After considering the possibility that “foreign leaders Barack Obama met with on his mid-campaign overseas trip were merely hedging their bets and don’t believe he will win the White House this fall” The Associated Press notes that many of them treated the candidate like a head of state:  

Jordan’s King Abdullah flew back early from Aspen, Colo., to host dinner at his palace, then personally took the wheel of the royal Mercedes to drive his guest to the airport. … 

French President Nicolas Sarkozy [who had “rush[ed] back from a summit in southwestern France to host Sen. Obama for three hours] virtually endorsed the man he called “my dear Barack Obama.” … 

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, himself an aspirant for higher office, rarely strayed from Obama’s side during a photo opportunity-rich trip to the village of Sderot near the Gaza Strip targeted by Hamas rockets. 

And Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced – twice – in the days surrounding Obama’s visit to his country that he favors a timeline for the withdrawal of American combat troops that is remarkably similar to the one the Democratic presidential contender favors. 

In London, David Cameron, head of the opposition Conservative Party, made sure British as well as American television cameras recorded him with his guest in three separate locations in less than an hour. 

Fairly or unfairly, New York Times columnist Frank Rich lays the blame on McCain for the reception Obama got abroad from foreign leaders (though none of the Republican candidate’s trips got blanket media coverage): 

[T]he sitting president, a lame duck despised by voters and shunned by his own party’s candidates, now has all the gravitas of Mr. Cellophane in “Chicago.” The opening for a successor arrived prematurely, and the vacuum had been waiting to be filled. … 

Mr. McCain could also have stepped into the leadership gap left by Mr. Bush’s de facto abdication. His inability to even make a stab at doing so is troubling. 

Perhaps it was the sheer size, scale and audacity of the undertaking that bedazzled the media and world leaders alike, reports The Washington Post:  

McCain advisers complained through much of the week about what they labeled “a premature victory lap.” …  

At his closing news conference in London, Obama pushed back against suggestions that there was something inappropriate about his week abroad. … 

“John McCain has visited every one of these countries, post-primary, that I have. He has given speeches in Canada, in Colombia, Mexico, he made visits. And so it doesn’t strike me that we have done anything different than the McCain campaign has done.” 

The difference, of course, was the scale and ambition of Obama’s tour. He flew in a chartered plane with the words “Change We Can Believe In” on the fuselage and with a sizable press corps. He traveled with a retinue of senior foreign policy advisers, who were veterans of the Clinton administration, as well as his top political advisers. McCain had nothing in comparison. 

From a sheer logistical challenge, what Obama attempted was unprecedented, a presidential-style trip without the resources and clout of the White House. 

While Obama’s meetings in the Mideast and Europe “showed him at ease and confident with potential future negotiating partners” and “[t]he American public saw Obama performing the type of public functions a president does on an overseas trip,” the Chicago Tribune notes that “American voters … are not inclined to look for guidance from foreign governments when they choose their president.”  

This point is driven home by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders who reminds us what happened when “British paper the Guardian that encouraged Brits to write to voters in a swing county in the swing state of Ohio to urge them to vote for 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.” 

Saunders predicts that Obama’s “European capitals tour probably did little to appeal to two-thirds of no-passport-required Americans who may not be all that impressed if the French and Germans go gaga for Obama.” There is another way Obama’s whirlwind trip can backfire, frets The Times:

“The quandary for Obama is that while his trip clearly presented an opportunity for him … it also fueled the questions his critics have used to try to undercut him: whether he is arrogant and taking his election for granted.” 

“With all the breathless coverage from abroad, and with Sen. Obama now addressing his speeches to ‘the people of the world,’ I’m starting to feel a little left out,” Sen. John McCain said in a radio address on Saturday. “Maybe you are too.” 

At a German restaurant in Ohio McCain also told reporters he would like to give a speech in Germany, “But I’d much prefer to do it as president of the United States rather than as a candidate for president.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel must also have thought Obama too cheeky by a half, and gave him “no welcoming remarks for the cameras, no photos of the two meeting in her office.” 

Columnist and National Review Online editor Kathryn Jean Lopez is among an increasing number of observers for whom the line between audacity and arrogance has started to blur: 

Obama’s European trip, of course, provided a wide stage for his self-assured pomp and inconsequence. … After conducting some would-be freelance diplomacy with the leaders of the Israeli and Palestinian states, Barack Obama presented himself in Europe as president-elect, rather than as a frosh senator who lucked out with a few good choices on either side of the aisle, and who is now clearly in over his head. 

Speaking of swimming in the deep end of the pool, perhaps if Barak, Sarkozy and other leaders had been privy to this interview aboard Obama’s campaign plane on Saturday as he flew home from London, they might not have been so quick to accord him presidential props: 

“I visualized myself in the role before the trip. I think what the trip hopefully allowed the American people to do is visualize me doing it as well, and to feel comfortable and confident that I can work on the world stage effectively.” 

Translation: “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.” 

But is “the rest of the world is solidly behind Obama and the Democrats,” asks WaPo columnist Jim Hoagland. He’s not so sure:  

Obama’s flirtation with protectionism similarly divides opinion at home and abroad. His attacks on NAFTA helped him compete for the Democratic nomination. But they cause important foreign partners such as Mexico, China and Japan to wonder if an Obama presidency would be good for them. … 

My own unscientific polling – conducted while traveling in May and June to six of the Group of Eight industrial nations (I missed Germany and Canada) and three other European countries – suggests that while Obamamania is deep in Western Europe, it is not as broad globally as is often thought in the United States. … 

In Asia, trade is the biggest dividing line of the campaign and works in McCain’s favor. Both China and Japan have settled into a comfortable relationship with Bush and give his administration high marks for its Asia policy and for promoting free trade. They would expect McCain to continue this pattern and fear that victorious Democrats would disrupt it, I was told in Tokyo. India’s political leaders seem to share those concerns. 

Let’s consider a few examples of what former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton calls “an even more naive view of the world than we had previously been treated to in the United States”: 

† “What I thought was useful was to give the American people some sense of how I was approaching these issues, but also to give them a sense that the world can be responsive to this approach and that it will make a difference. [French President Nicolas] Sarkozy is much more likely to be able to provide more troop support in Afghanistan if his voters are favorably disposed towards us,” he told the WaPo. Probably not, writes William Rees-Mogg, a columnist for The Times of London:  

Over time, most Presidents come to … understand the serious cultural hostilities to the US, particularly in France. They are taught by events – as in Afghanistan – that Britain is the only European power that can be relied on as an ally which possesses significant military capacity.  

† The Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Kaminski notes that Germany’s “foreign policy can be charitably described as inconsistent and confused – and infused with a strain of anti-Americanism hard to find among other European ruling elites these days.” He adds that its commitment to fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan has always been measured:  

[T]here are likely limits to German Obamamania, which is anyone-but-Bush-mania by another name. Mr. Obama wants Europe’s support for expanded military operations in Afghanistan; so, for that matter, does John McCain. The Democratic candidate backs NATO enlargement; ditto the Republican. France and Italy, both led by men who want closer trans-Atlantic ties, are loosening restrictions put on their forces in Afghanistan and are open to enlarging the NATO alliance. Yet [Chancellor Angela] Merkel this week pre-empted the Obama visit by ruling out any change on Germany’s deployment in Afghanistan. “I will make the limits very clear [to Mr. Obama], just as I have done with the current president,” she said. Welcome to Berlin. 

Obama thinks cynicism is the enemy or progress, but the German zeitgeist is several orders of magnitude more formidable. In a New York Times op-ed, Einstein Forum director Susan Neiman recalls there was a lot of eye-rolling when President Reagan called upon Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the wall in front of the Brandenburg Gate, which West Berliners “had made their peace with” and Obama got the same treatment: 

With gestures that ranged from a wink to a sneer, most anyone you met here this week volunteered the view that Barack Obama’s visit to Europe caused unprecedented frenzy. But it’s been hard for me to find a European … who confessed to excitement [at] the prospect of an Obama presidency. …  

Europeans will be as relieved as 72 percent of Americans to see the end of the Bush administration, but their attitudes toward the Democratic candidate are far from being the same as the ones he arouses at home. Mr. Obama makes Europeans uncomfortable. … 

So when Mr. Obama reminded Berliners of their greater moments – the airlift, the destruction of the wall – he risked more scoffing.  

The Journal also remembers Reagan’s reception in Berlin: 

10,000 riot police had to use tear gas and water cannons to repel violent demonstrators. It was June 1987, the speaker was Ronald Reagan, his message was: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Press accounts characterized the line as “provocative”; the Soviets called it “war-mongering”; 100,000 protesters marched against Reagan in the old German capital of Bonn. Two years later, the Berlin Wall fell. 

Reagan’s speech is a lesson in the difference between popularity and statesmanship. Watching Mr. Obama … throughout his foreign tour, was a reminder of how far the presumptive Democratic nominee has to go to reassure people he is capable of the latter – “people,” that is, who will actually get to cast a ballot in November. 

† If European ennui makes Germans resistant to Obama’s brand of “change” how can he even hope that the duplicitous or malevolent leaders throughout the middle east from Iran to Saudi Arabia to Turkey will be swayed from ruthlessly pursuing their self-interest by anything he has to say (third item, “The Other Shoe Drops”). In a meeting with French President Nicholas Sarkozy, Obama “said Iran should promptly accept an international call to freeze its uranium enrichment program, which some nations see as a potential step toward obtaining nuclear weapons,” reports The Associated Press. As president, what could Obama possibly say to the Iranians to bend Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to his will so that the country abandons its nuclear ambitions: “We prostate ourselves before you. We will do whatever you command, oh, Great One.”  

“I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.”

Note: The Stiletto writes about politics and other stuff at The Stiletto Blog, chosen an Official Honoree in the Political Blogs category by the judges of the 12th Annual Webby Awards (the Oscars of the online universe) along with CNN Political Ticker, Swampland (Time magazine) and The Caucus (The New York Times).

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