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And, as quickly as he came, off he went. The photo-ops looked pretty good, and Barack Obama even hit a three-pointer shooting a basketball in front of soldiers on live TV. Obama's in-and-out, every-day-another-country Middle East leg of his trip abroad was designed to make him look presidential in foreign hot spots and war zones and paper over his weak resume and failure to have ever visited Afghanistan or post-surge Iraq. Yet, for all its choreography and press accolades, the trip is likely to backfire by highlighting Obama's hubris, his foreign policy inexperience and his obstinacy regarding Iraq.
Initially, Obama's worshippers in the press played along. NBC led off its news coverage referring to Obama's brief visit to Afghanistan as his "Tour of Duty." As insulting as that was to the millions of Americans who have sacrificed years and lives to the US military, it only underscored the obvious difference between Obama's made-for-TV "tour of duty" and the truly heroic years of Naval service by John McCain. Using terms connoting military service for Obama's 48 hours of red-carpet, VIP treatment creates quite the contrast to McCain's half-decade tortured as a Vietnam POW.
But there may be cracks forming in the media's protective phalanx surrounding Obama. NBC's Andrea Mitchell had enough of Obama's choreographed "fake" news from Iraq and Afghanistan: "Let me say something about the message management. He didn't have reporters with him, he didn't have a press pool, he didn't do a press conference", said Mitchell on the air. She complained that Obama manufactured "what some would call 'fake interviews,' because they are not interviews from a journalist." Think every candidate is this manipulative? Mitchell doesn't: "We've not seen a presidential candidate do this, in my recollection, ever before."
And Katie Couric, to her credit, asked Obama whether now, in retrospect, he thought the Iraq surge was a good idea. Obama, irritated by the question, grumbled some non-sequitor about Afghanistan and long-term interests. But he wouldn't concede the obvious point.
And how could he? Here he is, a mere ten months ago, as the military troop surge - pushed for years by John McCain more than anyone - was getting up to speed:
Let me be clear: there is no military solution in Iraq, and there never was. The best way to protect our security and to pressure Iraq's leaders to resolve their civil war is to immediately begin to remove our combat troops. Not in six months or one year - now.
By contrast, as early as November 2003, McCain was saying both that "victory can be our only exit strategy" and that troop levels were inadequate, stating that we needed at least another 15,000 soldiers on the ground, a sharp dissent from the Bush Administration's position at the time.
President Bush eventually came around to McCain's position, and great results have come fast: in a matter of months, Iraq has achieved 15 of 18 benchmarks set by Congress last year to measure security, political and economic progress. Obama, however, still claims (without providing any basis) insufficient progress, and still advocates withdrawal over a 16-month period-a plan not endorsed by any commander on the ground. Earlier this month, he promised that on his first day in office, he'd order the Joint Chiefs of Staff to end the war immediately.
Although Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki initially seemed to give some surprising support to Obama, suggesting that a shorter pull-out time horizon for American troops was "more realistic", follow-up statements were in line with McCain's approach. Both Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General David Petraeus, head of the US Iraqi effort insisted that conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, would determine withdrawal schedules. Unfortunately for Obama, the more that military commanders were asked by the press about the Maliki comments, the more wrongheaded Obama's plan to bail out regardless of progress on the ground appeared to be.
It's good that Obama's team finally got him to Afghanistan and post-surge Iraq: at least now he can say he's been there. It's good that he's seen, even briefly, the incredible success of the McCain-advocated surge which he can't find the words to praise. But as the disconnect grows between Obama's slick slogans and the realities on the ground that all can see, so grows the public's understanding that this whirlwind campaign photo-op visit is no match for McCain's 25 years in Congress, experience as the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, multiple real visits to the war zones, and 22 years of military experience. And, of course, getting the surge exactly right.
As for the campaign-financed (not official) Israel leg of Obama's trip, the visuals were fine, at first. But Jews the world over gagged on their breakfasts this morning seeing the newspaper and Drudge Report photos of multiple Obama campaign banners and posters tactlessly defiling the area of Jerusalem's Western Wall. This shameless usurpation of Judaism's holiest site for use as a cheap political prop is embarrassing, and not going to go over well. If God already endorsed Obama - which Obama may believe - I must have missed it. One can only imagine how such a stunt would have gone over at the Vatican. Or in Mecca.
Obama's Israel sound-bites were solid. When he stuck to his scripted remarks, he sounded decent. But McCain has been visiting Israel for 30 years; he knows the area and the issues without consulting his briefing book.
Obama's trip is merely a calculated campaign photo-op designed to make him appear experienced. His image-enhancement was devoid of any real substance-actually, not a bad metaphor for his entire campaign for amorphous "change." Even his visit with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, which his campaign preposterously claims "one-ups" McCain, was just a campaign-financed meeting, not an official visit.
Still, it is the Iraq portion of the trip that is likely to damage Obama most. Even after his visit, Obama refuses to acknowledge the obvious success of the surge. The most he'll say is that violence is now lower than it was, not even crediting the US military with the major role in reducing it. His position sounds stubborn and grudging, and either dishonest or detached from reality. He spouted gibberish to reporters explaining why even in hindsight he would not have supported the surge, although they flinched from pinning him down: with few exceptions, the same press that once howled for President Bush to acknowledge mistakes regarding Iraq is not anxious to hear Obama admit the obvious: he was wrong; the surge worked. Defending the surge even though his then-unpopular position would jeopardize his candidacy, McCain once stated, "I'd rather lose a campaign than lose a war." What about Obama?
Obama has inadvertently highlighted his biggest weaknesses. That he is calling for the identical Iraq withdrawal timetable now, with victory in sight, as he did back when he was ignorantly chanting the meaningless mantra that "there is no military solution in Iraq" makes one thing increasingly evident to the public: John McCain understood Iraq better five years ago than Obama does even today.
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