- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 29, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Doubts about Barack Obama’s ability to lead persist. The Illinois senator undertook a world tour last week in order to burnish his foreign policy credentials and demonstrate to American voters that he will be an effective world leader. It was an unprecedented journey for a presidential candidate. He traveled to Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, Germany, France and the United Kingdom. Yet Mr. Obama gained only a small boost in the polls. According to Rasmussen, he leads John McCain by 48 percent to 45 percent.

Despite Mr. Obama’s popularity in Europe, in America he has not yet achieved 50 percent support. Mr. McCain is also closing the gap in such states as Minnesota, Colorado and Michigan. Mr. Obama’s Israeli leg of the trip was intended to win support among Jewish voters who have a disproportionate influence in swing states such as Pennsylvania and Florida. According to a Gallup poll conducted from June 5-23, 62 percent of American Jews favor Mr. Obama. This is well below the support garnered by previous Democratic candidates - such as John Kerry who won 75 percent of the Jewish vote in 2004 and Al Gore who won 79 percent of the Jewish vote in 2000.

Mr. Obama’s world tour has mixed results. To his credit, Mr. Obama showed that he can engage with world leaders and can attract large crowds (an estimated 200,000 were present for his speech in Berlin). Mr. Obama also gained credibility when Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said he would like American troops to be withdrawn by 2010. This coincides with the time frame the Democratic candidate has been touting. The Bush administration also wants to establish a “time horizon” for troop pull-out.

However, to his discredit, Mr. Obama now has an incomprehensible position on the surge. In an interview with CBS’ Katie Couric conducted in Jordan, Mr. Obama stammered as he insisted that he was not wrong in initially opposing the surge in Iraq - even as he acknowledged its success in reducing sectarian violence and stabilizing the nation. He also stated that in the future, if elected, he is indeed willing to adjust his Iraqi policy according to circumstances “on the ground.” Translation: If he is president, the troop withdrawal date can be delayed, if necessary.

In the same CBS interview, Mr. Obama also continued to dodge the question of exactly how many residual forces he is willing to leave behind. Former Bush adviser, Karl Rove, demonstrated in the Wall Street Journal that Mr. Obama has changed his position on residual troops four times: In 2006, he opposed leaving residual troops in Iraq; in July 2007 he said residual troops could be left in “the region” such as in Kuwait; in October he acceded to a residual force in Iraq to protect diplomats and for targeted strikes on al Qaeda; now, he states the residual force can be used for three purposes, including training Iraqi forces. According to Obama adviser Colin Kahl, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, Mr. Obama will leave 60,000 - 80,000 troops in Iraq in 2010. If so, how does this really amount to a withdrawal?

Mr. Obama continues to stray further from the dovish policies he touted to win the Democratic nomination. He is now willing to yield both the “carrot and the stick.” For example, in Israel, he presented tough talk on Iran’s nuclear program. He declared that he will engage in direct-diplomacy but that the regime will not be permitted to enrich uranium. In Europe, Mr. Obama called for more American and European troops in Afghanistan. His “fact-finding” world tour has given him the cover he needs to “evolve” his foreign policy in a pragmatic direction.

Mr. Obama’s global tour provided a short-term media blitz but contains long-term pitfalls. By continuously modifying his views, he appears unable to effectively deal with the grave threats that confront America. Among multilateralists, Mr. Obama’s high standing in the world is a refreshing change from the Bush administration. But foreign-policy hawks regard Mr. Obama’s popularity abroad as a sign that he is a weak defender of America’s interests.

Mr. Obama has still not convinced the majority of Americans that he can stand firm for the national interest. This remains an insoluble problem for his candidacy.

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