Obama: Man of the World

Nicholas Kristof attempts to dispell the ‘myth’ that Obama is inexperienced:

The conventional wisdom about Barack Obama is that he’s smart and charismatic but so inexperienced that we should feel jittery about him in the Oval Office.

But that view is myopic. In some respects, Mr. Obama is far more experienced than other presidential candidates.

His experience as an antipoverty organizer in Chicago, for example, gives him a deep grasp of a crucial 21st-century challenge — poverty in America — that almost all politicians lack. He says that grass-roots experience helps explain why he favors not only government spending programs, like early childhood education, but also cultural initiatives, like efforts to promote responsible fatherhood.

In foreign policy as well, Mr. Obama would bring to the White House an important experience that most other candidates lack: he has actually lived abroad. He spent four years as a child in Indonesia and attended schools in the Indonesian language, which he still speaks…

Our biggest mistake since World War II has been a lack of sensitivity to other people’s nationalism, from Vietnam to Iraq. Perhaps as a result of his background, Mr. Obama has been unusually sensitive to such issues and to the need to project respect rather than arrogance. He has consistently shown great instincts.

Mr. Obama’s visit to Africa last year hit just the right diplomatic notes. In Kenya, he warmly greeted the president — but denounced corruption and went out of his way to visit a bold newspaper that government agents had ransacked. In South Africa, he respectfully but firmly criticized the government’s unscientific bungling of the AIDS epidemic. In Chad, he visited Darfur refugees…

As a senator, Mr. Obama has not only seized the issue of nuclear proliferation, but also the question of small arms. For a majority of the world’s inhabitants, those AK-47s and R.P.G.’s are the weapons of mass destruction.

So how would an Obama administration differ from the Bill Clinton presidency in foreign policy? One way, he said, would be a much greater emphasis on promoting education, health care and development in Africa and other poor regions — not just for humanitarian reasons, but also with an eye to national security.

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