Obama Trades Washington Gridlock for Mideast Gridlock

Foreign affairs to take center stage as president heads to Israel.

By + More
President Barack Obama waves in the doorway of Air Force One as he departs from Palm Beach International Airport, Monday, Feb. 18, 2013, in West Palm Beach, Fla. Obama spent the long Presidents' Day weekend playing golf.
President Barack Obama waves in the doorway of Air Force One as he departs from Palm Beach International Airport, Monday, Feb. 18, 2013, in West Palm Beach, Fla. Obama spent the long Presidents' Day weekend playing golf.

President Obama's trip to the Mideast this week follows a familiar pattern. Commanders in chief often go abroad to change the subject from domestic woes and demonstrate that, no matter how much their agenda is blocked in Congress, they still have enormous authority to do as they please and dominate the headlines in foreign affairs.

Obama heads to Tel Aviv Tuesday at 8 p.m. He will visit Israel, the West Bank and Jordan.

[ALSO: Democrats Fret Over Obama's Poll Numbers]

Presidents have followed this pattern for many years. Richard Nixon went on an extensive trip to the Mideast, including Egypt and Israel,in 1974 in an attempt to change the subject from the Watergate scandal back home. It didn't work. Bill Clinton visited Russia, Ireland and other nations where he hoped to escape from the drumbeat of embarrassing revelations in the Monica Lewinsky sex-and-lies scandal in 1998. That didn't work either.

But Obama may have better luck. He is not embroiled in a scandal, and he certainly could use a respite from the tedious stalemate in Washington over the budget, spending and taxes.

Yet the Mideast is lodged in a deadlock of its own. It remains a volatile and dangerous place, but Obama hopes to show that he is still committed to peacemaking despite recent setbacks. Above all, he wants to show that he is an unwavering ally of Israel and that he is intent on stopping Iran from making a nuclear weapon, a goal the U.S. shares with Israel even though the two allies have disagreed on how urgent the problem is.

[PHOTOS: Wildfire Destroys Tennessee Cabins]

Obama has tangled with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on various issues and his hope is that by showing toughness toward Iran he can forge more of a positive relationship with the Israeli leader in the future.

More News:

  • Obama Heads to Middle East Amid Budget Battle
  • GOP 'Autopsy' Comes Up Short
  • Cyprus Bank Tax Could Be Halted by Communists
  • Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com, and followed on Facebook and Twitter.