WASHINGTON (AP) - Let's make a deal.
President Barack Obama honed his dealmaking skills on his maiden
international trip, to Europe and the Middle East.
The trip helped burnish his image abroad. But can he translate
that into getting his legislative priorities through Congress,
where partisan lines continue to harden?
Analysts say the generally positive reception to his first
venture on the international stage can't hurt. But foreign-policy
successes don't necessarily mean achievements at home.
Obama helped negotiate a compromise among world powers to battle
the global recession, helped break a deadlock over NATO's next
secretary-general and helped coordinate NATO's strategy for
He agreed to restart languishing nuclear arms control talks with
Russia, laid down a marker on terms for a Palestinian state,
delivered a strong pitch for allowing Turkey to join the European
Union and sought to heal a rift between the U.S. and the Muslim
"Obviously, the skills he displayed in Europe - the skills of
negotiation, patience, rhetoric - are very important. These have a
place in domestic politics as well. But I wouldn't say that because
they worked in Istanbul that they're going to help measurably on
Capitol Hill," said presidential scholar Stephen Hess at the
Obama's eight-day journey took him to three summits - a
20-nation economic one in London, a 60th anniversary NATO gathering
in Strasbourg, France, and a U.S.-European conclave in Prague. He
made a scheduled visit to Turkey and an unannounced one to Iraq.
Along the way, he met individually with the leaders of Iraq, China,
Russia, India, Saudi Arabia and other nations.
"The American president was very keen to get to good results,"
said one summit participant. This world leader, who spoke on the
condition of anonymity to better express candid opinions, called
Obama goal-oriented and "interested in the deal."
But it's an open question whether Obama can engage successfully
in the same kind of dealmaking when it comes to upcoming battles
with Congress over the budget, health care, energy and other parts
of his domestic agenda.
"Part of tending to the problems at home was making this
trip," senior White House adviser David Axelrod said. "It will
benefit the country in the long run," he said, adding that Obama
"thinks it was a good investment of time and a great success."
"The United States is re-engaged in a big way on the world
stage," Axelrod said.
It was Obama who said political interaction in Europe "is not
different from the United States Senate."
The former Illinois senator told an Austrian television reporter
that "there's a lot of - I don't know what the term is in Austrian
- wheeling and dealing."
Some of Obama's achievements abroad were low-hanging fruit,
there for the taking. Trading partners were willing to compromise,
eager to be photographed with America's popular young president and
glad that the days of dealing with President George W. Bush were in
Also, some of the much-trumpeted deals masked the fact that
Obama didn't get quite as much as he sought. For instance, he
failed to persuade other countries to do more economic stimulus
spending than they already had done. He did not win the commitments
for new combat forces for Afghanistan that U.S. commanders say are
Still, Obama's willingness to negotiate directly showed a
hands-on approach not usually seen in presidents. As evidence, he
shuttled between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Chinese
President Hu Jintao in London to hammer out the exact wording on a
compromise to crack down on offshore tax havens.
That could help him in negotiations with Congress.
But Republicans thus far have shown remarkably solidarity in
opposing Obama initiatives, including near party-line opposition to
the $787 billion economic stimulus package. "We're not just going
to wait around for bipartisanship," said House Speaker Nancy
Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise
Institute who is an expert on Congress, said Obama's "tremendous
interpersonal and intellectual skills are great assets to bring to
Still, Ornstein said, these skills may be of little use against
determined GOP defiance and might be more helpful in drawing
together the liberal and more conservative "blue dog" wings of
the Democratic party.
"He may be often forced to mediate within his own party in the
House and navigate among a set of egos in the Senate that are every
bit as great as those we saw on display with the world leaders at
the G-20 summit in London," Ornstein said.
Asked whether Obama came home from the overseas trip with a
greater sense of self-confidence, presidential press secretary
Robert Gibbs paused a second.
"I've never felt that was a problem," Gibbs said.
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