Foreign Policy Blogs

Tours of Duty

John McCain's airborne version of the “Straight Talk Express” flew off to Columbia yesterday — and it wasn't Columbia, South Carolina, but the actual country of Columbia. Both candidates, in fact, are taking advantage of a break in the political calendar at home to do some foreign travel. For Obama, who is about to set off for Western Europe, Iraq and Afghanistan, it will be his first foreign travel after nearly 18 months of constant campaigning at home.

This will be the first time for foreign leaders and publics to take the measure of our candidates since they won their parties’ nominations, and it will be the first time that we in America can judge how nominees McCain and Obama — one of them the next President — present themselves abroad.

Given the excitement that Obama has generated in many countries overseas, it will be interesting to see how his activities are reported and commented on in foreign media. I can already report, having just returned from six weeks in Europe, that European mass media give Obama extensive coverage, sometimes as much as they give their own political leaders. Often this is directly lifted from American media and reflects an intense curiosity about Obama's personality. (When Rolling Stone published an article on Obama's choice of music for his iPod, Italy's Corriere della Sera gave it major play, contrasting it with the country music that the NYT found on George W. Bush's iPod a while back.)

John McCain may not inspire such fevered attention. Some of the U.S. cable commentators were amazed that McCain would travel to Columbia to defend the U.S.-Columbia free trade agreement that has become so controversial at home — even in his own party. But this is classic McCain, who is intent on building his appeal based on an image of candor and “straight talk,” which, at the end of the long campaign to come, may prove his most effective tactic, at home and abroad, for countering Obama's charisma.



Mark Dillen

Mark Dillen heads Dillen Associates LLC, an international public affairs consultancy based in San Francisco and Croatia. A former Senior Foreign Service Officer with the US State Department, Mark managed political, media and cultural relations for US embassies in Rome, Berlin, Moscow, Sofia and Belgrade, then moved to the private sector. He has degrees from Columbia and Michigan and was a Diplomat-in-Residence at the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins. Mark has also worked for USAID as a media and political advisor and twice served as election observer and organizer for OSCE in Eastern Europe.

Areas of Focus:
US Government; Europe; Diplomacy