ROME -- Here in Rome this evening, the images of Barack Obama's European tour are streaming non-stop across European television sets. His every move is being reported in the Italian and broader European media -- rockstar status to say the least. Italians understandably feel a bit left out of all of the "EUbama-mania" since time would not permit an Eternal City stopover (ah, how nice it would have been to have started my blog with the title: "Veni, Vidi, Vici!," I came, I saw, I conquered!).
At their joint press conference this evening in Paris that was broadcast throughout Europe, French President Sarkozy could barely contain his preference for Obama as the presumptive president of the United States. Addressing a huge contingent of French and American journalists at the Elysee Palace on a springlike evening in downtown Paris, Sakozy and Obama engaged in a veritable love fest from the moment they both strode to their respective podiums, manifesting an extraordinary confluence of friendship and mutual admiration that bodes well for Obama and the United States should he be elected president. It was so Gershwin-like. Obama even quipped that he was glad that French fries were back on the menu in the Congressional cafeteria.
Obama masterfully glided his way through this joint "presidential" press conference. He hit all the right notes for his French and European hosts (and for his American audience back home). From climate change, to Afghanistan to Iraq and Iran, Obama assured the French president that should he be elected president, a new era in Franco-American cooperation would be a hallmark of his presidency. Obama echoed the message of his Berlin speech by expressing admiration for Sarkozy's embrace of change and trans-Atlantic harmony, and lauded Sarkozy for committing France to a deeper, more cooperative bilateral relationship with the U.S. Sarkozy had already done much of the advance work for this pas de deux when he visited the U.S. and addressed a joint session of Congress.
When provoked by a questioning journalist to reiterate his stateside criticism of the Bush administration's foreign policy, Obama displayed a sure-footed grasp of what it means to rise to the level of international statesman while abroad. He reminded his audience that there is a tradition in the U.S. that while traveling abroad it is impolitic and inappropriate to be critical of the sitting president however tempting it may be. Obama deserves a lot of credit for respecting that tradition and he conveyed that position with dignity that all Americans would find refreshingly heartening given what has transpired in recent years.
The only minor off-note I detected in the media commentary that followed their press conference was from some European journalists who were surprised that Obama stated he had not learned anything new on his trip so far. His assertion that his foreign trip reinforced his preconceived strategic views on: Afghanistan (the war must be won), Iraq (the surge has brought more security and the Iraqis are beginning to take more and more responsibility for their own security that will enable a prudent drawdown of troops), and Iran (its nuclear program poses an existential threat to Israel and to the security of Europe and the U.S. and tougher diplomacy and sanctions are needed) left some wondering what facts he was finding along the way that may have reinforced some views or altered others.
I have carefully followed Obama's trip while in the Middle East and in Europe from the moment he set foot in Kuwait. Count me impressed! Oh, yes, this trip was going to be a tall order for any presidential candidate no matter how much experience they asserted in foreign affairs. The Obama campaign should send two dozen roses to John McCain thanking him for egging this trip on Sen. Obama in the first place. This junior senator has shown a senior statesmanlike capacity to impress, master complex foreign policy issues under a global microscope, and evident a welcoming demeanor that disarms his hosts, let alone thrills gaggles of adoring international admirers.
Most importantly, as the trip draws to a close I believe Sen. Obama has crossed a critical threshold that his opponents were determined to prevent him from crossing. The GOP, and RNC, McCain and his advisors grossly miscalculated what this trip would mean for Obama's presidential aspirations. From Kabul and Baghdad to Jerusalem, and then in Berlin and now in Paris this evening he has conveyed to my fellow Americans back home that by his conduct abroad this past week he has earned the right to be considered a respected presumptive commander-in-chief. If there is any concern on my part at this point, he has raised such high expectations of what an Obama presidency may mean for America abroad that meeting some of them, or at least transforming them into effective policies, will constitute one of the greatest challenges of his first months in office.