Obama's homecoming

The Baltimore Sun

The pictures were beautiful, the words were elegantly cast and the reception inspiring. But watching Sen. Barack Obama's pilgrimage from terrorist-fraught Afghanistan to Iraq, Jerusalem, Berlin and Paris had an otherworldly quality for Americans back home wrestling with depressing economic problems, shoddy treatment of injured veterans, plunging home prices and iconic corporations suffering record losses.

There is no doubt the Democratic presidential candidate signaled inspirational change for many Europeans, just as he has for many Americans. But voters in this country have seen this show before, and they are ready for more down-to-earth answers to the serious challenges they face. If the junior senator from Illinois doesn't supply them, he is liable to run into significant political head winds in the coming weeks and months. Signs of trouble ahead were already apparent in the midst of the senator's well-staged appearances.

While Mr. Obama was on the mark in looking past the peacekeeping success of the Iraq surge, he failed to speak to the more substantial question of just where he might find the troops he declared urgently needed to contain the Taliban in Afghanistan. In the short run, Mr. Obama may find himself hostage to political and military circumstances in Iraq as surely as if his name were George W. Bush. While some Special Forces and high-tech weaponry may be available for quick dispatch to Kandahar, the combat brigades he hopes to send must be rested and refitted before they move on to the next war.

In Israel and on the West Bank, Mr. Obama was challenged by Israelis and Palestinians for a perceived flip-flop on the status of Jerusalem. The senator was artful in his effort to repair the damage, but tripped up in follow-up questions. Was Israel justified in taking out the Syrian nuclear plant? "Yes," he said. What about Iran? It was not for him to say.

In Berlin, the setting seemed to overwhelm the candidate's rhetoric, which stopped short of a vigorous appeal to the Europeans to supply troops to fight al-Qaida supporters on the Pakistani border. Instead of Muslim terrorists, he recalled the ghostly opponents of freedom from an earlier time when the city stood on the front line of a war to defeat communism and presidents uttered braver words.

Still, it was refreshing to see Europeans cheering an American - the French president swapping relaxed bons mots with this elegant candidate. The packaging is great, and now it's time to show us the goods.

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