New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, among many others, is always gushing about how Sen. Barack Obama's life story gives him an exceptionally sophisticated understanding of foreign affairs.
Indeed, Obama himself might even be starting to believe all the adulatory press about how his four years as a small child in Indonesia and his handful of weeks in Kenya have given him a deep understanding of global affairs. Obama claimed yesterday that he had more relevant foreign affairs experience than Hillary or McAmnesty. Jake Tapper writes:
"Foreign policy is the area where I am probably most confident that I know more and understand the world better than Senator Clinton or Senator McCain," Obama said, according to the Huffington Post.So, he went to Pakistan and India after visiting his half-sister in Indonesia, which qualifies him to be President, although it apparently didn't make much of an impression on him because he never seems to have mentioned it before. It didn't fit into his "Story of Race and Inheritance" because he doesn't have any relatives from there and, besides, the people there don't fit in well with his black and white worldview. (The people in Hawaii didn't either, but the South Side of Chicago is more like what he wanted.)
"It's ironic because this is supposedly the place where experience is most needed to be Commander-in-Chief. Experience in Washington is not knowledge of the world. This I know. When Senator Clinton brags 'I've met leaders from eighty countries' -- I know what those trips are like! I've been on them. You go from the airport to the embassy. There's a group of children who do native dance. You meet with the CIA station chief and the embassy and they give you a briefing. You go take a tour of a plant that [with] the assistance of USAID has started something. And then -- you go."
"You do that in eighty countries," Obama said, "You don't know those eighty countries. So when I speak about having lived in Indonesia for four years, having family that is impoverished in small villages in Africa --knowing the leaders is not important -- what I know is the people...I traveled to Pakistan when I was in college -- I knew what Sunni and Shia was [sic] before I joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee."
This last part -- a college trip to Pakistan -- was news to many of us who have been following the race closely. And it was odd that we hadn't hear about it before, given all the talk of Pakistan during this campaign.
Yet, despite Obama's incredibly sophisticated awareness of the rest of the world, in the climax of the Chicago section of his autobiography, he approvingly quoted his spiritual mentor Jeremiah A. Wright's incredibly unsophisticated worldview: "where white folks' greed runs a world in need ..."
Wouldn't some experience with the Third World raise severe doubts about such an apportionment of guilt? After all, during Obama's formative years, there were plenty of anti-American leftist Third World countries that only become needier the more they separated themselves from white folks' greed.
So, why didn't Obama get it?
First, as far as I can tell, despite his image as a world-spanning figure, Obama doesn't actually have that much foreign experience. Obama's overseas travel before becoming a U.S. Senator four years ago (since which he has taken a few junkets) was quite limited, consisting largely of living Indonesia as a child and two visits to Kenya. During his years in Chicago, he typically spent his winter vacations (not irrationally!) in his native Hawaii.
The truth is that Obama hasn't exhibited all that much interest in foreign countries not directly connected to his own life story. In his autobiography, Obama is subtly contemptuous of his wandering, exotiphilic mother whose centrifugal tendencies took her from Kansas to Indonesia. In contrast, Obama has concocted for himself a life trajectory from the exotic margins to the heart of African-America, the South Side of Chicago, where he methodically made himself a Chicago politician. (And, as Churchill said about the Pathans, for a Chicago politician, "life is full of interest" right at home, so curiosity about foreign affairs is a distraction.)
Obama's naive mom appears to have assumed when she moved to Indonesia in 1966 that it was still as leftist as it had been under Sukarno, who had been overthrown the year before. She was horrified to learn it wasn't the non-aligned utopia she had imagined. Indonesia had been a leftwing anti-American dictatorship when she had met her second husband Lolo in Hawaii, but by the time she and little Barack arrived in Jakarta, Indonesia was a rightwing pro-American dictatorship. When easygoing Lolo (who is just about the only character in Obama's memoirs that I'd like to have a beer with) got a nice job working in government relations for an American oil company so he could support his wife and kid (some other guy's kid, let me point out), they would argue:
"...about her refusal to attend his company dinner parties, where American businessmen from Texas and Louisiana would slap Lolo's back and boast about the palms they had greased to obtain the new offshore drilling rights, while their wives complained to my mother about the quality of Indonesian help. He would ask her how it would look for him to go alone, and remind her that these were her own people, and my mother's voice would rise to almost a shout.Such tensions paved the way for their divorce.
"They are not my people."[p. 47 of Dreams from My Father]
Similarly, Kenya's leader Jomo Kenyatta, who persecuted Obama's father for being a member of the Luo tribe, allowed an American naval base at Mombassa and encouraged capitalism -- among his Kikuyu tribesman.
Thus, Obama's beloved Luo relatives were, increasingly, enemies of Kenyatta's pro-Western policies. The Luo, under the leadership of Obama's kinsman Oginga Odinga, thus were leftist and friendly toward the Soviets. For example, Oginga Odinga sent his son Raila Odinga, the current Luo warlord and Prime Minister-designate (who claims to be Obama's cousin), to study in East Germany in 1965.
Time magazine reported in 1969:
President Jomo Kenyatta, who with his fellow Kikuyu has ruled the country since independence in 1963, threw Opposition Leader Oginga Odinga in prison and banned his Luo-dominated party.
Kikuyu and Luo, first and second largest of Kenya's 46 main tribes, have long controlled the country's politics. Initially, neither Kenyatta's Kenya African National Union (KANU) nor Odinga's Kenya People's Union (KPU) were organized along strictly tribal lines. ... In recent years, however, both party memberships have become increasingly polarized. ...
As Kenyatta's convoy began to move away after the speech, spectators stoned the lead car. Panicky police fired point-blank into the crowd, leaving at least nine dead and 70 wounded. Two days later, Kenya police arrested Odinga, and most of the other KPU leadership, including all eight of the party's MPs. A day later, KPU was banned for allegedly seeking "to overthrow the lawful and constitutional government of the Republic of Kenya." It seemed a clear reference to Communist intrigues. Though apparently no Communist, Odinga is a leftist who has accepted funds from Soviet and Chinese Communist agents; "Double O" was also instrumental in persuading the Russians to build the new hospital in Kisumu.
So, in Indonesia, Obama absorbed his mother's anti-Americanism, and from Keyna, he was exposed to his relatives' opposition to the pro-American tribes.