Column in the Wednesday print Chicago Sun-Times...
AMMAN, Jordan--Standing before a podium planted in an ancient ruin, Barack Obama waded -- not by choice -- into the seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Tuesday.
Obama was fresh in from Iraq and Afghanistan and flanked by his travel companions, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), all in suit jackets.
They were in a photo op setting that was the height of Obama campaign stagecraft designed to make the Democrat look presidential.
They were, improbably but for the need of visuals, at the Citadel, where the soaring columns of the Roman Temple of Hercules were just a swing of a camera away.
Later in the day, when Obama met with Jordan's King Abdullah at his residence -- the king flying in all night from Denver -- his royal majesty instructed Obama to re-enact their handshake for the photographers. "Let's make a photo opportunity," said the king, at 46 the same age as Obama.
Meanwhile, at the ruins, Obama was holding his first campaign press conference on foreign soil as a presidential contender as his top strategists, Robert Gibbs and David Axelrod, protested that this nine-day, seven-country swing was not political.
During a briefing on Tuesday morning, there were testy exchanges between disbelieving reporters and senior advisers -- the campaign would not allow their names to be used. The advisers said that a major speech planned for Thursday in Berlin -- at an outdoor park with the public invited no less --barely was connected with getting Obama elected president.
Maybe when the U.S. president gives a speech it is not political, but when Obama does, in the midst of his race with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), of course it is political.
When Obama finally took a question from an Arab television reporter -- he spent most of his time talking to U.S. press -- it was instructive. The reporter cut him no slack because of who he was and certainly was not starstruck. Obama argues that because of his unique background, the world will look more kindly on the United States once he is president.
On the matter of "the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land," the reporter asked bluntly, just what was Obama going to promise? This just hours before Obama was flying to Israel and at a time his campaign is trying to solidify support with American Jewish voters.
Obama gave a version of his "tough love" doctrine, telling the reporter that the Palestinians are divided between Fatah and Hama and they need to get their house in order. The Palestinian bulldozer attack that mowed down people near the King David Hotel in Jerusalem -- where the Obama entourage headed Tuesday night -- did not help, Obama said.
"And so I think it's unrealistic to expect that a U.S. president alone can suddenly snap his fingers and bring about peace in this region," Obama said.
"What a U.S. president can do is apply sustained energy and focus on the issues of the Israelis and the Palestinians."
Obama told another Arab reporter that no matter if Obama or McCain is president, Israel's security would be a priority to the U.S.
"Now, the other thing I have to make a point, though, is -- is that everybody's going to have responsibilities and obligations in this process. And it's -- sometimes I think there's a tendency for each side to focus on the faults of the other instead of looking in the mirror and seeing what can be done to improve the situation," Obama said/
POSTSCRIPT: Aboard the Obama campaign plane flying from Jordan to Israel Tuesday night, reporters collectively balked when Obama staffers wanted to brief a second time in one day without having their names used. The reporters refused and so there was no briefing. The upshot of sticking together: When foreign policy adviser Susan Rice briefs this morning, it will be on the record.