- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 29, 2008

CHICAGO — Barack Obama’s foreign tour seemingly cemented his status as an international political superstar Sunday, but raised the question of whether rampant adulation abroad will translate into votes in America.

The adoration of a 200,000-strong crowd in Berlin, and the presumptive Democratic nominee’s presidential-style welcome from foreign leaders, is no guarantee of a payoff in battlegrounds like Ohio and Pennsylvania in November.

Mr. Obama, who arrived home late Saturday, appeared to sail through the high-risk tour largely unscathed, to the frustration of his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain.

But despite glowing media coverage, he left some soft spots for Mr. McCain to probe on the Middle East and Iraq.

Mr. Obama’s staff says it is too early to say whether the mission to Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, Germany, France and Britain fulfilled its goal of narrowing Mr. McCain’s polling edge on national security.

Outside British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s 10 Downing Street residence on Saturday, Mr. Obama tried to manage expectations for a “bounce” in the polls.

“I am not sure that there is going to be some immediate political impact,” Mr. Obama said. “I wouldn’t even be surprised if that in some polls you saw a little bit of a dip as a consequence.”

But the state-visit style welcome accorded to Mr. Obama in each nation on his itinerary made his trip seem like an audition for the presidency.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Friday offered the Illinois Democrat a near-endorsement, calling him “my dear Barack Obama.”

King Abdullah II of Jordan personally drove Mr. Obama to the steps of his newly liveried campaign plane in a gleaming Mercedes.

A veteran Israeli statesman, President Shimon Peres, declared “the future belongs to the young,” seemingly referring to Mr. Obama and not Mr. McCain, 71.

Such treatment makes it harder for Mr. McCain, Arizona Republican, to lambaste Mr. Obama as a diplomatic neophyte.

But it also offered an opening to Republicans, who fumed at Mr. Obama’s “premature victory lap” three months before U.S. voters get to weigh in.

In Paris, Mr. Obama seemed to sense the adulation may be getting out of control.

“I’m not the president. I am a United States senator. I am a candidate for president,” Mr. Obama said.

But as he flew home across the Atlantic Saturday, Mr. Obama could reflect on a stash of photo-ops and video of his speech in Berlin to bolster his claim that he can repair frayed U.S.-Europe relations.

His trip to Iraq went better than he can have expected after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said he wanted U.S. troops out by the end of 2010, a rough parallel of Mr. Obama’s own timetable.

In Afghanistan, Mr. Obama polished hawkish ‘war on terror’ credentials, recommending more U.S. and NATO troops to fight al Qaeda and the Taliban, a call that seemed prescient, given rising violence in the war-torn nation.

And in the Holy Land, Mr. Obama pledged to honor the close U.S. relationship with Israel, with an eye on Jewish voters in key states, like Florida back home.

The McCain campaign got so infuriated by Mr. Obama’s favorable headlines that it accused his press corps of being “in love” with their subject.

Mr. Obama’s engagement with Europeans seemed to tap a yearning for better relations with the United States, in line with his longtime claim that he can repair America’s compromised ties with its allies.

But Mr. Obama did give the McCain campaign several openings to exploit.

Several Obama events seemed to carry more than a hint of hubris : a press conference in the shadow of Jordan’s Temple of Hercules for instance.

Mr. McCain accused Mr. Obama of having the temerity to speak for America overseas, while still a mere candidate.

“With all the breathless coverage from abroad, and with Senator Obama now addressing his speeches to ‘the people of the world’ I’m starting to feel a little left out,” Mr. McCain said.

On foreign policy, Mr. Obama again struggled to explain his position on Jerusalem, after infuriating Palestinians in June by declaring the city the eternal, undivided capital of Israel.

And he still seems vulnerable to Mr. McCain’s attacks on his initial opposition to the apparently successful troop surge strategy in Iraq, though he can still parry with the fact he was against the war all along.

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