Problem: McCain will define himself as tough and resolute in foreign policy, committed to defending us vulnerable Americans from the wolves near and far. Implicitly, and perhaps explicitly, this will paint Obama as weak, confused and incapable of assuring our safety. This is a matter of images, not reality, of course, but that’s how elections work.
Analysis: Obama’s counter-image is that he will restore America to respect around the world, rebuilding alliances and replacing bellicosity with diplomacy. Against this backdrop, McCain’s foreign policy would take on the hue of Bush, continued. One challenge Obama faces is how to convey this impression visually and viscerally. Fear and retaliation are easier to package than cooperation.
Solution: Obama should undertake a foreign campaign trip this summer, publicly appealing to American voters overseas, including both civilians and military expats. He could explain that America is itself now globalized, with its citizens scattered across the continents. His trip could then be portrayed as a campaign swing like any other. But holding enthusiastic mass rallies across Europe and Asia especially, Obama could deliver exactly the we-are-the-world images that would give emotional resonance to his political stance. Honestly, I don’t see what McCain could do to diminish the power of this strategy.