Some lessons at the approximate midpoint of Sen. Barack Obama's week overseas:
The success of a surge is something Obama can't really account for comfortably.
But that probably won't matter -- since for purposes of the national debate, he's essentially ended the war.
But that probably won't matter, either (and the reason is only tangentially related to the media coverage Obama is getting).
Obama has moved on -- and he's taken the campaign debate with him.
He has grown in stature through his foreign trip -- and only partly because he's been received like a world leader by his hosts (how many people *ride shotgun with the king of Jordan?*), http://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalpunch/2008/07/obama-hitches-a.html been cast as a president by the news coverage, and has acted like a president by remaking the discussion over the issue that continues to pose the biggest single threat to his candidacy.
Obama jokes with ABC's Charlie Gibson Wednesday that he's "cropping a lot of gray hair over the last year and a half" to deal with worries that he's too young and inexperienced.
"There is no doubt that as somebody who has not been in the national political scene as long as John McCain, that people are going to have more questions, and I think that's perfectly appropriate," Obama said, in a portion of the interview broadcast on "Good Morning America" Wednesday.
On a nuclear Iran (a huge issue in Israel): "I'm going to do everything in my power not to have to make that choice. If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, it triggers a potential arms race, nuclear arms race in the Middle East, that is not only life threatening to Israel but it is a profound, a game-changing shift when it comes to our national security. We have to do everything we can to prevent it."
(More of that interview later Wednesday, on the "World News" broadcast and Webcast. And ABC's David Wright sits down with McCain for an interview in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., on Tuesday.)
Remember those days back when the McCain campaign taunted Obama into going to Iraq?
This was bait worth grabbing: To jumble metaphors, Obama lost the battle and is winning the war.
What really stings at McCain headquarters: "It's not pro-Obama bias in the news media that's driving the effusion of coverage, it's the news: Mr. Obama's weeklong tour of war zones and foreign capitals is noteworthy because it is so unusual to see a presidential candidate act so presidential overseas," Alessandra Stanley writes in The New York Times.
"Mr. Obama looks supremely confident and at home talking to generals and heads of state, so much so that some viewers may find the pose presumptuous -- as if Mr. Obama believes that not only is his official nomination at the Democratic convention in August a mere formality, so is the November election."
Among the very many signs of success: Obama "has remade the campaign's foreign policy playing field, neatly sidestepping Republican charges that he has been naive and wrong on Iraq and moving to a broader, post-Iraq focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan," Karen DeYoung and Jonathan Weisman writes in The Washington Post. "In essence, Obama has declared the war in Iraq all but over."
"One of the most important political surprises is how quickly the surge has made Iraq safe for Barack Obama's foreign policy -- and for the election policy of the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki," Tom Friedman writes in his New York Times column. "McCain, who called the surge right, may get little credit, because the story now is about post-surge Iraq."
Said Friedman, on Obama's trip, on "Good Morning America" Wednesday: "Did he just get a master's degree in Middle East studies? But you have to think he comes back a little wiser, a little smarter."
Obama looks both wise and smart politically mid-way through the trip.
Los Angeles Times headline: "Obama turns focus from war to peace."
New York Daily News: "Obama hits grand slam in Mideast tour."
"Obama's four-day visit to the combat zones was a political tour de force, generating mega-coverage back home that left McCain gasping for traction," the Daily News' Thomas M. DeFrank reports. "For the most part, he performed credibly, coming across as thoughtful and engaging, comfortable with his surroundings and, as Obama's handlers had expected, acing the visuals."
"Unless he screws up in Israel or Europe, he's already won the week," a former Bush White House aide tells DeFrank. DeFrank piles on: "With 104 days until the balloting, this election is far from over. Obama-mania notwithstanding, McCain is still near even with him in national polls. But whatever happens, this has been Obama's best week since winning North Carolina in May."
"Obama's trip put him among ancient ruins on a hilltop, fielding questions on international issues in an outdoor news conference with the backdrop a majestic view of Jordan's capital," Mike Dorning writes for the Chicago Tribune.
"He dined with King Abdullah II of Jordan at his palace and was chauffeured to his departing plane by the king, who drove Obama to the jet's stairs in his Mercedes 600," Dorning writes. "The day's events provided the imagery of a candidate appearing poised and confident in the international arena, with no major gaffes to further a story line of inexperience."
Obama was tired at the start of a very long day in Israel and the West Bank Tuesday. He's already had a few meetings, and visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, per ABC's Jake Tapper.
"I could fall asleep standing up," Obama said at breakfast, per ABC's Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller.
Per the AP's David Espo: "Barak's office issued a laconic statement saying the two discussed all the relevant issues' and the 'future challenges facing Israel and the region' - which meant they most likely discussed Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and Israel's determination that Iran not be allowed to build atomic bombs."
And this is an important day: Obama "has struggled to reassure Jewish voters and in doing so has angered some in the Arab world with his pro-Israel statements," Jeff Zeleny writes in The New York Times. "Now, his meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders could well present the most politically trying day of his weeklong overseas trip."
"Sen. Barack Obama's tour of Israel Wednesday is intended to help connect better with American Jews, but the Democratic presidential candidate has two big problems here: Iran and Iraq," Cam Simpson and Jay Solomon write for The Wall Street Journal.
Everyone's not convinced: "By Mr. Obama's own account, neither U.S. commanders nor Iraq's principal political leaders actually support his strategy," reads The Washington Post editorial. "Yesterday he denied being 'so rigid and stubborn that I ignore anything that happens during the course of the 16 months,' though this would be more reassuring if Mr. Obama were not rigidly and stubbornly maintaining his opposition to the successful 'surge' of the past 16 months."
Does this mean he didn't need the trip, after all? (No.) "I asked if he learned anything that changed his mind about any part of his thinking on foreign affairs," ABC's Jake Tapper reports. "The answer was basically: No. . . . Obama learned a few things -- all of which reaffirmed his already established views. Nothing that changed his mind about anything."
"I feel as if I had a good grasp of the situation before I went. It confirmed a lot of my beliefs with respect to the issues," Obama told Time's Karen Tumulty on the flight between Amman and Tel Aviv.
This is what he's got to watch, particularly with the Berlin speech looming Thursday: "For the second time in as many days, reporters traveling with Mr. Obama on his overseas trip corrected campaign staffers for saying White House practices also govern his campaign in dealing with the press, or in delivering speeches," Donald Lambro writes in the Washington Times.
"[Obama] advisers said that a major speech planned for Thursday in Berlin -- at an outdoor park with the public invited no less -- barely was connected with getting Obama elected president," Lynn Sweet writes in the Chicago Sun-Times. "Maybe when the U.S. president gives a speech it is not political, but when Obama does, in the midst of his race with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), of course it is political."
"As the presumptive Democratic nominee tours five countries in five days, he brings an entourage that would make a pop star envious," Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown writes. Says McCain spokesman Brian Rogers: "Who does he think he is? Clay Aiken?"
A few days into the trip, McCain seems to have settled on his response -- the one that makes it up about the surge more than the broader war. "I had the courage and the judgment to say that I would rather lose a political campaign than lose a war. It seems to me that Sen. Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign," McCain said in Rochester, N.H., Tuesday, per ABC's Jennifer Duck.
(Time's Joe Klein: "This is the ninth presidential campaign I've covered. I can't remember a more scurrilous statement by a major party candidate. It smacks of desperation.")
"McCain spoke with vigor during a town hall meeting at the Rochester Opera House yesterday afternoon, touting his experience over that of Obama's as he distinguished his own policies on Iraq and energy from that of the Democratic senator from Illinois," Clynton Namuo writes in the New Hampshire Union-Leader.
Stepping it up: "Randy Scheunemann, Mr. McCain's chief foreign policy aide, sarcastically asked if Mr. Obama's foreign policy credentials were based on his attendance at a junior high school in Indonesia or a trip he took to Pakistan during spring break in college," Elisabeth Bumiller writes in The New York Times. "Mr. Scheunemann added that Mr. Obama 'seems to forget that we have elections in this country, not coronations.' "
A broader point worth remembering: "Mr. McCain's advisers said he would talk this week about jobs and other bread-and-butter issues of concern to voters while Mr. Obama met with heads of state overseas, but Mr. McCain's campaign has in fact been in constant reaction mode to Mr. Obama's lavishly covered foreign trip," Bumiller writes.
The fight McCain wants to have is the fight Obama doesn't want to have -- and the upshot of his success on the trip is that he doesn't really have to.
"Obama was asked repeatedly about his early opposition to the surge. Rather than assess whether he had taken the wrong position, he asserted that the overall direction of the debate over the future role of the U.S. military in both Iraq and Afghanistan has been moving in a direction he favors," Dan Balz and Sudarsan Raghavan writes in The Washington Post.
Keep in mind that the main ad McCain is running is chiding Obama over gas prices -- what ever happened to the comfort zone of national security?
"McCain is attacking too much and indiscriminately," writes Slate's John Dickerson. "The barrage undermines his brand, takes time away from telling voters what he might do for them, and looks awfully old-timey in a year when voters want a new brand. He should go on the offensive, yes, but in targeted forays."
He's shrugging off Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki -- but the issue is that he even has to address him. "Well, I've heard Maliki say a number of things," McCain said, per John DiStaso of the New Hampshire Union-Leader, "but always when I've heard him, he said it's still dictated by conditions on the ground."
And something McCain said to CBS' Katie Couric is getting the Arizona senator off-message. "Because of the surge we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others. And it began the Anbar awakening," McCain said.
Per the AP: "The problem with McCain's statement -- as Obama's campaign quickly noted -- was that the awakening got under way before President Bush announced in January 2007 his decision to flood Iraq with tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops to help combat violence."
Then there's McCain's other message: beat the press.
New press credentials distributed by the McCain campaign for the Wilkes-Barre visit Wednesday: "McCain Press Corps: JV Squad. 'Left behind to report in America.' " Complete with a picture of the Statue of Liberty, per ABC's Bret Hovell.
"Sen. John McCain's campaign is dialing up its criticism of the news media, with a Web video and an online contest mocking the mainstream press for what the campaign describes as Obama-tilted coverage," per ABC News. "The critique of the news media is particularly striking coming from McCain, R-Ariz., who has long enjoyed a cozy relationship with journalists. In 2000 and 2008, his Republican rivals accused members of the media of being too close to McCain, and McCain once jokingly referred to the political press corps as 'my base.' "
"In past campaigns, complaints about media bias have galvanized conservatives, which could help McCain as he tries to solidify the Republican base," Maeve Reston writes in the Los Angeles Times. "But the sentiments in the fundraising e-mail Tuesday were also a public expression of months of grumbling by McCain advisors, who sarcastically call Obama 'The One.' "
More mileage out of the rejected op-ed submission: "A House Republican will circulate a letter on Wednesday authorizing a third-party group to take out a full-page advertisement in the New York Times featuring a rejected editorial by their presidential candidate," Politico's Patrick O'Connor reports.
If McCain makes good on Steve Schmidt's vision, this gets interesting again. "Above all, Mr. Schmidt argues that a campaign needs one positive message about its own candidate, and one negative message about the opponent. Sen. Obama has that: He's for change, while Sen. McCain represents more of the same. Sen. McCain long didn't have a strong, simple message of his own," Laura Meckler and Elizabeth Holmes write in The Wall Street Journal.
"Now, Mr. Schmidt has settled on this formula: Sen. Obama represents a big risk, while Sen. McCain rises above partisanship to put country first. Expect to hear that sentiment nearly every day between now and Nov. 4," they write.
Driving the day at the White House: "At a private fundraiser last week in Houston, President Bush, unaware that he was being recorded, joked about the country's housing crisis and said Wall Street is hung over because it 'got drunk,'" per ABC's Matt Jaffe.
"Wall Street got drunk -- that's one of the reasons I asked you to turn off the TV cameras -- it got drunk and now it's got a hangover," the president said. "The question is how long will it sober up and not try to do all these fancy financial instruments."
He also reveals one of the worst-kept secrets around: That he and Laura are looking to move to the Dallas area when they leave the White House. "I like Crawford. Unfortunately after eight years of asking her to sacrifice, I'm now no longer the decision maker," the president said.
(Sorry, Mr. President, but it's hard to get to a Neiman Marcus from Crawford.)
Here that Romney drumbeat? Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., does. "I think he's very much a contender for the job," Graham said of former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., per The Hill's J. Taylor Rushing. "They have a good relationship. That's all I'll say."
In New Hampshire Tuesday: "Repeating a quip that has heightened the speculation around Romney, McCain said Romney 'has done a better job for me than he did for himself,' " per The Boston Globe's Michael Kranish. "McCain also sought to allay concerns that bitterness remained between them, saying the Republican Party is united and adding that 'the entire Romney family has been wonderful.' "
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., gets a closer look by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Deirdre Shesgreen. "All the visibility has created fresh buzz about McCaskill's prospects as a vice presidential candidate, and she's repeatedly appeared on lists of possible choices," Shesgreen writes. "How could anyone really honestly say they're not interested?" McCaskill asked.
"I am your brother Joseph," Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., said at Pastor John Hagee's Israel conference in Washington Tuesday. "I don't agree with everything Pastor Hagee has said, and I can safely say that the pastor doesn't agree with everything that I've said. But there's so much more than that that we agree on."
Robert Novak admits that he was used: "I've since been told by certain people that this was a dodge and that they were trying to get some publicity to rain on Obama's campaign," Novak said on Fox News Channel. "It's pretty reprehensible if it's true, but we'll find out in a couple of days."
"With the American press corps - make that the entire global media conglomerate -- tracking every move of Sen. Barack Obama across the Middle East and Europe, how on earth does Sen. John McCain break into the news?" Joseph Curl writes in the Washington Times. "By floating a little veep talk, that's how."
Obama has an extremely full day in Israel and the West Bank, meeting with -- among others -- Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Prime Minister Shimon Peres, Vice Prime Minister/Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipora Malka "Tzipi" Livni, Deputy Prime Minister/Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and leader of the Opposition in the Knesset Likud Party Chair Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu.
In Ramallah, he'll meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
McCain moves on to Pennsylvania, with a 10 am ET event in Wilkes-Barre, followed by a press availability.
Could THIS be the Thursday surprise? Per WDSU-TV in New Orleans: "Sources said McCain will arrive in New Orleans late Wednesday and spend the night somewhere in the city. On Thursday, he will board a helicopter for a tour of [offshore] drilling rigs."
Also in the news:
A Denver perk: "The committee hosting the Democratic National Convention has used the city's gas pumps to fill up and apparently avoided paying state and federal fuel taxes," per the Rocky Mountain News. "The practice, which began four months ago, may have ended hours after its disclosure. An aide to Mayor John Hickenlooper released a statement Tuesday evening saying that Denver 2008 Host Committee members would pay market prices for fuel and would also be liable for all applicable taxes."
"A dispute about this prompted city officials Tuesday to promise that the local host committee will reimburse the city at a market rate for gas -- and pay state and federal taxes on the fuel," reports the Denver Post's Allison Sherry.
(Says a smart McCain aide: "Why is Barack Obama for a gas tax holiday for the Democratic Party but against it for hardworking American families?")
New place to be in Denver: "Here's more evidence that this year's Democratic National Convention is quickly turning into a Sundance for politicos," Variety's Ted Johnson reports. "Starz, the premium cabler, is hosting the Starz Green Room, offering delegates, VIPs and other attendees 'the only place within close proximity of the convention hall where convention attendees can have the choice of unwinding with a movie and refreshments, or sharing in a high-level political conversation with prominent figures from entertainment and government.' "
And we thought this referred to Fred Thompson . . . "The Twin Cities and Denver will face a common challenge for the next five weeks. As host cities for the Republican and Democratic national conventions, both are girding for battle with 'sleeping dragons' and other tools of mass disorder," Katherine Kersten writes in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "Denver City Council's public safety committee will vote today on an ordinance that would bar protesters from carrying items such as weighted PVC pipes, carabiners and quick-drying concrete."
Ron Paul's plans are expanding: "Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul have ramped up plans for a local counterweight to the GOP's national convention in September," Bob von Sternberg writes for the Star-Tribune. "Not content with a planned rally at the University of Minnesota's Williams Arena on Sept. 2, the Paul forces now plan a three-day 'Rally for the Republic' that will climax in a 10-hour extravaganza at Target Center in Minneapolis."
It's not just small donors powering Obama: "Even as he touts his base of small donors, Barack Obama is relying heavily on well-heeled contributors who have given $28,500 or more each to Democratic Party committees that will campaign on his behalf," Dan Morain reports in the Los Angeles Times. "Of the $20.3 million Obama's joint fundraising committees amassed in June, 86%, or $17.6 million, came in chunks of $5,000 or more; 64% came in increments of $28,500 or more, campaign finance reports filed over the weekend show."
Another rogue McCain donor: Craig Berkman, who was raising money for McCain while "battling his investment partners after admitting that he had lent himself $5 million of their money without telling them," Matthew Mosk writes in The Washington Post. "The failure to earlier identify Berkman as a risk reveals a recurring blind spot for presidential campaigns, which in their zeal to raise cash sometimes overlook evidence about potentially embarrassing donors."
An odd piece of McCain debt: $214,000 owed to the Secret Service, per Tom Abrahams of KTRK-TV in Houston.
The New York Times' Kevin Sack takes on Obama's promise to save every family $2,500 on healthcare. "Even if the next president and Congress can muster the political will, analysts question whether significant savings would materialize in as little as four years, or even in 10. But as Mr. Obama confronts an electorate that is deeply unsettled by escalating health costs, he is offering a precise 'chicken in every pot' guarantee based on numbers that are largely unknowable. Furthermore, it is not completely clear what he is promising."
On the Hill: "Republicans on Capitol Hill are rejecting a sequel to the successful 'Contract With America' campaign that won them the majority in Congress in 1994," Russell Berman reports in the New York Sun. "There will be no effort to try to nationalize the elections," House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters at a lunch sponsored by the American Spectator magazine and Americans for Tax Reform.
Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr gets a look in the Los Angeles Times: "Clearly, one of the many challenges of Barr's fanciful bid for the White House is figuring out how to get America to take him seriously," Faye Fiore writes.
More Barr, from the Concord Monitor's Lauren R. Dorgan: "Some Republicans fear that Barr -- a former GOP congressman from Georgia who joined the Libertarian Party in 2006 -- could tip the election to Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama."
Don't miss Vanity Fair's twist on The New Yorker cover. (Will make for fun conversation in the Conde Nast cafeteria.)
For the calendar: "Race and Reconciliation in America," at the National Press Club in Washington Thursday and Friday. From the release: "More than 100 leaders from politics, business, entertainment, the military; media, religion, law, academe, finance and non-profit and community organizations from throughout the country have now confirmed their intent to participate."
The conference was initiated and is being hosted by former US Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and author and playwright Janet Langhart Cohen. Other participants include Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del.; former Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Jones; actor Louis Gossett, Jr.; and authors Deepak Chopra, Richard North Patterson, Tom Allen, and Tim Wise.
"And as you know, the Czech Republic and Slovakia split years ago and from time to time some of us misstate and say Czechoslovakia, when the fact is, it's the Czech Republic.' " -- Sen. John McCain, one of the some of us.
"Let me be absolutely clear: Israel is a strong friend of Israel's." -- Sen. Barack Obama, absolutely clearly.
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