Obama Tours Middle East, McCain Mulls VP Pick Presidential contender Barack Obama has spent the week meeting with key Middle Eastern leaders. Plus, John McCain could be on the brink of announcing his pick for vice president. For more, NPR's Tony Cox speaks with Donna Brazile and Ron Christie.
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Obama Tours Middle East, McCain Mulls VP Pick

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Obama Tours Middle East, McCain Mulls VP Pick

Obama Tours Middle East, McCain Mulls VP Pick

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TONY COX, host:

From NPR News, this is News & Notes, I'm Tony Cox, sitting in for Farai Chideya.

Barack Obama spends the week meeting with key Middle Eastern leaders. Has this international tour given him commander-in-chief credibility? And is John McCain about to announce his pick for vice president, or is he dangling that carrot to keep his name in the headlines while Obama is getting all the ink? Here to give us their perspectives on the campaign news of the day, we have Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, she is an author and a nationally syndicated columnist, and Ron Christie, vice president of the lobbying group DC Navigators, Ron is also a former special assistant to President George W. Bush. Hello, both of you.

Ms. DONNA BRAZILE (Democratic Strategist): Hello, Tony.

Mr. RON CHRISTIE (Vice president, DC Navigators): Nice to be with you.

COX: Nice to have you back again. Today, Barack Obama has been meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. As we know, earlier in the week he met with Iraqi leaders and U.S. military officials. A great deal has been said about the trip, his positions, whether they have changed, and what impact this made for the campaign event is having on voters. So Ron, let me start with you. Give him a grade so far on all of the above.

Mr. CHRISTIE: Well Tony, I think I'd give him two grades. I'd give him a grade on substance, and I give him a grade on overall qualities to be commander-in-chief. On substance on the trip, I think I'd give him a C. He's looked very good, no question about that, talking with world leaders over in Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel. But the question remains whether or not he has the experience and he has the temperament to be commander-in-chief, and on that I'd give him an Incomplete. Just because one goes over and has a series of meetings with world leaders does not suddenly make them filled with substance and stature that qualifies them to be the commander-in-chief.

I'm very concerned about Senator Obama's inconsistent statements regarding the troop withdrawals in Iraq. He refuses to say that the surge that the Commander-in-Chief George W. Bush and General David Petraeus put in place, that it has reduced violence dramatically in the region. And finally, Senator Obama, I believe, is trying to score political points when he is with our troops, and the most important thing that we need to do is to continue to find a way to wage and win a war on terrorism, rather than using our troops as a photo up and a backdrop for his political ambitions.

COX: Let's follow on that point, Donna Brazile, because I'd like to ask you two things. First, does it hurt Obama's credibility to go on with a plan that is not in line precisely with General Petraeus's direct recommendations, bearing in mind, of course, that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen said just yesterday in a PBS interview that some of what Obama is saying with regard to the need for troops elsewhere, specifically Afghanistan, was true, and that they had to come from someplace, presumably a draw down in Iraq. And he even went on to say that - or he intimated - that a draw down could begin this fall, depending on what happens on the ground. So does that mean that everyone is becoming closer together?

Ms. BRAZILE: Well, yes, there is a consensus that now being a form, not only by Senator Obama, who's shown great leadership and great temperament throughout his travels abroad, but there is also a consensus being developed here. I mean, President Bush is now calling for a time horizon. He is recognizing not only the success of the surge - and let me just say as a Democrat, we have the best military force in the world. And the fact that our troops are performing well under very difficult circumstances is a testament to not only their training, but also their desire and commitment to finish the job.

I think what Senator Obama has tried to do on this week-long trip across the globe is to, one, listen to leaders in the region to get an assessment, you know, with the conditions not only in the Middle East, but also to hear from our European allies on what they would like to see happen. And this is not just about the surge, we are now in a post-surge Iraq. What's the plan?

The Bush administration and John McCain who seems to echo everything that comes out of the president's mouth, do not have a plan, a post-surge plan to ensure that not only is the Iraqi forces prepare to take over, as they have done now in the southern part of Iraq where the British has left, but more importantly, what's the future? They have elections scheduled later this year. The Iraqi leaders, including the Sunnis, would like to see the American forces out, it may not be a date certain, but it is a time period, because they are ready to step up and lead their own sovereign nation.

COX: One of the things that has happened with regard to this trip, we have moved from Iraq into Israel, where Obama held a news conference just today, Ron. He answered the questions, but he - my question to you is, did he seem less confident about his answers this morning than he does when he is discussing the war or the economy, let's say?

Mr. CHRISTIE: Well, Tony, I think he does. I think he has continued to evolve in his knowledge of foreign policy matters. He's been in the Senate for, I think, for a 163 legislative days, he is now the Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Foreign Relations Committee that deals specifically with Afghanistan. But yet this was the first time that he was in Afghanistan. He has shown more of an aptitude with that part of the world, but I think he continues to struggle and grapple with how to deal with Jerusalem, should it be a divided capital, should it be a united capital? How to deal with the existence of those in the region who do not want the Jewish state to exist, who want to eliminate the Jewish state as it currently exists. How does one negotiate from a position of strength with those who are trying to diminish, if not destroy, one of America's strongest allies in the region?

So looking at his press conference and some of the coverage I've seen earlier today, I do not think he sounds as confident as he does on other issues. But again, his confidence is almost unnerving for someone who has such a lack of foreign policy experience, just to purport to demonstrate such a substantive knowledge, I think is very frightening.

Ms. BRAZILE: You know, Ron, what is so interesting in all of your analysis about Senator Obama's perceived inexperience is the so-called experience in judgment that has put us, put America in such a weakened state militarily, put America in such a weakened state economically. You know, the talking points that the Republicans are using about Senator Obama are just flat out old recycled material. Senator Obama has shown not just that he is comfortable talking about these issues, meeting with Israeli leaders, but he is also thoughtful and engaging and listening to Netan, Mr. Netan - what's his name? - Mr. Netanyahu.

Mr. CHRISTIE: Benjamin Netanyahu.

Ms. BRAZILE: Yes, he is meeting with the defense minister. The purpose of the trip is to gain insights and information from those on the ground, to talk about the economy of the day, to talk about the crisis, to talk about Iran. And I saw the same press conference where he appeared very confident about what - not only he's been learning, but also again, making a serious commitment to strengthening U.S.-Israeli ties, supporting Israel. He has been a firm supporter of Israel, so I don't think there is any discomfort. I think what Senator Obama's goals this week was to go and meet these leaders and to learn and listen, unlike some of the people we know that that may travel overseas but don't listen to anyone.

COX: Well, let's use this opportunity to move to the third part of our discussion in the time that we have left, because it is important, and it has to do with - you talked about purpose, Donna Brazile, and the purpose of the trip for Barack Obama. The purpose this week for John McCain might be described quite differently. News was brewing that he might announce his vice-presidential candidate this week, in an effort to minimize the media frenzy that has been circling Barack Obama on his trip overseas. He has made no such announcement, and yesterday said quote, "We will announce when we are ready to announce." My question to you, Ron is, does this sound like McCain has already made up his mind on a running mate but just isn't saying so? What's he doing?

Mr. CHRISTIE: I'm sure he has. I'm sure he has settled to one or two people who he thinks could best help him lead the country. I think Senator McCain's problem right now is he's trying to find a way to be relevant. He's had not had a very good series of weeks and good series of events in the last couple days and weeks. I think Senator McCain is trying to find a way to remain relevant and to stay in the news. Senator Obama, there's no question, has been the force that has sucked all the oxygen out of the room, and Senator McCain is trying to find a way to make himself visible to the American people so that his message still counts.

The last think I'd say, Tony, to my dear friend Donna Brazile, the question is that relates to Senator Obama is - it's a very earnest question that I think the American people deserve an answer to - he is very thoughtful, he is very charismatic, he is very telegenic. But it's a question of experience, and just because someone has been in the Senate for only a handful of years does not suddenly make him experienced, Donna. But I don't take anything away from his thoughtfulness or his ability to connect with people. So again, Senator McCain is fighting an uphill battle, Tony.

Ms. BRAZILE: Well he's had more experience in government, be it state and federal government, than the president who is now serving this country.

Mr. CHRISTIE: No he hasn't. You can't point to one specific measure he signed into law. You can't name one accomplishment, Donna, that he has in the Senate.

Ms. BRAZILE: He was a state senator who backed the earned income tax credit in Illinois. And in the United States Senate he has been a leader, working with Mr. Luger on ending nuclear proliferation. He took the lead in the congressional ethics reform, the congressional lobby and that.

Mr. CHRISTIE: But can you tell me one bill that he's authored that's been signed into law?

Ms. BRAZILE: That is a law. That is a law. On ethics and Congressional reform.

COX: Let me jump in, let me interrupt, Donna.

Ms. BRAZILE: John McCain has 32 years of Washington D.C., and let me just say this. While John McCain and his Republican allies are complaining about the media coverage, this is a guy who once said the media was his base, and any presidential candidate would give their left arm to receive the kind of coverage that John McCain has received from the media over 10 years. Again, this is all sour grapes, not substance.

COX: Now let me just - I've got to break in, Donna, I've got to break in because our time is running short.

Ms. BRAZILE: Sorry, Tony.

COX: That's all right, we like to have conversations like this and we enjoy having the both of you on because we know that's what you're going to do. But I do want, in less than a minute, to get some sense from either of you, who you think John McCain is going to select. We've heard the name Jindal from Louisiana, we've heard the name Pawlenty from Minnesota, the governor, because of that being a battleground state. In 30 seconds or so, Donna, do you have any sense of who he might pick and who the Democrats would want him to pick? I was asking Donna.

Ms. BRAZILE: Sorry, sorry, I thought you were asking Ron. Look, first of all, I think it's all blue smoke and mirrors. I mean John McCain is so desperate these days that he's using old recycled talking points from the Clinton primary fight with Obama. I don't think he's settled on anyone. I think there's a short, short list. I think Mitt Romney is likely on that list because he would bring a great deal of economic expertise that Mr. McCain won't have to outsource to others.

COX: Well let me ask Ron to jump in really quickly.

Ms. BRAZILE: He has some other good choices in terms of governors.

COX: Ron, you've got less than 10 seconds, who do you think?

Mr. CHRISTIE: Governor Mitt Romney would be the long shot, the dark horse. It would be former OMB director and U.S. trade representative Rob Portman who is very strong and from Ohio, economic and trade experience.

COX: I appreciate both of you. Donna Brazile and Ron Christie, both joining us from our NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Ms. BRAZILE: You need to bring a whistle next time.

COX: I guess you're right about that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: Thank you both.

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