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Obama Disputes He's on a 'Premature Victory Lap'

By Dan Balz and Karla Adam

LONDON -- Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama wrapped up his weeklong foreign tour Saturday, meeting at length with past, present and possibly future British prime ministers and rebutting charges from Republican John McCain's campaign that the trip amounted to a "premature victory lap" by an overly confident candidate.

Obama argued that McCain had long ago urged him to take a foreign trip and now was complaining because he had done so. "John McCain has visited every one of these countries post primary that I have," Obama told a scrum of reporters on the driveway outside No. 10 Downing Street, where the prime minister lives and works.

"He has given speeches in Canada, in Colombia, Mexico, he made visits," he added. "And so it doesn't strike me that we have done anything different than the McCain campaign has done, which is to recognize that part of the job of the next president, commander in chief is to forge effective relationships with our allies."

The final day of the trip began with a breakfast meeting with former prime minister Tony Blair at the hotel on Portman Square where Obama and his advisers were staying. From there he went to see Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Downing Street and later visited with David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party.

Brown, who suffered a major political setback earlier in the week when his party lost a special election in a Labor stronghold in Scotland, took the unusual step of going out in public with his guest, a step seen as a way to be photographed with the American politician who has struck a chord with people in Europe.

While he stopped short of doing a joint news conference with Obama, having not done one when McCain visited him in the spring, he did go for a walk out the back of No. 10 and onto Horse Guards Parade adjacent to St. James's Park.

Meeting with Cameron, Obama talked about the demands of both running for office and, should he win, trying to keep focused on the most important issues. He told Cameron that a former Clinton administration official had warned him that if he were elected, he should schedule time during the day only for thinking.

"The truth is that we've got a bunch of smart people, think, who know 10 times more than we do about the specifics of the topic and so, if what you're trying to do is micromanage and solve everything, then you end up being a dilettante. But you have to have enough knowledge to make good judgments about the choices that are presented to you."

Obama spent more than two hours with Brown, including an hour alone on the patio overlooking the prime minister's garden. He said the two talked about the importance of the transatlantic relationship, which was the theme of Obama's speech in Berlin on Thursday night, the Middle East peace process, climate change and other topics.

Obama later told reporters that he anticipates no immediate bounce politically from the trip and might suffer some decline in the polls because he has been out of the country for more than a week.

"The reason that I thought this trip was important was I am convinced that many of the issues that we face at home are not going to be solved as effectively unless we have strong partners abroad," he said. "And unless we get a handle on Iraq and Afghanistan not only are we going to be less safe, but it is also going to be a huge drain of resources."

Obama for the first time addressed the controversy over his decision to cancel a planned visit to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany to visit wounded U.S. servicemen and women. The Pentagon had raised some concerns that aspects of the visit were be campaign related and on that basis Obama decided not to go.

"I was going to be accompanied by one of my advisors, a former military officer," he said. "And we got notice that he would be treated as a campaign person and it would therefore be perceived as political because he had endorsed my candidacy but he wasn't on the Senate staff. That triggered then a concern that maybe our visit was going to be perceived as political and the last thing that I want to do is have injured soldiers and the staff at these wonderful institutions having to sort through whether this is political or not or get caught in the crossfire between campaigns."

The crowds in London were no match for those that greeted Obama in Berlin and Paris, but outside the wrought iron security gates of Downing Street were a cluster of people hoping to catch a look at the Illinois senator.

Patricia Griffin, a 47-year-old teacher from Glasgow, spotted the commotion on Downing Street while riding the London Eye ferris wheel across the Thames River. "Who else would it be?" she said, referring to Obama. Griffin said she came to stand outside Downing Street in hopes that one day she could say she saw the first black president of the United States.

Elaine Ferguson, a 45-year-old teaching assistant from England's Lake District, said Obama was on her "tick list" of celebrities she was hoping to see while on vacation. "We are hoping to see Brad Pitt, Angelina and maybe Obama," she joked. "We are hoping to check one off today. We came so we could say we have seen him."

Bernard Agyekum, a 40-year-old IT manager who moved to London from Ghana 14 years ago, brought his 3-year-old daughter and was among those chanting "O-bam-a." "I love him, I cherish him, I came to see him and hoped to hear him speak. It was disappointing I couldn't see much."

Obama's last two stops were interviews with Fox News and with NBC's "Meet The Press." He was scheduled to return to Chicago late Saturday night.

By Washington Post Editor  |  July 26, 2008; 11:56 AM ET
Categories:  Barack Obama  
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