Posted by James McPherson on July 19, 2008
Barack Obama visited Afghanistan today as part of a trip to the Middle East and Europe. His advisors and supporters hope the trip will boost his foreign policy credentials, while making him appear presidential.
The main benefit, as far as I can see, is that the trip will attract media attention throughout, continuing to make it difficult for McCain to draw significant airtime except through occasional gaffes. Obama’s trip might even tone down some of John McCain’s rhetoric about how Obama isn’t qualified to be a foreign leader because he hasn’t visited Iraq recently enough, or been to Afghanistan at all.
As Gail Collins points out, however, the trip is a rather silly political exercise, even if no more silly than some of George W. Bush’s recent travels and less bizarre than a heavily guarded and flak-jacketed John McCain strolling through a Baghdad marketplace and declaring that conditions in Iraq were improving (they have some since, but they weren’t then).
“Given the constraints under which he has to operate, the chance that he’ll see something enlightening seem to be lower than the chance of being shown something misleading,” Collins notes. “Really, anybody he needs to talk to would be happy to pick up a phone.”
In fact a phone call–or a couple of days watching taped editions of “Frontline World“–likely would be as useful as this trip in terms of gathering meaningful information. There’s a reason that universities encourage students to study abroad for a semester or year.
So what about GOP complaints that Obama hasn’t traveled enough? In fact Obama’s people might point out that his Middle East experience is somewhat broader than than that of … you guessed it … George W. Bush, “whose overseas experience was pretty much limited to trying to date Chinese women (unsuccessfully) during a visit to Beijing in 1975.” (New York Times)
Maybe they want to avoid such comparisons, since Bush’s foreign policy as president has turned out to be much worse than his attempts to attract Asian women. There doesn’t seem to be anyplace in the world that either Obama or McCain won’t likely do a much better job than Bush, whom much of the world now considers to be a war criminal. But neither of the candidates has particularly impressive foreign policy credentials, either. The key probably will be who they choose to help guide their foreign policy decisions (Joe Biden vs. Joe Lieberman?).
Having said that, the Iraqi leadership already agrees with at least part of Obama’s Iraq position over that of McCain or the president–as the White House itself accidentally told the media yesterday. No wonder no-timetable-ever-and-I-mean-it-even-if-Iraq wants-it-‘cuz-we-don’t-cut-and-run-or-look-weak-except-when-Clinton-was-president Bush said (also yesterday) that he had agreed to a “general time horizon” for troop withdrawals from Iraq.
Note that the announcement came on a Friday in an attempt to attract less attention. Expect McCain to agree soon, probably about the same time Obama is drawing rock-star crowds in Europe.