Date registered: Nov 2006
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OBAMA'S OVERSEAS EDUCATION
OBAMA'S OVERSEAS EDUCATION
By RALPH PETERS
July 22, 2008 --
FROM the late 18th through the 19th century, young men of means went on a "grand tour" abroad to finish their educations. Some returned with fond memories, others with artifacts pried from temple walls - and the remainder with syphilis.
Sen. Barack Obama's grand tour offers fewer opportunities for mischief and misfortune, but we all must hope that he learned from his travels and wasn't just checking the blocks.
Set aside your political preferences (I'll be voting for Sen. John McCain): Whoever wins, all sensible Americans want our next president to perform well. So let's consider the pros and cons of Obama's wheels-down-wheels-up visits to Afghanistan, Iraq and Europe.
First positive: He went. Foreign policy never interested Obama until it offered a political opportunity with Iraq, nor has he ever shown much interest in our military. But magic can happen when you touch down on foreign soil and rub shoulders, however briefly, with our troops.
And Obama's no dummy. Behind closed doors, he'll have listened carefully to our generals on the ground. He won't change positions publicly before November - but he wants to be a successful president.
If elected, he won't let himself be branded as the man who lost Iraq after it had been won. He'd give a speech in February or March to the effect that the reality we face has changed, and we must change with reality.
Obama would no more shut down our military operations in Iraq than would McCain. The Americans that an Obama administration would disappoint are those on the hard left.
So, while I wish the senator had spent some time down with our combat troops (long enough to sniff the reality of those field latrines in the summer heat), the fact that he went at all is a positive step.
On the negative side, this has been the most carefully staged campaign trip in US electoral history. The media, who've slavishly adored Obama, are about as welcome as rattlesnakes on the back porch this time around. (Reporters who failed to ask tough questions when they had the chance won't get another shot before Election Day.)
Will Obama don body armor and a helmet for a streets-of-Baghdad photo op? It looks like his handlers have already nixed that as too risky - their iron law for the trip is "no Dukakis-in-a-tank moment."
As for the briefings the senator and his entourage received . . . well, Gen. David Petraeus is far too honorable to leak his take on the encounter, but it would've been interesting to watch Obama's body language as he listened.
Bottom line on that leg of the trip? Obama saw, if only from the air, how wild and rough Afghanistan is. So he'll tone down his talk about sending ground troops across Pakistan's border. And even if his Iraq visit kept him inside a security bubble (safe from terrorists and the media), he still felt the summer heat and got some sense of how things are going. That's all good news.
But the European leg may prove more difficult to stage-manage. The continent's journalists are furious that Obama's staff treats them with less consideration than President Bush's has.
And his advance team already made one whopping gaffe in Berlin. Dissuaded from having him speak in front of the Brandenburg Gate, Obama's staff picked a nearby alternate site: the Victory Column. Oops: The victories that commemorates are Prussia's successful invasions of Denmark, Austria and France. It's no symbol of European unity - and the French and Brits were already miffed that Obama gave precedence to the Germans on this trip.
Worse, the monument was a favorite of Hitler's - incorporated into his plans to rebuild Berlin according to the vision of Nazi architect Albert Speer. Hitler ordered the column moved to its present location.
Somebody didn't do his or her homework.
What's worrisome here is the mixture of naivete and cynicism. Obama's staffers reportedly have been giving orders in Berlin as if they'd just won the war, pressuring the Social Democratic Party (the sister party of our Democrats) to turn out as large a crowd as possible for the senator's speech.
The senator will get his crowd. But he's also going to get a level of scrutiny he's avoided until now. And he just may find that Europe has interests as parochial as those of Southside Chicago.
Obama has shown us, at last, that he's willing to sit down with our generals in Iraq and Afghanistan. The question now is whether he's willing to learn.
Ralph Peters' new book is "Looking for Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World."