The British ambassador in Washington called Sen. Barack Obama "aloof" and "decidedly liberal" but also pragmatic and smart in a letter to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, which was leaked to the press in London last week.
"Obama's politics and policies are still evolving," Ambassador Nigel Sheinwald said, in his assessment of the Democratic presidential candidate, adding that Mr. Obama's terms in the Illinois Senate and U.S. Senate give "us only a few clues as to his likely priorities in office."
"His voting record was decidedly liberal. But the main impression is of someone who was finding his feet and then got diverted by his presidential ambitions."
Mr. Sheinwald's candid evaluation of Mr. Obama created a stir in London when the Daily Telegraph first reported on the letter last week. However, his analysis of a candidate in a U.S. presidential election is fairly typical of private diplomatic correspondence between foreign ambassadors and their political leaders.
The letter was written in July to help Mr. Brown prepare for his meeting with Mr. Obama, who stopped in the British capital on his summer European tour.
Mr. Sheinwald noted Mr. Obama's lack of experience, saying, "If elected, he would have less of a track record than any recent president."
However, he added, Mr. Obama is "intellectually smart, cerebral" and noted that his "meteoric" rise from freshman senator to the Democratic presidential candidate began with his "mesmerizing" speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004.
"The charge of elitism," however, is "not entirely unfair," Mr. Sheinwald wrote, citing Mr. Obama's "notorious" comments at a private fundraiser in San Francisco, where he referred to some small-town Pennsylvania voters as "clinging" to their guns and religion.
Mr. Obama can appear dispassionate, "cool ... and maybe aloof, insensitive," the ambassador said.
He reviewed Mr. Obama's domestic issues, referring to his pledge to raise taxes on the rich and to deliver universal health care.
On foreign issues, Mr. Sheinwald said Mr. Obama has adopted a "balanced approach to the big security issues," and he expects Mr. Obama to promote "pragmatic realism" in dealing with other nations. However, Mr. Sheinwald expressed concerns about Mr. Obama's approach to terrorism.
"This will have to be fleshed out," he said, "but Obama talks about a policy which 'draws on the full range of American power, not just our military might.'"
The next president will need to increase the number of American diplomats by nearly 50 percent and expand their duties to keep up with the foreign policy goals of the United States, according to a report released Monday by the American Academy of Diplomacy.
"This report will provide Congress and the next president with a blueprint for fixing the human capital crisis that has hobbled United States diplomacy worldwide, crippled its response to crises and inappropriately thrown additional foreign-policy burdens on the military in recent years," said Thomas Boyatt, a former ambassador to Burkina Faso and Colombia who oversaw the study.
The academy suggested adding 4,735 diplomats, a 46 percent increase; expanding public diplomacy duties; increasing funding to embassies to allow ambassadors to respond effectively to humanitarian and political emergencies; transferring authority over a $785 million security-assistance program to the State Department from the Defense Department; and establishing a "surge capacity" for foreign reconstruction and stabilization programs.
• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail James Morrison.