Senator Obama's trip abroad is coming to concern me more and more. I can't say that I disagree with the content of his message - that Europe and the U.S. should work more closely together, that Iran should accept the current EU proposals for stopping its nuclear program, that Europe needs to support even more the war in Afghanistan. Yet I'm concerned about what is missing.
Missing is a sense of humility. This is an individual asserting himself as president. Granted, Senator McCain did his own factfinding trip. Yet his was more subtle and seemed focused more on dialoguing with other leaders than giving speeches to throngs. Obama is conducting himself as president-in-waiting, and seems to be speaking for the American people.
Also missing is a sense of reservedness. Obama is giving speeches filled with sentiments that are laudable. But he is betraying division at home in the U.S. (which any intelligent observer must know of, but he is amplifying that division for all to see). Also, he is telegraphing too much of the approach he would take. Diplomacy requires a sense of the poker player's guile and sublty. Obama is telling too much of what he will do with his hand when he gets it in January 2009.
There's a great danger that Obama is running in that he elevates expectations for what he will do so much, it will be impossible for him to fulfill them. Europe is getting a package of vague multilateral internationalist principles, but Obama will have to bow to domestic political pressure. That domestic pressure on him will be keen . . . the Democratic Party remains a coalition of political factions and those promises are all seeking Obama's political capital.
But maybe that is just it. Perhaps Obama and the Democrats are signalling a withdrawl from the world stage while they tend to domestic matters.
One thing that I think is getting lost in the media attention on Obama's trip is how other audiences are viewing his tour. Europe's reaction is duly recorded, as is Obama's electorate. But what image of America is Obama portraying to the Middle East? To Africa? To Eastern Asia? To Southern Asia? No doubt, he is seen somewhat as a well-intentioned idealist. But is he positing himself as someone strong and determined?