Senator Obama is travelling to demonstrate he is a great international statesman in the making. The more he travels the more compromises he has to make, and the more hollow will seem his message of wonderful change.
Today in Berlin he has allowed himself to be billed to speak in front of the Victory Column or Siegessaule, a monument to Prussian militarism and their prowess in defeating European neighbours. It is not a wise backdrop for someone who wishes to send a message of peaceful change after the two Middle East wars of the Bush years.
More importantly, the message is no longer one of negotiate peace and withdraw American troops from far flung foreign lands. The pollsters and positioners that cluster around the big Obama cheque book have persuaded him to be tender and tough at the same time â€“ tender on Iraq, tough on Afghanistan. They have even managed to persuade him of the Pentagonâ€™s wish to widen the Afghan war to include the border lands of Pakistan, where terrorist now congregate beyond the reach of most American fire power. Just as Democrat Clinton became bomber Clinton under the advice of the Pentagon, reining bombs in many places in pursuance of US policy aims, so peacenik Obama is morphing rapidly into warrior Obama seeking to intensify the conflict in Afghanistan. The UK may still be in love with Obama because he is not Bush, but it is time as he approaches our shores to be more critical.
I liked his message of change and wrote favourably of his new approach to fund raising â€“ asking for small sums from many rather than seeking big sums from the few â€“ when he first appeared on the political radar. I thought he would do well and might go all the way to victory. I said at the time I did not think I would like his policies, although people ignored that and billed my piece as meaning Redwood wanted an Obama Presidency. I was predicting success, not backing him. I liked his use of words, his ability to reach out, and his ability to forge a new coalition of support â€“ it was great politics. As I feared, what he is now offering should he come to power is altogether more disagreeable.
I have three charges against Obama the realist, three bones to pick with Obama the wannabe statesman. The first is I do not think he has shown a full understanding of the complexities of Middle Eastern politics. He is in danger of being neither effective peacenik nor effective warmonger, now he wants to widen the Afghan war but retreat from the Iraqi one. He has not explained how he would handle the relationship with Pakistan, and was uncomfortable in Israel. If he is unsure of the extent of his war aims and limited by positioning in how he can pursue them, it does not augur well. He will come to learn that Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan are all linked – succeed it making it too hot for the terrorists in one of those, and they move to another base.
The second is his possible protectionism. His supporters often say he did not mean his protectionist sentiments, and would knuckle down like the Republican Presidents before him to try to make a success of the World Trade Talks and the latest round of reducing barriers to trade. If that is so, why canâ€™t he bring himself to make the case for free trade? If he wants to remain new and fresh, he needs to be honest. If, on the other hand, he means what he says about protection, he will help make the world a poorer place.
The third is his likely support for higher taxes. His critics claim his social security taxes will mean a hike in the marginal rate of tax on higher incomes to 50% in the USA. That would be bad for business and bad for the USA as a place for business investment. If he is going to be yet another tax and spend Democrat it means he has not learned the lesson of Bill Clinton, who in his first term was fiscally more conservative to the benefit of the US and the world economies.
After high spend tax cutting Bush we need someone who will control spending and squeeze the size of government. The world needs a President who offers policies that encourage economic recovery. The fascinating political duel that has unfolded so far does not seem to have thrown up a candidate capable of doing what it takes to speed and broaden economic recovery. Both McCain and Obama favour more overseas expeditions by US forces, and both seemed wedded to high levels of spending. Both are concentrating more on the war on terror than the war on recession and Credit Crunch. There are probably more votes in the latter.