Thaier al-Sudani-Pool/Getty Images
Barack Obama, left, met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, right, in Baghdad on July 21.
The stakes for Barack Obama's Mideast trip are "unbelievably huge," according to Politico.com's Jim VandeHei.
Obama's visit to Iraq comes after a weekend stop in Afghanistan, where he observed the progress of the war there. In Iraq, the Illinois senator and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee is meeting with U.S. commanders, as well as Iraqi leaders, who are eager to hear more about the candidate's views on the war.
The amount of interest in the trip is unusual, VandeHei says, partly because of attacks from Republican John McCain's campaign, which has charged that Obama has been making policy proclamations about troop withdrawals with little on-the-ground experience.
VandeHei says he thinks Obama sees the trip as an opportunity. "I think, in his mind, he can really close the deal with independent voters and even a lot of Republicans if he can just prove that he can be strong on the national stage, that he understands foreign policy," says VandeHei.
"If he can go into all of these meetings, look like a statesman, not do anything to sort of embarrass himself or the campaign," says VandeHei, "this will be a huge triumph for him."
The danger, says VandeHei, is that the trip could come off looking like a taxpayer-funded field trip or PR stunt. So far, that hasn't happened, he says, but for the five days of the trip, "everything he does is going to be amplified, for better or worse."
Accompanying Obama on the trip are two Senate colleagues, both of whom have been critical of the Iraq war: Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Republican Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. Both have been mentioned as possible Obama vice presidential nominees.
Meanwhile, McCain took advantage of the relative quiet to shed his chief financial adviser, Phil Gramm. Gramm stepped down on Friday after suggesting the current economic downturn amounts to a "mental recession" made worse by Americans' whining. VandeHei says Gramm became a distraction and a hindrance on a difficult issue. "McCain is trying very hard to show that he's sympathetic and empathetic with the struggles that many Americans are going through," he says. "He's got to figure out a way to articulate an economic strategy that resonates with Americans."