and chief executive, was greatly bolstered at home by similar turnout.

"It's not like Americans will base their voting judgment on what foreigners think. But the contrast with the current administration could convey the sense that the world would work with the US [if Obama wins]," says Norman Ornstein, resident scholar and political expert at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

Obama has also been fortunate in that events in Afghanistan appear to have borne out his prediction that the administration has focused too much on Iraq, says Mr. Ornstein.

For US troops, Afghanistan is now deadlier than Iraq. The Bush administration may be mulling a withdrawal of troops from Iraq for the purpose of bolstering forces in Afghanistan.

"It allows Obama to say 'I told you so,' " says Ornstein.

However, Obama has already fallen prey to something that has long bedeviled US politicians inexperienced on the international stage: the gaffe about the Middle East.

Last month, at a conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Obama endorsed the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and then added that Jerusalem should remain undivided and the capital of Israel.

Palestinian Authority President Abbas reacted angrily to that statement, and Obama has since amended it, saying that he only wants no barbed wire to divide Jerusalem in two.

"I was not trying to predetermine what are essentially final status issues," said Obama in a broadcast interview with columnist Fareed Zakaria.

Such missteps might remind older US voters of Jimmy Carter as a presidential candidate, says Mr. Sabato of the University of Virginia. Though Carter today is renowned for his world travel, when he ran for president he was a Georgia governor without extensive international experience.

Obama's itinerary might reinforce this naïve image, says Sabato.

"I'm surprised it's not more extensive," he says. "It's almost a remedial trip."