By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Aside, perhaps, from climate change and Israel, Barack Obama's first trip abroad as America's president tackled most of the major issues confronting the United States.
The global economic downturn. Islamic fundamentalism. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nuclear proliferation in Iran and North Korea. The uneasy state of the U.S. relationships with both old foes—Russia, China—and old friends.
Many seeds were sown, and hopes planted, and the president's true performance on this trip cannot be measured until some seasons pass.
If the global economy is up and growing, a year from now, it won't seem as important that Obama failed to get our European allies to commit to a more aggressive stimulus program.
If Iraq and southwest Asia show signs of stability, it won't matter that the other NATO nations aren't joining him today, and sending new brigades to Afghanistan.
But should these, or the other crises, linger or get worse, then Obama's initial failures as a statesman will be magnified, and this trip will take on a different hue.
As a short-term political performance, I agree with Peter and Bonnie and the polls: Audacity's voyage was more than adequate. Americans and Europeans and the Muslim world all saw what they hoped they'd see when Obama was elected—a smart young president with a different perspective, modestly noble, ably advised, and willing to listen.
The international media's fawning and gushing about the first lady was, perhaps, the bigger surprise. What was that about?
The last stop of Obama's trip—in Iraq—was more than a nice touch. The American kids there (and their families and colleagues back in the States) need to know that the commander-in-chief is intensely committed to their mission and their welfare. And the Iraqis need to know that too.
As an historian in search of an overlooked tea leaf from this trip, I've got to pick the thaw in the Russian-American relationship. Strategic arms talks may be old hat, but as Sam Nunn reminds us, the two nuclear superpowers still have thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger status, aimed at each other.
It's not merely that Russian cooperation is so helpful and necessary for the important things Obama wants to do in the next four years—it's how unattended Russian mischief-making could lead to its own debilitating, scary crises.
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