Watching Obama glide through his foreign trip so far, nervous Republicans and other patriots have to hope that American voters will not view Obama through the eyes of a Hollywood casting director. That's because one could not cast a man who visually can portray a worldly statesman better. We all must envy his ability to effortlessly drape his tall, imperially slender form in gilded Louis XV chairs in foreign palaces. Mixing just the right combination of worldly bonhomie and serious mien, his presentation (conveniently presented to the world with video but no audio) make, by comparison, Henry Kissinger, FDR and Winston Churchill all look like clumsy provincial oafs.
And he tops it all off with making what looked like a 40-foot 3-pointer in a military basketball court, surrounded by positively disposed American troops. Of course, we don't know how many times he had to try the shot before making it once. As NBC's veteran foreign correspondent Andrea Mitchell -- in an act of admirable candor -- said Monday: "Let me just say something about the message management. He didn't have reporters with him; he didn't have a press pool; he didn't do a press conference while he was on the ground in either Afghanistan or Iraq. What you're seeing is not reporters brought in. You're seeing selected pictures taken by the military, questions by the military, and what some would call fake interviews because they're not interviews from a journalist. So there's a real press issue here. Politically it's smart as can be. But we've not seen a presidential candidate do this, in my recollection, ever before."
When he does submit himself to the occasional press interview, his actual words read in print must make his handlers as nervous as his visual images make Republicans nervous. His discussion of his Iraq policy is almost incomprehensible. He has claimed that both Bush and Iraq's al-Maliki have come to his position that it is time to move our troops out of Iraq. But back on Sept. 12, 2007, he called for an immediate start to the withdrawal of all U.S. combat forces from Iraq. Obama's plan called for the complete pullout of troops by the end of 2008 by bringing home one or two brigades each month.
"Let me be clear: There is no military solution in Iraq. There never was," he said. "'The best way to protect our security and to pressure Iraq's leaders to resolve their civil war is to immediately begin to remove our combat troops. Not in six months or one year -- now."
For him, now that the surge he opposed is working and victory may be around the corner, to claim that he was always right is like someone in America in 1944 opposed to the Allied D-Day invasion of Normandy claiming there is no military solution to World War II and we should bring our troops home; then once our troops were on the beach, warning that our troops can accomplish nothing on the beaches -- get them out; then when they broke out, warning Americans that they never will get through the hedgerows; then when they broke through the hedgerows, warning that they never will get through the Siegfried line; then the following spring, when Hitler blew his brains out, Germany surrendered and President Truman ordered our troops to be brought home systematically, bragging: "You see? I was always right. Even the president now agrees it is time to bring the troops home."
But if that claim is brazen, his discussion of Iraq and the war on terror is surprisingly simplistic. When asked by ABC News whether he is committed to winning the war in Iraq, Obama said: "I don't think we have any choice. We have to win the broader war against terror that threatens America and its interests. I think that Iraq is one front on that war, but I think the central front is in Afghanistan and in the border regions of Pakistan." (So is he or is he not in favor of winning in Iraq?)
But his idea that the central front of the war on terror is in some geographic location is simplistic. The central front is in the minds of Muslims around the world. If we lose Iraq and Islamist radicals are seen to win, we lose a strategic battle in the war -- just as in the Cold War the strategic front was not in Greece in 1947 or Berlin in 1948 or China in 1949 or Korea in 1950 or Cuba in 1962 or Vietnam in 1965 or in Eurocommunist countries in the 1970s. The central front was always the minds of men. When the idea of Soviet-style communism was defeated by Reagan, the war ended. When virtually all Muslims see terror to be a dead end to their aspirations, the war on terror will be over.
When Obama understands that, he may be ready to be deputy assistant secretary of state.