Chicago Sun-Times
The scoop from Washington

Sweet Column: Obama, Getting to the Next level

| 9 Comments

In South Africa, in Kenya, in Chad, when Sen. Barack Obama took questions from audiences or local reporters during his just completed African swing, it always came up one way or another -- is there a White House run in his future?

The interest of African audiences in Obama's political life is eclipsed only by fawning pundits in the United States who keep promoting the Illinois Democrat for 2008.

At the African venues, Obama shrugged off suggestions of a presidential run. But the freshman senator in some interviews of late has been giving answers that suggest the thought of running for president has crossed his mind.

For those Obama boosters, however, there are some very practical items to consider:

•Obama does not have a political organization to take him to the next level, if that's where he wants to go.

•For months now, Obama's main national political vehicle, the HOPEFUND, has been without a director. Obama has interim help from Democratic strategist Anita Dunn -- who is a consultant for a bona fide 2008 presidential candidate, Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.). Obama is waiting until November to make a permanent hire, to see what talent is available after the midterm elections.

I've been gone for a few weeks in Africa with Obama, but when I left I gathered that Obama does not have the equipment, the staff, the systems of a big league political organization. In Washington, I've toured Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's expansive offices -- and I've been at Obama's storefront, a setup big enough to handle a Chicago aldermanic campaign.

•Obama's Senate office inner circle is small. It will make it harder for him to go to the next level operationally. The complex arrangements for the Africa trip, including getting information to a large traveling press corps, were largely handled by two staffers (military aides assisted with Obama's personal logistics) with most of the planning in the hands of foreign policy adviser Mark Lippert.

Lippert handled items ranging from Obama's meetings with presidents to negotiating the travel package for a side trip to a resort in the Masai Mara game reserve.

Spokesman Robert Gibbs, who is Obama's official Senate and political spokesman -- he gets a government salary and a stipend from the HOPEFUND -- kept a tight grip on logistical information mainly, I surmised, because he was overwhelmed.

The end result was chaotic, last-minute planning that would not go down well in a campaign.

So what that I ended up spending one night at a hotel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on a creepy street with no Internet access so I could not file anything -- I was glad two filmmakers shooting an Obama documentary went ahead and found a place for several of us to stay and it was safe enough inside. We lucked out. The writers from Rolling Stone and the AP got stuck in a hotel where some occupants were sporting AK-47 assault rifles.

•Obama is a great fund-raiser -- he's collected about $3.8 million for his HOPEFUND and millions more for others. But a real White House contender needs millions more.

•The charismatic Obama now is on a pedestal. If he is perceived as a real 2008 contender, things will change. I can't guess how; just that they will.

Obama travels to Iowa, the state with the first presidential test vote, Sept. 17.

CODEL Ray LaHood

Members of Congress travel internationally all the time on official congressional delegation business, called CODELs in Washington-speak. The difference in the Obama trip is that reporters went along, and most of the time, lawmakers travel with no press.

CODEL LAHOOD, led by Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) with two other House members, made a three-day visit to Lebanon and Israel starting on Sept. 2. LaHood was authorized to travel through the House Intelligence Committee, of which he is a member. He arrived at the embassy in Beirut on Saturday and met with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and other officials.

LaHood flew to Israel on Sunday and met with an assortment of Israeli top brass. LaHood is familiar with Lebanese politics; he's been there 11 times in 12 years. His grandparents on his father's side are from Lebanon.

His assessment: Lebanese military cannot protect the southern border with Israel and UNIFIL soldiers -- United Nations troops -- are vital. And a $230 million U.S. assistance package for Lebanon, to recover from Israeli bombing against Hezbollah targets, is crucial.

"The people in that area right now are very mad at Hezbollah, because all the good things they have done are destroyed,'' LaHood said.

9 Comments

The Kenyan Government, through its Mission to the US, has condemned Senator Barack Obama’s remarks on Monday on rampant corruption.

In a letter to the Illinois Senator, the Kenyan Ambassador (designate) to the US, Mr Peter Oginga Ogego, termed Obama’s remarks as having been in bad taste and injurious to Kenya-US bilateral relations.

The statement said in part: "I hereby wish to communicate to you the displeasure and disappointment of the Government of Kenya, (Kenyan) Embassy in Washington DC, and majority of Kenyans, with regards to your recent utterances while in Kenya.

"Your unprovoked and uncalled for statements were in bad taste, particularly given that your visit was well arranged in advance, with full briefings given to your office in Washington DC by the Kenya Embassy."

Ogego said that, rather than nurture and strengthen the existing cordial and mutually beneficial relations between USA and Kenya, Mr Obama’s "wild" accusations that corruption and tribalism have reached a crisis point in Kenya, could only poison and injure relations between the two countries.

Ogego accused the Senator of deliberately twisting the truth about the Government’s fight against corruption to gain publicity.

"You deliberately, without real cause or reason, other than what appears (to be) to seek cheap publicity and inconsequential populism, chose to publicly attack the democratically elected Government of Kenya, in total disregard for the requisite protocol and acceptable methods to address the issues you raised, what with programmed appointments to meet Cabinet Ministers and even the Head of State, since your visit was official," Ogego said.

The Ambassador’s statement comes in the wake of divided opinions in the US concerning the Senator’s speech, made at the University of Nairobi on Monday. Obama identified corruption and ethnicity-based politics and patronage as among challenges that Kenya must overcome.

While most Kenyans hailed the speech and termed it as honest opinion and groundbreaking in the fight against corruption, some diplomatic experts have said that the Senator’s speech is likely to strain the relations between the Kenya and the US.

In his letter, copies of which were sent to the US State Department and the local and international press, Ogego said that, while Kenya genuinely appreciated the support it has received from the US Government through its different departments and groups in restoring institutions of public governance and the rule of law, the Government hoped that this support and engagements would be conducted in a more civil manner.

Ogego told the Senator that the Kenya Government considered his proclamation that the Government has lost war on corruption as a smack of bigotry.

He said: "Rather than appreciate and even encourage the gallant and heroic efforts that our Government and Kenyans have put in dismantling the deeply embedded networks and chains of corruption, you carelessly, in a manner akin to political activism, chose to trash and sneer at us".

Ogego added that the Senator’s remarks demonstrated a naive understanding of the challenges involved in skilfully managing a political transition with weak and nascent institutions of public governance, while maintaining a delicate balance, especially in an ethnically diverse country. He said most of the cases of corruption being dealt with originated during the former administration.

Sorry to hear you couldn't get internet access in a war-torn country where thousands of kids are starving, Lynn.


LYNN SWEET REPLY
Steve...
let me try again....the point, lost on you, is that internet is a work tool--to file stories and pictures. this was a working trip.

There was an article in the paper which showed Barack Obama with a mega- phone speaking to people in Kena. could you send me a copy of that artice? thank you

LYNN SWEET REPLY
The photo was taken the day Obama visited Kibera, a slum district in Nairobi.

You'll find the article at the Barack Obama website on www.suntimes.com link is on the right side of first web page

Four years ago Obama couldn't defeat a second rate Congressman--Bobby Rush. Now he's presidential timber. Not because of anything he's done but because he's part of today's pop culture. Glitz now rules over substance--even in today's politics.

"The Kenyan Government, through its Mission to the US, has condemned Senator Barack Obama’s remarks on Monday on rampant corruption."

This was done in envoy's personal interest. this man barely arrived in the US, calling Obama's remarks as twisted truths, what would he call his remarks! Letting the Nation down and trying to make comments to pay homage to his poliitcal god fathers! Kenyan officials should just face the facts and be real for a change and take comments and grow with them; they owe it to they citizens. Educated politicians should think of what they say before saying it. Don't just say anything to be given a forum or have 2 send your feelers around.
In my opinion and those of several Kenyans agreed with what Obama said and applauded and still applaude him. To hell with sentimenttalists trying to protect their jobs.

I get a laugh out of the fact that your major Chicago newspaper is following Sen. Obama and Rev. Jackson around the Middle East and Africa because of this pop culture attitude the media and your paper gives them. The National Enquirer is beginning to look more legit everyday. In the meantime, Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, QUIETLY, PROFESSIONALLY, and most importantly, SUCCESSFULLY, has secured the release of a Tribune employee from hostile people in the anti-American nation of Sudan. So why isn't anybody falling over him, giving him his deserved plaudits and praise?

To John: Richardson isn't getting his 'deserved plaudits and praise' because he is overweight, not that attractive, and doesn't speak in rhymes and catchy phrases. What paper would put him on the same pages with Paris Hilton?

lynn ; does this mean that you are finally done actively campaining for obama. or are you just taking a break ? just wondering when you might have something important to REPORT. rather than being part of a political grooming, buttkissing extravaganza for barry and his peeps.

The so called Kenya's ambassador to the US is an embarrassment to my country.The guy responded to Obama as if he never been to school.Thats the problem with picking a guy who doesnt know diplomatic protocals and the difference between writing to a village chief and writing to a US Senator of a great state like Illinois.
To me, I think this was an insult to the people of Illinois and the USA.

I'm a Kenyan and I pologize on behalf of my country.
This guy is a great embarrassment to US!

Mwale(Memphis TN)

Leave a comment

Get the Sweet widget

More widgets

Video

Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Stay in touch

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Admin published on September 7, 2006 6:48 AM.

Detainee Treatment: Bush explains, Dems complain. Finally trials for terrorists. Briefing from Sr. Administration official (and what's the good reason for not naming this official?) was the previous entry in this blog.

Richard Armitage, the accidential leaker: Patrick Fitzgerald, what took you so long? is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.