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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Obama considering world tour ahead of August convention

By Margaret Talev | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — Barack Obama may depart this summer from his road-warrior tour of election-battleground states to take a trip around the world, one intended to shore up his credentials on foreign policy.

With a foreign trip under discussion in the Obama camp, any itinerary almost certainly would include a stop in Iraq. That would be his first trip to the war zone since early 2006. It would be designed to answer Republican presidential candidate John McCain's criticism that antiwar Obama can't talk credibly about withdrawing U.S. forces since he hasn't been on the ground there since the 2007 troop buildup brought some military success.

While he's at it, Obama may extend his journey to other parts of the globe, especially Western Europe, where his racial mix, youth, optimism and themes of anti-Bush, multilateral diplomacy have generated impassioned interest in his candidacy.

Obama advisers are eager to find a way to harness his popularity overseas to boost his appeal to undecided voters back home, and to show that the 46-year-old freshman senator from Illinois can compete with McCain on foreign policy. While the Arizona senator is a veteran of war and Washington — and 25 years Obama's senior — his support for the Iraq war puts him on the losing side of public opinion.

Susan Rice, Obama's senior foreign-policy adviser, said Friday that "no decisions have been made" yet about whether Obama will travel abroad this summer, and if he does, where he'll go. However, she did confirm that the matter is under consideration and "I can't rule anything out."

A Pew Global Attitudes survey released Thursday found that people abroad feel more favorably toward either Obama or McCain than they do toward President Bush. But when they were asked how confident they are that the next president will make good foreign-policy decisions, Obama beat McCain in almost every nation, including 72-19 percent in Spain, 82-33 percent in Germany, 52-17 percent in Indonesia and 31-23 percent in Egypt.

Rice, who was an assistant secretary of state to President Clinton, said that Obama's international appeal stemmed from the fact that he "represents to the rest of the world the best of the American dream at a time when they have become disillusioned and disappointed with America. He's a new generation of leadership that's globally oriented and aware. By virtue of his family background and having lived abroad in his youth, he has a unique appreciation of different cultures, different societies, and represents an American leadership that's committed to more cooperative solutions."

For all that, there are pitfalls that Obama and his advisers must consider in deciding where to go, for how long, whom to see, what to say and how it might play back home.

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