From the July 29, 2008 Daily Standard
July 29, 2008
by Irwin Stelzer
"High flying adored, So Young ... A ... beautiful thing, of all the talents, A cross between a fantasy ... and a saint ... Where do you go from here?" So Che Guevara asked Evita in the Andrew Lloyd Weber-Tim Rice hit musical. Barack Obama's campaign advisers think they have the answer when it comes to their candidate after his European tour: straight to the White House.
The Washington Post calls the trip "a clear success", and the candidate told the press, "The value to me of this trip is, hopefully, it gives voters a sense that I can in fact--and do--operate effectively on the international stage."
He might, only might, be right. There is little question that the candidate was a hit in Europe. But then, he was adored in Paris, Berlin, London and throughout Western Europe before he flew in, wrapped in presidential trappings. The real question is whether those Americans who are not sure that they want their next president to be loved in countries that do not share America's sense of danger from terrorists are wildly outnumbered by those who find it comforting that the Democratic candidate can win the hearts and minds of foreigners who have made clear how much they detest American policies.
Yet the McCain campaign may have unwittingly helped Obama last week, as efforts to offset the media's love-in with Obama fell flat. A trip to an offshore oil rig was cancelled because of a storm in the Gulf of Mexico; visits to coffee shops in Berlin, Pennsylvania and London, Ohio seemed churlish and amateurish. After all, it was McCain who repeatedly had urged Obama to visit Iraq and Afghanistan and other points abroad, and was now complaining that the Democrat had taken him up on the challenge.
More important, while Obama was away the senator from Arizona was attacked by the newly formed campaign team of George W. Bush and Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. On the domestic front, Bush signed onto bills that promised billions in federal money to help distressed homeowners, and extended government regulation to parts of the financial services industry that had heretofore been only very lightly supervised. So much for McCain's attack on Obama as a high-spending regulator.
On the foreign-policy front, the president pulled the rug out from under McCain's most important edge--the belief of 72 percent of Americans, including a majority of Democrats, that he would make a fine commander-in-chief, and of a majority that Obama would not. McCain supporters lay the blame at the feet of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who they say has too much influence over the president, and in turn is overly influenced by the trimmers in her State Department.
McCain has made much of what he considers Obama's reckless promise to call in the generals on his very first day in the Oval Office and order them to devise a plan for ending the war within sixteen months. If they object to such a timetable, he plans to remind them that policy is for the president, implementation is for the military.
McCain ridicules such a timetable, calling it a surrender to the forces of al Qaeda, a notice to the bad guys that all they have to do is sit around for sixteen months and then take over the country, probably with the help of the Iranians. Although Obama has left himself some wriggle room--some troops to be left to train the Iraqis and stamp out a terrorist revival, or genocide, or instability--there is a clear difference between the candidates, and for a while McCain had the more plausible story.
Along comes George W. Bush to bail out Obama by accepting Al-Maliki's call for a "general time horizon" for the withdrawal of troops, a period generally understood to be two years or less. The difference between Obama's withdrawal timetable, and the president's "general time horizon", if indeed there is one, is lost on most voters. They now see McCain as wanting to keep U.S. troops in harm's way longer than his opponent, his own president, and Iraq's prime minister deem necessary.
There is worse. McCain has been ridiculing Obama for offering to meet with Iranian representatives with no preconditions. That's not very presidential they argued. Besides, the U.S. position and that of our allies has been that there will be no negotiations unless the Iranians abandon their uranium enrichment program. That, says Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will never happen. Whether he will change his mind as the United States and the EU ramp up sanctions, and whether internal opponents of his extremist positions can gain traction, no one can predict. But no halt to enrichment, no talks, has been the administration's position, supported by McCain, leaving Obama a lone voice calling for a no-conditions meeting.
Then Bush decided to send America's third-highest ranking diplomat to a meeting with the Iranians to discuss the goodies the West is offering Iran in return for an end to that country's development of a nuclear weapon. Our diplomat didn't say a word, says Condi Rice. And don't read too much into our plans to establish a diplomatic presence in Tehran, she might have added.
This U.S. diplomatic flurry is under way even though the Iranians remain unwilling to accept the preconditions President Bush set and McCain supported. Voters can be forgiven for thinking that the president has come around to Obama's point of view, on what the Democratic candidate called in Israel "our single most important threat, both to Israel but also to the United States".
Of course the differences between Obama-Bush-Rice and McCain are not all that stark. McCain would probably withdraw troops as the situation continues to improve in Iraq; Obama would probably leave some forces there to prevent renewed instability. McCain would pursue every diplomatic means to persuade Iran to shed its pariah status, and Obama's advisers are unlikely to allow him to stroll into a meeting with the Iranians, as unprepared as Jack Kennedy was for his first disastrous encounter with Nikita Khrushchev.
But that's a subtlety for political savants. To voters it looks as if McCain is the odd man out.
Irwin Stelzer is a Senior Fellow and Director of Economic Policy Studies for the Hudson Institute. He is also the U.S. economist and political columnist for The Sunday Times (London) and The Courier Mail (Australia), a columnist for The New York Post, and an honorary fellow of the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies for Wolfson College at Oxford University. He is the founder and former president of National Economic Research Associates and a consultant to several U.S. and United Kingdom industries on a variety of commercial and policy issues. He has a doctorate in economics from Cornell University and has taught at institutions such as Cornell, the University of Connecticut, New York University, and Nuffield College, Oxford.
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