- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 27, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COMMENTARY:

GEORGETOWN, S.C.

“What’s this guy running for, ‘Emperor of the world?’ ” asked the sunburned fellow at the next table where we stopped for lunch. Mr. Sunburn was holding a copy of the Charleston Post and Courier and pointing to a headline, “Obama pledges to work for peace.” The inquiry, addressed to those sitting beside him elicited only shrugs, so he answered his own question. “Just doesn’t make any sense to me.”

The Obama Machine’s, “Hope & Change World Tour” has left more than a few people perplexed. Some - like the gentleman beside us at the restaurant - are American voters who wonder why the presumptive Democrat nominee is campaigning in foreign countries for president of the United States. Others seem baffled by the places and people chosen for meetings and photo-ops with the candidate. Apparently, among the mystified are members of the media who should have been asking tough questions. A brief look at what actually took place during this 10-day soiree only adds to the confusion.

The first five legs of Sen. Barack Obama’s overseas campaign swing were paid for by the U.S. taxpayers. Billed as a “congressional fact-finding trip” it included U.S. Sens. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, and Chuck Hagel, a Republican dissident from Nebraska.

The first stop after departing the U.S. July 17 was Camp Arifjan in Kuwait. There, Mr. Obama preened for the cameras with U.S. troops playing basketball - a stunt unlikely to be replicated by Sen. John McCain, whose war wounds keep him from raising his arms over his shoulders and doing a decent lay-up.

Shortly thereafter I got my first inquiry from a colleague who asked, “Why do all the images, taken by the U.S. military and released to the public, show Obama in such a positive way?”

The answer, of course, is simple: No one in our armed forces today knows who the commander in chief will be in January, and no one in uniform is going to send out images of the man who could turn out to be their boss showing him picking his nose or committing a foul under the backboards.

Then, it was on to Afghanistan for a surreal meeting in Jalalabad with Gul Agha Sherzai, the governor of Nangarhar Province. Though the governor is suspected of being involved in the Afghan opium trade, no one in the mainstream media questioned the propriety of such a confab. Later on Saturday the “CODEL” - military speak for “Congressional Delegation” - received a briefing at Bagram Air Base from Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser, commanding general of the NATO Regional Command East. Again, the photos and videotape were spectacular.

On Sunday, after more photo-ops with U.S. troops at Camp Eggers, the presumptive Democrat nominee met with President Hamid Karzai at the Presidential Palace in Kabul. Pictures of the meeting show the two men seated and chatting by a fireplace.

In Iraq on Monday, Mr. Obama’s first stop was at the Basra International Airport for photos and briefings from British, Iraqi and U.S. military commanders - and then on to Baghdad for a red-carpet-roll-out at the residence of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. After the hourlong meet-and-greet, separate Kodak moments were held with Iraq’s Kurdish President Jalal Talabani, Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi and Shi’ite Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi.

After a well-photographed tour of the 86th Combat Support Hospital inside the Green Zone, Mr. Obama sat still for photos and a briefing by Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, and then took a picture-perfect helicopter ride over Baghdad with Gen. Petraeus before dining - and being videotaped with the CentCom commander.

On Tuesday, following a photo-breakfast with U.S. troops, the Obama entourage headed for Ramadi, the once-bloody capital of Anbar Province. There he took photos with Provincial Governor Maamoon Sami Rasheed al-Alwani, Police Chief Tariq Yousef al-Asaal, Ahmed Abu Risha and Ali Hatem Suleiman, of the Sunni Awakening movement. At day’s end, it was pics in Amman with Jordanian King Abdullah II and a press conference during which Mr. Obama summed up all he had learned: “My view, based on the advice of military experts, is that we can redeploy safely in 16 months so that our combat brigades are out of Iraq in 2010.”

Wednesday, taxpayers got a break as the Obama for President campaign started covering costs for the Global Hope & Change Tour. Photos were taken with Israeli and Palestinian leaders and promises were made to “work for peace.”

By Thursday it was photos with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. Frantic Friday was a whirlwind of photos and “press avails” in Paris with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and in London, with U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and Conservative Party leader David Cameron. Space will surely be saved in the campaign scrapbook for a frenzied “welcome home party” in Chicago Saturday night.

Bottom line: Image is everything. Lots of great pics, which we’re sure to see again. Nothing changed on issues that matter - but a big bill for beleaguered U.S. taxpayers to cover the costs of Mr. Obama’s excellent adventure.

Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of “War Stories” on the Fox News Channel and the author of “American Heroes.”

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