How Obama's foreign tour plays at home
He burnished his foreign policy credentials, analysts say, but will his Berlin speech backfire?
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"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."Skip to next paragraph
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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.
Though the trip is over, the McCain campaign is still trying to puncture the impression that it proceeded nearly flawlessly. McCain has released an ad that includes criticism of Obama for canceling a visit to wounded US troops in Germany. The trip was canceled so as to avoid the appearance of politicizing war casualties, but the ad charged that Obama preferred to go to the gym.
Obama himself has tried to play down expectations over the trip's potential payoff with voters. "[It] may not be decisive for the average voter right now, given our economic troubles, but it's knowledge they can store in the back of their minds for when they go into the polling place later," Obama told The Washington Post in Paris.
In interviews with Monitor reporters in battleground states, likely voters offered mixed reactions to Obama's trip.
Roseanne Cunningham, a nurse in Rockledge, Penn., is a Republican who is undecided about how she'll vote. She does not like McCain's policies toward Iraq, but she says she now thinks worse of Obama for taking his foreign trip. "If he was serious about knowing what's going on over there, he should have done it sooner," she says.
Kathy Wolfe of New Ringgold, Penn., another undecided Republican, says she thinks Obama should "be home convincing the American people to vote for him, rather than getting the world to vote for him."