How Obama's foreign tour plays at home
He burnished his foreign policy credentials, analysts say, but will his Berlin speech backfire?
Washington - Now that Barack Obama is back on Terra Americana – after a whirlwind week of foreign travel and blanket news coverage – the probable Democratic presidential nominee knows he has to get back to the issue closest to voters' hearts: the US economy.Skip to next paragraph
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The Illinois senator said as much to reporters in London just before he flew home, noting that his poll numbers might even dip in the immediate future. "We have been out of the country for a week," he said. "People are worried about gas prices and home foreclosures."
And in an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" broadcast Sunday, Senator Obama said he will meet with his top economic advisers on Monday, including investor Warren Buffett, former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, and former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker. The agenda includes a second economic stimulus package and the high cost of energy. But there is little doubt that in taking the eight-nation tour, Obama has altered the calculus of the presidential race, even if any effect on voters may not be known for a while. By visiting Iraq (for the second time) and Afghanistan (for the first time), Obama has answered the charge of his Republican opponent, John McCain, that he had given these fronts in the war on terror short shrift. By appearing comfortable in the company of world leaders in both the Middle East and Europe, he has sought to counter the charge that he is too inexperienced to be commander in chief.
There was never any doubt that Obama is popular in Europe, but the arresting visual of him appearing before a crowd of some 200,000 people in Berlin will endure as an iconic image of the 2008 presidential campaign, no matter who wins. It may also be that foreign Obamamania ends up hurting him with the very demographic he most needs to woo: white working-class voters. But with American voters overall, the portion who consider the US's tarnished image abroad to be a major problem is on the rise – 56 percent, up from 43 percent four years ago, according to the Pew Research Center.
"Tactically, the trip was a smart thing to do," says Bruce Buchanan, a political scientist at the University of Texas, Austin. "There was a possibility that he would make a mistake, but he didn't.... In addition, it allowed him to address the thing that McCain was hammering before – his lack of foreign policy experience. This does not constitute the equivalent of two years in the presidency, but it does demonstrate that he's certainly not out of his depth."
During the trip, Obama also got the benefit of an announcement from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that he supported a timetable for US troop withdrawal from Iraq similar to Obama's 16-month withdrawal plan.
But the European portion of the trip may have been less unequivocally successful. The Berlin speech, which was aimed at a European audience, could revive a Republican talking point similar to one they used against John Kerry, the Democratic nominee four years ago – that he "would seek a 'permission slip' before the US could act," says Jack Pitney, a political analyst at Claremont-McKenna College in California.