Now that Barack Obama's photo-op safari through the Middle East is over -- "Look, Obama-nation, I bagged the Western Wall!" -- I find there's still that detail about Jordan's King Abdullah II himself chauffeuring America's Sen. Obama (also himself) to the airport worth lingering over.
There the two men were, alone on the road -- at least, alone on the road in the middle of a full-metal motorcade -- cruising in the king's Mercedes 600 to the candidate's "Change you can believe in" Boeing 757 charter jet. What did they talk about?
Since the traveling press didn't even find out about what was discussed at the preceding dinner at the Jordanian palace, it's unlikely the rest of us will learn much about the even more private drive. Indeed, that same night, Fox's Bonney Kapp describes a mini media revolt after takeoff over two Obama campaign advisers' attempts to brief reporters on the plane about the Abdullah dinner "on background" (meaning not for attribution), which prompted one adviser, a former Clinton administration official, to declare "the briefing had to be on background because in all my years with the White House I never read-out a meeting on the record."
Kapp reports: "Press reminded the adviser that Obama was not the president, nor was this a White House trip."
Did the adviser then say -- "Well, slap my knee. I completely forgot Obama wasn't the president and that this wasn't a White House trip"?
Not exactly. Kapp notes: "The pair left without divulging details."
Oh well. We still have our imagination. On that moonlit drive, maybe Abdullah and Barack compared notes, say, on democracy versus monarchy. Given that the senator from Illinois considers this week abroad to be, as he put it on "Face the Nation," a quest for "substantive discussions with people like President Karzai or Prime Minister al-Maliki or President Sarkozy or others who (sic) I expect to be dealing with over the next eight to 10 years," maybe he asked the king for advice on sticking around even after his second term-and-a-half expires. Then again, maybe that's too presumptuous even for a presumptive nominee -- or is that vice versa?
On the whole, it's probably easier to imagine what wasn't said. For example, I seriously doubt Obama piped up from his bucket seat: "My middle name is the same as your father's first name." And here's a substantive question the U.S. senator surely didn't ask the Jordanian monarch: How is it that "honor killing" isn't a serious crime in Jordan, but that the Jordanian court system has brought criminal charges against a dozen European citizens, including Dutch politician Geert Wilders, for their attitudes on Islam as expressed in their own countries?
Somehow, I imagine, "Nice car you have, King," is probably more like it.
Another intriguing opportunity for discussion came (and probably went) when Obama later met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah -- "a Palestinian flag between them and photographs of the late Palestinian leader (sic) Yasir Arafat and of Mr. Abbas himself on the wall behind them," as The New York Times rather luridly put it.
Did Obama, in the ensuing hour of closeted discussion, ever ask: President Abbas, how do you expect to be considered a "peace partner" -- let alone receive hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars -- when, as widely reported in your government-controlled media this month, you just "sent blessings" to the family of Samir Kuntar, the notorious child-murdering terrorist recently released by Israel? And why does Fatah -- supposedly the "moderates" in these parts -- lavish praise on Dalal Mughrabi, whose remains Israel also released? Mughrabi led the worst terror attack in Israel's history (37 dead, including 12 children), but Fatah has exalted her for "the most gloried sacrifice action in the history of the Palestinian-Israeli struggle."
I doubt such questions occurred to Obama. Why should they? The candidate was there to generate campaign pictures. With this PR mission in mind, it didn't make sense, for example, to ask during his meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, why, according to a recent and widely publicized Der Spiegel interview, the Iraqi leader's chief concern these days appears to be gaining the legal right "to prosecute offenses or crimes committed by U.S. soldiers against our (Iraq's) population." What's up with that, Nouri -- not enough U.S. blood and treasure spent in Iraq yet? The answering look of apoplexy would surely spoil any campaign photo.
Of course, across the political aisle, the McCain campaign isn't exactly burning with curiosity over such questions, either. Which is precisely our national problem. We need a leader who seeks such status-quo-changing answers.