The Note, 4/7/2009: ‘One of Them’– Obama trip marked by short-term setbacks, long-term possibilities

By Caitlin Taylor

Apr 7, 2009 8:04am

By RICK KLEIN Kim Jong Il tried to take it from him. Nicolas Sarkozy didn’t want it to be his, either. It almost became his wife’s. He may have come closest to giving it away along with the iPod he gave the Queen. Yet the foreign trip that’s ending Tuesday remained resolutely the property of President Obama. He didn’t get all that he wanted, and he got some of what he didn’t want along the way. (He also got his NCAA pick to come through — a bracket we can believe in, at last.) But President Obama offered a vision and his hand to the world this trip — in a way, he hopes, that has some carry-over back home, and some long-term implications across the world. President Obama returns to the United States this evening with plenty of things not accomplished: No sweeping global stimulus out of the G-20, no big NATO assist on Afghanistan, and (surprise) no consensus out of the United Nations on punishing North Korea. But in ending the trip as no other president would have — a town-hall meeting with students in Istanbul early Tuesday, the last event before Air Force One heads back stateside — this new young president left a major impression. “We can’t afford to talk past one another and focus only on our differences, or to let the walls of mistrust go up around us,” Obama said at the town hall.  The emotional core of the trip, coming near the end: “Showing more self-confidence each day on his maiden overseas trip as president, Mr. Obama, in addressing a majority Muslim country for the first time, appeared to have prepared carefully for one particular line in his wide-ranging speech,” Helene Cooper writes in The New York Times.  “The One,” as “one of them”: “The United States has been enriched by Muslim-Americans,” the president said. “Many other Americans have Muslims in their family, or have lived in a Muslim-majority country. . . . I know,” he said, “because I am one of them.” “The line was a bold one for Mr. Obama, who has been falsely described as a Muslim. The claim persists on some right-wing Web sites, which may try to interpret his remarks as proof of that view,” Cooper continues. “But Mr. Obama, who spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, is calculating that the benefits of demonstrating to the Muslim world that Americans are not antagonistic toward it outweigh the potential political fallout back home. His calculus may also reflect an increased belief that he has enough political capital that he can spend some of it in pursuit of strengthening ties between Muslim nations and the West.”  The long view: “There will be a harvest. It will come at different times, and different ways, but the seeds were planted and that was the goal of this trip,” said David Axelrod, per ABC’s Jake Tapper.  “We have begun the process of the United States re-engaging the world,” said Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, per Bloomberg’s Hans Nichols and Edwin Chen.  “He made tremendous progress on changing the opinion of the world about America,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told ABC’s Robin Roberts on “Good Morning America” Tuesday. “America is back,” said Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, per Politico’s Jonathan Martin.  Of the very many audiences: “He’s not merely portraying himself as a break from George W. Bush’s policies, but as a leader whose unique background can help him better understand the world,” Politico’s Jonathan Martin writes.  How much credit is due? “If the world economy doesn’t begin to pick up, the inability to get commitments for more stimulus money could well turn into a problem for Obama. Similarly, if no other major countries are willing to commit troops to Afghanistan over the next months, that conflict could well be painted as yet another example of America’s go-it-alone-ism,”’s Chris Cillizza writes. “Obama and his team have to be happy about the early reviews — both by the press and the public — of his first major trip abroad but also must guard against overconfidence as perception can change in a moment.”  “The president’s ringing affirmation of partnership with Turkey, which he described as a vital bridge between East and West, was interwoven with a highly personal appeal for a change in the tone of discourse between the United States and the world’s Muslims,” Christi Parsons and Laura King write in the Chicago Tribune. “The speech, the centerpiece of the president’s first official visit to a Muslim-majority nation, was widely watched outside Turkey’s borders and covered live on the largest Arabic-language satellite television channels, Al Jazeera and Al-Arabiya. . . . Commentators in Turkey interpreted his remarks before the Grand National Assembly as a determined effort to shake off the deep-seated mistrust of President George W. Bush’s administration.” Did we mention the long view? “Obama’s speech focused primarily on the U.S. relationship with Turkey. But he also used it as a chance to continue his outreach to Muslims and to signal an approach to the region based more on pragmatism than ideology,” Michael D. Shear and Kevin Sullivan write in The Washington Post. “He sidestepped a campaign pledge to label as genocide the 1915 mass killing of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire and promised the Turks a broader relationship than one focused solely on combating terrorism.”  “The final leg of this overseas tour is also the most diplomatically delicate. President Obama has made reaching out to the Muslim world a foreign-policy priority,” Jonathan Weisman and Farnaz Fassihi write in The Wall Street Journal. “The Islamic roots of Turkey’s ruling party have created uncertainty both in the more secular quarters of Turkish society and in the U.S. Rather than embracing concern over Turkey’s political course, President Obama sought to dismiss it.”  Valid point — and a reminder that actions outweigh just words: “Yet [Obama's] words were eerily similar to those spoken by Mr. Bush, whose repeated assurances that he was not at war with Islam seemed to fall on deaf ears,” Jon Ward reports in the Washington Times.  The critique: “By bending over to show greater respect to Islam, the U.S. president belittled the power and independence of the United States,” says the Washington Times editorial.  Did North Korea make Obama look naïve? “To justify a world without nuclear weapons, what Obama would really have to envision is a world without war, or without threats of war,” Bill Kristol writes in The Washington Post. “That’s an ancient vision. It’s one reason American presidents have tried to encourage the spread of liberal democracy and responsible regimes around the world.”  Calling for a world without nuclear weapons is “all very nice — but as the central plank in an American president’s foreign policy, a call for universal nuclear disarmament seems rather beside the point,” Anne Applebaum writes in her Washington Post column.  “How are words supposed to mean anything if all the administration proposes to do is offer up yet another resolution — which is to say, more words?” Bret Stephens writes in his Wall Street Journal column. “To nobody’s surprise (except, perhaps, Mr. Obama’s) the Security Council has so far failed to agree on a resolution. But that’s the U.N. for you, as opposed to a serious organization like NATO, at whose 60th anniversary summit in Strasbourg . . . nothing much was accomplished, either.”  “Mixed messages” from the Obama administration, on North Korea: “In Washington and at the United Nations in New York, officials said publicly that North Korea had to face consequences for the rocket launch, which military and intelligence sources said failed to place a satellite in space. But other officials privately dismissed suggestions that the launch posed a major test for the Obama administration,” Walter Pincus and Mary Beth Sheridan write in The Washington Post.  The timing may not be ideal, but a push from Defense: “Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Monday announced sweeping cuts and a significant shift in priorities for next year’s defense budget, with more money for servicemembers and federal employees but less for some major defense contractors,” Leo Shane III writes for Stars and Stripes. “Calling his plan a ‘reform budget,’ Gates said he would eliminate the $11 billion VH-71 Presidential Helicopter program, end production of the F-22 Raptor at 187 aircraft, negotiate less expansive ways to build three DDG-1000 destroyers and drop the $87 billion vehicle portion of the Army’s Future Combat Systems program.”  Dana Milbank: “The soft-spoken Kansan delivered the news not from a lectern but from his preferred position, in a leather armchair set up behind a table, giving the impression he was on the set of Jim Lehrer’s ‘NewsHour.’ But the understated delivery obscured the boldness of what Gates was attempting: Calmly and methodically, he posed a direct challenge to the military-industrial complex.”  “Among the higher profile spending cuts is the proposed elimination of the VH-71 presidential helicopter and the F-22 fighter,” ABC’s Luis Martinez writes. “Intended to replace the current fleet of Marine One presidential helicopters, the VH-71 costs double its initial $6.5 billion price tag and is more expensive than the Boeing 747 aircraft that serves as the president’s Air Force One.”  “It took just minutes before the first group of U.S. senators dashed off a letter to President Barack Obama opposing the proposed $1.4 billion cut in missile defense spending, showing the challenges Gates faces in pushing through reforms,” Reuters’ Andrea Shalal-Esa reports. “Cutting missile defense just after North Korea’s launch of a long-distance missile would leave the United States vulnerable to growing ballistic missile threats, said the group, which included Jeff Sessions, a Republican, Joe Lieberman, an Independent, and Mark Begich, a Democrat.”  Back home, some hopeful signs: A 66 percent approval rating in a new poll “Americans have grown more optimistic about the economy and the direction of the country in the 11 weeks since President Obama was inaugurated, suggesting that he is enjoying some success in his critical task of rebuilding the nation’s confidence, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll,” Adam Nagourney and Megan Thee-Brennan write in the Times.  “These sometimes turbulent weeks — marked by new initiatives by Mr. Obama, attacks by Republicans and more than a few missteps by the White House — do not appear to have hurt the president. Americans said they approved of Mr. Obama’s handling of the economy, foreign policy, Iraq and Afghanistan; fully two-thirds said they approved of his overall job performance.” The critical period — starting now: “Now Obama comes home — and here is the hard part. Will Democrats in Congress believe enough in his broad agenda of change to enact it?” Bob Shrum writes in his column for The Week. “This year, with this President at the height of his popularity, and the economy in the depths of crisis, marks the critical test. If Obama could keep the tantrum-ready French President Nicolas Sarkozy from walking out of the G-20 summit, then don’t bet that he can’t keep defection-prone Democrats in Congress from walking away from historic legislation. At stake is not just a few laws, but the future relevance of the Democratic Party and the prospect of a new progressive era for America.”  Ready for the new pace? “President Barack Obama, after a lightning-quick start for his agenda on Capitol Hill, is bracing for a much slower pace and big changes in his proposals as early urgency and excitement give way to the more languid rhythms that are the norm for Congress,” Politico’s Mike Allen reports. “Officials are most pessimistic about his energy and global warming plan, with many aides doubting he will win passage of a cap-and-trade emissions reduction system, which is strongly opposed by business and Republicans.”  A president who’s not defined by TV — yet: “So what’s Barack Obama’s line? There isn’t one yet, and that by itself could become his line,” Peter Canellos writes in his Boston Globe column. “Obama, so far, seems to occupy a place in the popular culture beyond humor. Ridicule doesn’t touch him. His personality defies easy categorization.”  The dip that won’t last: “Political fund raising has suffered a rare decline since Election Day as corporate political-action committees have trimmed campaign donations amid an economic slump,” Brody Mullins and T.W. Farnam report in The Wall Street Journal. “Contributions from company PACs fell 6% to $8.2 million in the first two months of the year, compared with the same period in 2007, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of the most recently available fund-raising reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.”  RIP, EFCA? The statement from Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark.: “While I may not have been clear about my position in the past, I am stating today that I cannot support Employee Free Choice Act in its current form and I can’t support efforts to bring it to Senate consideration in its current form.”  Or, not dead yet? “Later she elaborated, leaving the door open for her to eventually get on board a revised version of the union-backed legislation,” Huffington Post’s Sam Stein writes. “At the same time, however, it is difficult to imagine what major alternatives ‘both business and labor’ could or will agree on — the standard that Lincoln has now set for her support.”  Replacing Rahm — Democrat Mike Quigley will almost certainly be elected to Congress Tuesday. Per CQ: “Voters in Illinois’ 5th Congressional District will choose a successor Tuesday for Democrat Rahm Emanuel, who gave up his House seat to become President Obama’s chief of staff.”  What’s catching George Stephanopoulos’ eye — including Jeffrey Sachs’ take on how to game the bank bailout plan.  How’s this for hoop dreams? “So imagine how awkward it might be if the research director for the Democratic Party of Virginia, Greg Scanlon, soon dines one-on-one with Bob McDonnell, the Republican candidate for governor,” ABC’s David Chalian reports. “Why would the former Virginia attorney general subject himself to a meal with a young Democrat who has been researching every nook and cranny of his life and career? Well, because Scanlon is poised to win the NCAA March Madness bracket challenge on Mr. McDonnell’s campaign Web site.”  The Kicker: “In London I sounded like I had acorns up my nose.” — President Obama, who battled a cold during his entire European trip. “Tom DeLay in a skirt.” — Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., describing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Don’t miss “Top Line,”’s new daily political Webcast, hosted by Rick Klein and David Chalian, at noon ET. Tuesday’s guests: the Arab-American Institute’s Jim Zogby, and Republican strategist Kevin Madden. Follow The Note on Twitter: For up-to-the-minute political updates check out The Note’s blog . . . all day every day:

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