President Barack Obama loves to fly and it shows!
This past week, Obama wrapped up his latest foreign sojourn, returning from a whirlwind trip to Moscow, Rome, and Accra, Ghana.
But critics and political strategists contend that Obama's foreign globe-trotting will end up hurting him with the American electorate.
With just 175 days into his first term and in the midst of the worst economic crisis he says the nation has faced since the Great Depression, the new president is shattering all previous presidents' records for overseas travel at this early stage of a presidency.
Put simply, no U.S. president ever has traveled abroad so often, so early.
In the first 171 days of his presidency, Obama spent 22 days — the equivalent of one full month of working days — out of the country. That means 13 percent of Obama's time in office has been spent abroad.
During that period, the president has made 17 visits to other nations, dwarfing the number of overseas visits — seven — that former President George W. Bush had completed at the same point in his presidency. Former President Ronald Reagan, who also took office in tumultuous times, made two overseas visits at this point in his presidency.
At the current pace Obama would, after only four years in office, shatter the record for total travel abroad by any U.S. president — even those who served two terms.
Incoming presidents typically maintain busy travel schedules during their first year in office, when the world jostles to see the new American leader up close and personal.
But Obama's pace is unprecedented: At the current rate of travel, he would complete some 145 visits to other nations by the end of his four-year term.
That would easily eclipse the mark for most overseas trips by any president, including those who served two terms.
Pundits warn Obama's torrid accumulation of frequent flyer miles could have serious consequences politically, at a time when opinion polls indicate his popularity has begun to waver.
“It’s hard to believe the president," former GOP presidential contender and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee tells Newsmax, "when he tells us his highest priority is to fix our economy at home and when he’s spent so much of his time and the taxpayers’ treasury traveling about the world to apologize for America, and to hang out with world leaders who are running from the very kind of high-tax, big government that he is running toward.”
Fox News analyst Dick Morris believes that Obama is leaving the country largely because he can't come to grips with the country's economic troubles.
"Obama is, essentially, a foreign policy president who finds himself beset with domestic economic problems that were never part of why he ran in the first place," Morris told Newsmax. "Iraq was always his chosen issue, not the economy."
In addition to the political cost, there is the financial one that has some fiscal watchdogs angry.
Demian Brady, a senior policy analyst with the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) in Alexandria, Va., notes: "Presidential trips involve a lot of advance work, are often accompanied by large entourages, and can be quite expensive."
Brady adds, "Although we are in an era of globalism, trips abroad involving the president should be chosen and planned carefully to ensure that costs to the taxpayer are minimized."
Brady co-authored a 2001 NTU study on presidential travel. He recently updated the NTU data of presidential travel, in part based on travel information gathered by Newsmax from public sources, including news reports and the State Department historian's online record of presidential travel.
The NTU data now include the second term of George W. Bush and the first 171 days of travel by President Obama.
Obama's foreign travel controversy is not the first time the issue has been raised as a partisan and effective jab.
During the 1992 presidential campaign challenger Bill Clinton took the George H.W. Bush to task for excessive foreign travel, suggesting he was focusing on international affairs at the expense of minding the domestic economy.
"It is time for us to have a president who cares more about Littleton, N.H., than about Liechtenstein; more about Manchester than Micronesia," Clinton said while on the campaign trail in New Hampshire in 1992.
Indeed, at the Democratic National Convention in New York that year, Democrats distributed T-shirts headlined "George Bush's Around the World Tour." Emblazoned thereon were all the countries the incumbent president had visited during his term in office.
Big Political Price
Obama should heed the lessons of that campaign, pundits say.
"Presidents absolutely love the foreign travel and being chief of state," Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, tells Newsmax. "They are treated like kings, walk the world stage, and have maximum maneuverability since the executive branch gets extra leeway from Congress on international relations."
Escaping D.C. chicanery can carry a big price tag in terms of political capital, however, Sabato says.
"Americans want a president’s focus to be domestic, especially during a time of economic crisis," Sabato says. "Instinctively, voters know that a president can easily get out of touch with their problems while hobnobbing around the world."
In Obama's case, Sabato hastens to add: "Of course, it’s a global recession. A president wouldn’t be doing his job if he didn’t coordinate with other leaders around the globe. These meetings and speeches are necessary since the United States is still the world’s most important country. But presidents have to seek a balance. They can’t ignore either domestic or foreign constituencies."
If Obama were re-elected and continued to travel at the same rate, he would visit other nations about 290 times before the wheels of Air Force One finally squeaked down for the last time. So Obama is currently on pace to obliterate any previous record for presidential travel abroad.
That fact opens up Obama to criticism from those who feel his energies would be better directed to minding the store at home.
Conservative direct-marketer and columnist Richard Viguerie, for example, says Obama's international focus reflects "his Chicago-style, socialist, one-world policies."
Adds Viguerie, "He realizes that he has a small window of opportunity, and he wants to maximize his impact on global policies, while globalizing American policies."
To date, much of Obama's travel has involved attendance at vital international summits: The G8 and G20 gatherings of world leaders, for example.
Dick Morris agrees with Viguerie's assessment.
"He is more comfortable abroad than he is in the United States," Morris thinks, “because he shares the global ideology, with its socialist tendencies, more than he does the attitudes of the American people."
Ultimately Morris says the positive buzz from the foreign trips and glitz will "backfire" with the American public.
"He is accomplishing nothing and has spurned world leaders everywhere he has gone. He gave Gordon Brown a set of DVDs and returned the bust of Churchill. He refused to have dinner with Sarkozy, and now he gave Putin a bare one hour and a half
and refused to invite him to dinner, claiming that the evening should be occupied with 'family time.'"
Morris concludes: "It also isn't really good for his image for Michelle to wear $400 sneakers or walk around with a $6,000 purse while on foreign travels."
Obama's first trip outside the United States was a milk run to Canada on Feb. 19.
In mid-April, he visited with Mexican leaders and also attended the Summit of the Americans in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.
He has made two trips to the Middle East. The first was an April 6 meeting with Turkish leaders, followed by a surprise visit on April 7 to U.S. military personnel in Iraq. During that visit, Obama also met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Perhaps Obama's highest profile trip abroad was his speech to the world's Muslims in Cairo, Egypt, on June 4. In that address, Obama stated: "And I consider it part of my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear."
With U.S. unemployment approaching 10 percent, the soundness of Obama's priorities will ultimately be determined by voters.
GOP stalwart Roger Stone suggests that while Obama might prefer to focus more on domestic concerns, the nuclear ambitions of rogue nations such as Iran and North Korea won't allow it.
"Obama recognizes that another attack on the United States will de-legitimize his 'let's talk' strategy, bear former Vice President Dick Cheney out, and leave the Obama presidency in tatters," Stone tells Newsmax. "He cannot afford to focus solely on the economy."
A list of the international frequent-flier miles that President Obama has tallied on his trips abroad so far:
Feb. 19 – Obama makes first trip abroad, meeting Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa.
March 31 – Obama arrives in London for the G20 meeting.
April 1 – He meets with high-profile international leaders.
April 2 – G20 summit begins.
April 3 – Obama visits with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and holds a town meeting with students. Obama attends a NATO meeting in Strasbourg, France.
April 4 – Obama meets German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and visits Kehl and Baden-Baden in West Germany.
April 5 – He meets with the Czech president in the Czech Republic.
April 6-7 – Obama visits with Turkish leaders in Istanbul and Ankara.
April 7 – Obama makes surprise visit to troops in Iraq, and meets with Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki.
April 16-17 – Obama visits Mexico to confer with Mexican President Felipe Calderon.
April 17-18 – Obama attends the 5th Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain, in the nation of Trinidad and Tobago.
June 3 – He visits with King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia.
June 4 – The president delivers his widely-covered speech in Cairo.
June 5 – Obama visits the German city of Dresden, then flies to Paris to visit with Sarkozy.
June 6 – Obama commemorates the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landing in Normandy.
June 7 – Obama leaves France at 7 a.m. E.T. to fly back to Andrews Air Force Base.
July 6 – The president and the first lady arrive in Moscow for a meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Obama and Medvedev announce the framework for a new nuclear-arms reduction treaty.
July 7 – Obama meets with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
July 8 – The president departs Moscow for Rome.
July 8-9 – President Obama meets with Italian leaders and attends G8 meetings.
July 10 – The Obamas visit with Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican City, then fly to Accra, Ghana, located on the west coast of Africa.
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