Obama 2008
Sen. Barack Obama walks with King Abdullah of Jordan as he arrives at Beit al Urdun in Amman, Jordan, Tuesday.
updated 7/22/2008 8:34:18 PM ET 2008-07-23T00:34:18

Jordan, Israel and Germany aren't normally known as swing states in a presidential campaign. But Barack Obama's off to a fast start in his attempt to change that with an election-season tour designed to show him as a potential commander in chief, equally comfortable sitting down — presidential style — with kings and other foreign leaders.

"The objective of this trip was to have substantive discussions with people ... who I expect to be dealing with over the next eight to 10 years," he said recently, evidently looking beyond this fall's election to a second term in the White House.

That was in one of a string of network interviews he's lined up on his trip, a journey that arguably will net him more media exposure in the real swing states — Ohio, Colorado, Virginia and elsewhere — than he'll get even during the week of the Democratic National Convention later this summer.

Because Obama traveled with fellow Sens. Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska to Afghanistan, Kuwait and Iraq, that portion of the trip counted as official congressional business, financed with federal funds. And Hagel, an anti-war Republican, lent bipartisanship to the proceedings.

But politics was woven into every development. Even before the Illinois Democrat arrived in Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki spoke warmly of Obama's campaign pledge of withdrawing combat troops over 16 months.

Al-Maliki's spokesman swiftly sought to say the Iraqi leader, who owes his post to President Bush's support, had not meant to take sides in the U.S. election. As rebuttal, it lacked believability, particularly since it was followed one day later by this, from the same spokesman: "We are hoping that in 2010 that combat troops will withdraw from Iraq."

While Obama toured the war zones, his campaign apparatus put the finishing touches on what aides insisted was the nonpolitical balance of the trip to Jordan, Israel, Germany, France and Britain.

A newly refurbished chartered jet flew aides and reporters from Chicago to meet the candidate in the Middle East. The gleaming white 757 is emblazoned with the campaign motto "Change We Can Believe In," and equipped with an aft cabin that will permit Obama and a few top aides to recline in comfort.

The candidate may sit where he pleases, of course, but one chair seems designed with him in mind.

It's the one with "Obama '08/ President" on the headrest.

Obama's first trip aboard the new plane was to be en route from Jordan to Israel on Tuesday night.

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But before that, aides let it be known that the brief stop in Jordan would include a meeting with King Abdullah. That the king had cut short a trip to Aspen, Colo., especially to fly back to the palace. And that it was the Jordanians who had requested a one-on-one meeting between the king and Obama before they are joined for dinner by Reed, Hagel and others.

In its way, it was as impressive a welcome as the one al-Maliki accorded Obama in Iraq.

Even some of Obama's advisers concede there are risks in a trip of this sort, particularly for a presidential candidate in his position. While polls show he leads his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain, on questions of handling the economy, Obama does no better than even on issues of foreign policy and crisis management.

In political terms, the trip is designed in part to boost Obama's standing in those areas, whether or not he is able to erase McCain's advantages.

Israel offers other potential benefits, chiefly a chance to reassure skeptical voters that Obama is a strong supporter of the Jewish state.

It's a tricky issue, because the Bush administration is attempting to facilitate a peace agreement in its final months in office between Israel and the Palestinians, and Obama must be careful not to intrude.

Video: Obama already facing criticism on trip At the same time, he presumably hopes to avoid the type of complication that followed a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee last month. He declared that Jerusalem must be undivided and Israel's capital. When Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas protested that was an issue for negotiations, Obama backtracked slightly.

One adviser, who declined to be quoted by name, told reporters Tuesday that Obama's position is that Jerusalem is a final status issue to be negotiated by the parties, that Jerusalem would remain Israel's capital, but that it should not again be divided with barbed wire and checkpoints as it was between 1948 and 1967.

Obama also chose to make a political statement by placing a trip to Ramallah and talks with Palestinian leaders on his agenda. McCain did not go to the West Bank on a trip to the region in March.

Three European stops offer the customary one-on-one meetings with government leaders, plus a public speech in Germany that is expected to draw thousands.

Aides invariably describe it as a substantive address on U.S.-European relations, but at a question-and-answer session during the day struggled to explain why it couldn't have been held indoors before a smaller crowd.

Comparisons are obvious to his decision to accept the Democratic presidential nomination in a speech before an estimated 80,000 in Denver next month.

The Berlin speech is not a campaign event, argued one aide who declined to speak on the record, because Obama is not seeking votes from that audience.

Yet asked whether the campaign might want to videotape Obama at the speech for use later in the campaign, the adviser said plenty of people will be filming there so it won't be hard to acquire footage but the campaign had not yet decided whether to bring its own camera crew.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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