16 July 2008

Obama Acts Presidential

Barack Obama has announced that next month he will go to the Middle East, with stops in Israel, Jordan, and....the West Bank, where he'll meet with Palestinian leaders (he'll also go to Germany, France and the UK). This follows his minor miscue in which he expressed his support for an undivided Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, which he later "clarified," saying he suported Israeli-Palestinian negotiations over Israel's future.

It might seem strange to leave the campaign trail at such a crucial time, or perhaps evidence that he thinks he's got the election all wrapped up. But in fact this trip is a campaign event--it's crucial for Obama to appear presidential, as well as to bolster his weak foreign policy credentials. And taking such a trip for the purpose of appearing presidential should not be derided. The public wants their candidates to appear presidential, so effectively you can't become president unless you act like one. I think it's a strong political move on Obama's part.

I also think it's a good move because he is likely to win, and he doesn't have enough foreign policy experience. Consequently he needs to get over to the Middle East, get his feet on the ground, and meet the major players. If Obama has paid attention to the presidencies of Clinton and Bush, he'll understand that, like it or not, foreign affairs usually dominates a presidency and distracts the executive from all the domestic issues that are his personal interests. Of course there's a great danger in the trip as well. The wrong comments about the Palestinian-Israel issue could lose the support of important voting blocs or paint him as too naive to be trusted with the job.

In political science, we see a continuum between pure spectacle and pure policy. Truman's Marshall Plan could be called pure policy, while Bush's stunt on the aircraft carrier was pure spectacle. As a campaign event, Obama's trip has a heavy dose of spectacle, but as a potential learning experience for our likely next chief diplomat, the policy aspect is significant and could ultimately trump the spectacle aspect. That can only happen if Obama knows how to ask the right questions and how to listen. I sincerely hope that he does.

1 comment:

Collin Brendemuehl said...

Be careful. Change is nothing more than political rhetoric. He has Wendy Sherman in place, a disciple of Madeline Albright. Watch out for another "humanitarian bombing".