When Barack Obama travels to Europe and the Middle East next week, it will most likely be a tightly scripted, controlled affair designed to minimize his potential to make a devastating gaffe, Democratic strategists predict.
Some worry that any Obama stumble could intensify voter concern that he lacks the experience to be commander in chief, one of his main vulnerabilities. "Look for carefully scripted statements and comments," says a senior Democratic insider. "I doubt he will be drawn into detailed discussions of sensitive topics with the media." In fact, he is being urged by some Democrats to play it safe by hewing closely to his campaign's well-established talking points.
One big challenge for Obama will be how to handle his expected discussions with Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. troops in Iraq during the troop surge that has helped lessen violence in the country. (Petraeus is widely considered the architect of the surge policy.)
What Obama advisers want to avoid is a situation where Petraeus undermines the presumptive Democratic candidate's stated policy—such as by saying a phased withdrawal would jeopardize the hard-won gains of U.S. troops, ignore their sacrifices, and put the future of Iraq at risk. "That would reverberate around the country in a negative way," says the Democratic insider.
Of course, Petraeus faces a big choice of his own. He must decide whether to back the victory goal sought by Republican presidential candidate John McCain or to say that the military could make Obama's withdrawal plan workable—or find some less controversial middle ground.