- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 29, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

OP-ED:

As the overseas tour of Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Mr. Obama drew to a close, two things became clear. First, “Obamania” is not only limited to the United States; it’s at a frenzied state in Europe and the Middle East as well. Second, it is clear that people across the Atlantic — especially Berliners — already have a favorite to be the next president. At the podium in Berlin, Mr. Obama was clearly the anti-Bush, and both the size of the crowd and the way he was welcomed showed how much excitement surrounds the end of President Bush’s tenure in the White House. That picture also shows us that there is less anti-Americanism than anti-Bushism on the other side of the Atlantic.

But what happens if America chooses John McCain over Mr. Obama in November? The Obama campaign is working hard to create the impression that that’s an impossibility. The crowd that gathered in Berlin last week was an exclusive show off to domestic and foreign audiences. While German Chancellor Angela Merkel may have a tough time attracting about 200,000 Berliners for one of her speeches, Mr. Obama did it easily. But Mr. Obama is all about hope and expectations, and it may be difficult for him to live up to the hype. Many around the world have enthusiastically embraced Obamania without knowing much about the senator’s policies or voting record.

Itis a given that the war in Iraq has polarized the people both inside and outside the United States. But it is also true that many European and Middle Eastern countries continue to cooperate with the United States, despite Mr. Bush’s unpopularity. In the end, it is America that matters. The war has certainly stretched the boundaries of traditional alliances, but both sides of the Atlantic have managed to move forward. Moreover, if Mr. Obama gets elected, it would be misguided at best to expect that America’s allies would be more likely to come forward and help fix things. For example, NATO member-countries will not begin sending troops to Afghanistan or Iraq just because a more popular politician may occupy the White House. Yet he believes there will be more NATO member- countries in those theaters helping the U.S. economy get better.

The war in Iraq cannot be undone. But many fear that if a Republican — someone friendly to Mr. Bush’s policies — continues to occupy the White House, Iran will be the next target. While Vice President Dick Cheney remains the most influential member of the Bush administration, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has also brought a unique perspective to dealing with challenging issues. While different ideas about policy have certainly collided within the administration, what has resulted is less willingness to explore a third military engagement, on either a limited or large scale. From that perspective, there may be more agreement between Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama over dealing with the Iranian dilemma than many observers may believe. Mr. Obama’s recent statements on Iran — that Tehran should promptly accept an international call to freeze its uranium enrichment program — is no different than Hillary Clinton’s longtime position on Iran. What’s interesting is that during the primaries Mr. Obama talked about opening unconditional talks with Iran — a position that Mrs. Clinton aggressively questioned.

As Election Day approaches, Mr. Obama is edging closer to the Republican positions on Iraq and Iran. First, he made headlines by saying he would not pull troops out of Iraq as quickly as he originally proposed. Then he staunchly warned Iran to stop its uranium enrichment program. He is sending a message that as president he might change his earlier positions. That is a marked change from his approach during the primaries, when he won the nomination by trying to draw as distinct a difference as possible between himself, Mrs. Clinton and the Republican candidates. Now that we’re in a general election campaign, those differences seem far less acute.

At the end, the American people make the final decision about their next president. The extraordinary interest in Mr. Obama elsewhere in the world is exceptional. But it also lacks substance. What’s important is that many around the globe still look to America for leadership.

The next American president will continue to shape the world. His policies must be substantive. Hopefully, voters will be smart enough to choose substance over popularity — particularly regarding foreign policy.

Tulin Daloglu is a free-lance writer.

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