So far, Barack Obama seems to have done everything right on his trip to Afghanistan, Iraq and Jordan. Enormous challenges still loom with his visits to Israel and the West Bank. But to this point the high-risk trip might actually help close the "commander in chief" gap pollsters have found between him and John McCain.
As I watched back-to-back Obama and McCain appearances on television Tuesday morning, it was hard not to feel a little bit sorry for McCain. What was his campaign thinking, scheduling a tiny, hokey town hall meeting in Manchester, N.H., where the GOP nominee spoke against the uninspiring backdrop of a sagging flag, nice elderly folks and a few small kids who can't vote? Meanwhile, Obama looked calm and presidential at the Citadel in Amman, Jordan, a history-rich landscape behind him, flanked by admiring, white-haired Senate colleagues Chuck Hagel and Jack Reed.
Obama is already being baited by McCain and his supporters for saying, respectfully but firmly, that he, not his commanders on the ground, will be the final arbiter of his war strategy. But of course that's his job as president. So far, he has set the right tone of respect for military leaders and troops without cowering or pandering. I had some worries about this trip -- I'm a worrier -- but Obama has done everything he had to do to this point.
Meanwhile, McCain seems to think his best hope for countering the P.R. bounty of Obama's foreign tour this week is to complain about the media. We all know how well that worked for Hillary Clinton. It's particularly silly given the media's longtime soft spot for (and soft coverage of) McCain. McCain's "Obama Love" ad was mildly funny, but most of the clips it used came from primary season, when his opponent was Clinton, not McCain. And while the coverage of Obama's trip has been overwhelmingly positive, I think that's partly because of Obama's relative newness, partly because of the trip's audacity and partly because Obama has performed well so far. As someone who has written before about the media's crush on Obama, I did chuckle at "The Daily Show," which depicts "Obama Love" far more cleverly than McCain did: