November 19th, 2007
07:02 PM ET
7 years ago

Obama cites childhood in helping shape world view

Obama said his childhood years spent overseas have shaped his perspective on foreign relations.

CLARION, Iowa (CNN) – Presidential hopeful Barack Obama told an audience Monday that some of his strongest foreign relations experience comes from having spent four years of his childhood in Indonesia, and having family ties to Kenya.

After first mentioning that as a senator he's had "frequent interactions with world leaders" on fact-finding missions across the globe, the Illinois Democrat added, "But you know, probably the strongest experience I have in foreign relations is the fact that I spent four years living overseas when I was a child in Asia - Southeast Asia."

According to the campaign, Obama was six years old when he moved to Indonesia in 1967, and stayed until he was 10.

Obama said those four years overseas, combined with the fact that his father is from Kenya, gave him the knowledge "of how ordinary people in these other countries live."

He then implied that simply going on congressional delegation trips isn't enough.

"Various people come and give you a tour of some factory or some school, and the children do a native dance … you have dinner with some important people, and then you maybe go on a shopping excursion, and then you leave," Obama said. "You don’t really get a chance to know what are in the minds of ordinary people in these countries."

He then implied that his time in Asia gave him additional foresight on the issue of Iraq.

"I have a better sense of how they're thinking and what their society is really like, and that's part of the reason why I was able to see what would happen when we went into Iraq," Obama said.

"I said at the time … the Sunnis and the Shias, they don’t agree on a lot of things, so if you think that suddenly they're gonna have this great democracy once we go in there it's just not, that’s not what's going on in the culture there."


-CNN Iowa Producer Chris Welch


Filed under: Candidate Barack Obama • Race to '08
soundoff (46 Responses)
  1. DR

    I see CNN is still doing experiments to see just how ignorant people are and how they respond when given cherry picked information. Why don't you post the whole thing? Why spin Obamas words?

    Obama cites childhood in helping shape world view

    CLARION, Iowa (CNN) — Presidential hopeful Barack Obama told an audience Monday that some of his strongest foreign relations experience comes from having spent four years of his childhood in Indonesia, and having family ties to Kenya.

    After first mentioning that as a senator he's had "frequent interactions with world leaders" on fact-finding missions across the globe, the Illinois Democrat added, "But you know, probably the strongest experience I have in foreign relations is the fact that I spent four years living overseas when I was a child in Asia — Southeast Asia."

    November 20, 2007 08:39 am at 8:39 am |
  2. anon, new york, NY

    Why Obama didnt say anything about his Indonesian muslim stepfather whohe stayed with in Indonesia?

    Why we do not see pictures of Obama when young with his fatherS and relatives, as Hillary has shown hers? Did Obama dress in muslim clothing and is therefore afraid to show them?

    November 20, 2007 08:40 am at 8:40 am |
  3. Chuck Jax,FL

    Wow, now I'm just waiting for him to say, "I have absolutely no experience to lead the country as the President of the United States, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night."

    November 20, 2007 08:42 am at 8:42 am |
  4. jb,boston,ma

    Obama is trying to tell the truth here about his foregn policy for those who didn't do political science or for those who don't know exactly what he is trying to put across. He is trying to be as honest as posible. He is not afraid of his inexperience doubts that is why he is saying the truth.
    Lets look at all the candidates that have touted foreign policy before in their resume and on campaign trail...Did they live abroad? Some did as ambassadors and others working for U.S goverment in places like in Sudan and Parkistan. Does that qualify them to claim foreign policy experience in all other countries, I bet not. So, when you read stuff like this, don't be shallow in thinking. I don't despute the fact that he was very young to claim much experience in Indonesia and other places that his Mom took him but at least he is putting something in his resume on foreign policy and it is upto you to judge if can be considered enough. He is just showing what he can in his resume while he is very honest with you.
    On the other hand, without being negative if we try to be nuetral, Hillary clinton can only say she has foreign policy while she was the first lady by going for trips to places like Africa. I remember she went to Africa with her daughter and to India. I am sure she has been to other countries on excutive flights and limited time. what I don't know if she had enough time to experience the how people live, their culture and their general way of life.

    In short, foreign policy is needed in a presidential race in America, and that is what he is trying to do here, leaving you to judge if his claim is good enough to do so, but before you do that I bet you need a description of what is foreign policy and what do American presidential race require to qualify a candidate that they indeed have foreign policy.
    So, look things on horizon or wider perspective especially if you are a professional.

    November 20, 2007 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  5. Howie Kemp, College Station, Texas

    Great, Obama's "strongest experience in foreign relations" is the fact he lived overseas as a child. Maybe he can select a six year old american as his Secretary of State. Of course, he would have to find a child 1) with expertise in foreign relations, 2) preferably living overseas, and 3) not spending too much time watching spongebob squarepants on TV in order to be sure that his choice is not totally absorbed in six-year old american culture.

    November 20, 2007 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  6. ck,md

    I see CNN is still doing experiments to see just how ignorant people are and how they respond when given cherry picked information. Why don't you post the whole thing? Why spin Obamas words?

    Obama cites childhood in helping shape world view

    CLARION, Iowa (CNN) — Presidential hopeful Barack Obama told an audience Monday that some of his strongest foreign relations experience comes from having spent four years of his childhood in Indonesia, and having family ties to Kenya.

    After first mentioning that as a senator he's had "frequent interactions with world leaders" on fact-finding missions across the globe, the Illinois Democrat added, "But you know, probably the strongest experience I have in foreign relations is the fact that I spent four years living overseas when I was a child in Asia — Southeast Asia."

    Posted By DR : November 20, 2007 8:39 am

    Thank you very much for shedding light on what Barack was saying and under what circumstance. I don't believe this network anymore. No wonder people have labelled it Clinton News Network or C -li- N -to- N. Had to believe, they are really focusing on his weaknesses. Did you see how the debate was twisted to suit their objective? Clinton strong side, Obama weak side we focus on that. I think it is high time America to show the world we are honest people.
    Barack 08!

    November 20, 2007 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  7. jack, ny, ny

    hey Obama can you show your pic in indonesia. What you can't? why is that? oh you were dressed as madrassa the entire 4 years...too bad.

    hint hint- may be that is why obama was so defensive when he heard clinton may have some info on him...may be it is childhood pic dressed as madrassa or little jihadi.
    good bless america if this guy even wins the nomination.

    November 20, 2007 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  8. Mike, Cleveland, OH

    jack, ny, ny
    Jim Bremer

    The Associated Press and CNN both have already debunked the story about Obama attending a madrassa in Indonesia. Somehow I suspect you don't want to hear the truth and would prefer to spread lies instead. Though if you can prove me wrong, cite your source please.

    November 20, 2007 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  9. Christian, Tampa FL

    He's right, though! Living in another country as a child can shape your worldview and give you an international mindset. I lived in Portugal and then Turkey for the first ten years of my life, and what I experienced has impacted every facet of my existence, from my future career choices to my political views and the way I view the world.

    Don't underestimate the importance of Obama's experiences. Someone who actually lived in a Muslim country, as I did as well, has a different kind of understanding when it comes to that part of the world.

    November 20, 2007 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  10. Left Coast, Blaine, WA

    Having lived outside of the US is a great asset for someone to be president. Having family abroad also helps. So much of the "foreign policy experience" that is touted by people running for president is either stuff they have been told by aides, or is gathered from "official trips" where everything is the picture the sponsor wishes to show. So Senator Obama does have some very unique insights into life outside the US.

    November 20, 2007 06:01 pm at 6:01 pm |
  11. jhamel, worcester, mass.

    90 year old people even remember what chilhood was like. you dont have to be 50 years or live for 10 years in a foreign country to know what the situation is......GO OBAMA!

    November 20, 2007 07:52 pm at 7:52 pm |
  12. Joe, Hammond- Ind

    On the suface his comments are strange, but real life experienced are drawn from ones youth,if we are honest about it we all lift and point out something about what we remember about something that stood out and imprinted us with a strong memory.

    I would be more interested in a follow up question as to his memory about an event that took place.

    November 20, 2007 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  13. Art Salazar, San Antonio, Texas

    And what fantastic international foreign relations decision did you participate in while you were a child in South East Asia? Really! Isn't it stretching it.? I can think of many times as a child when I went hungry, without shoes, or decent clothes. That doesn't give me the experience to say I can run the World Bank for the benefit of the needy countries. Get Real

    November 20, 2007 09:01 pm at 9:01 pm |
  14. salihu adam, NY, NY

    till you play in the mud of Africa, hunt in the forest of South America, fish in the oceans of Asia and Middle East you are not fit to comment on world issues.
    About 80% of wold leaders have had this experience in their childhood; ask president Hugo Chaves of Venesuela.

    November 20, 2007 11:03 pm at 11:03 pm |
  15. Steve Charb, Yarmouth ME

    That's just as much foreign policy experience as any president in US History- if not more! Seriously, find me one president with more foreign experience.

    He understands the world better than any other candidate running. That's because he's actually seen the world from multiple perspectives.

    November 21, 2007 04:20 am at 4:20 am |
  16. anon, new york, NY

    4 years elementary school in Indonesia= foreign relations experience

    Is Obama stupid or he thinks we are stupid to buy in his logic.

    November 21, 2007 08:01 am at 8:01 am |
  17. steve Loudon, TN

    He learned a lot in the Wahabi schools he attended, and perhaps that's the reason he refuses to recognize Judeo-Christian beliefs...his membership in a church is a recent ploy to disguise his islamic views.

    November 21, 2007 06:27 pm at 6:27 pm |
  18. Jeremiah, Odessa TX

    HAHAHAHAHAA

    Sorry, I had to re-read the article to make sure it was not a mis-statement.

    Obama's significant foreign policy experience is based on his life in Indonesia as a 10 year old child and his dad being a Kenyan? His Senate trips were regarded as well-regulated tours?

    OK now, everyone who was ever a child in a military family raise your hand please...folks listen closely – being a dependent accompanying your working mom or dad on a remote tour does not in any way qualify you as a foreign policy expert. First, just like back home, these kids ddo not have a real idea of what mom or dad does in their jobs. Most of these kids go to European or American schools set up for ex-pats, live in compounds or base housing, and even those "living on the economy" are not living with the local inhabitants or socializing with government leaders of those countries. Obama, hahahaha...what a joker, 10 year old diplomat, that was a good one!

    Hillary has been in many countries around the world during her time as first lady, and senator, my guess is her foreign policy experience is significantly greater than Obama's time as a childhood envoy for the U.S.

    The more I hear from Obama, the less impressed I am, he really lacks experience and we need that now more than ever to clean up the last eight years messes....Hillary 08

    November 21, 2007 10:06 pm at 10:06 pm |
  19. Mark, Sydney Australia

    I think the previous negative bloggers, and Senator Clinton, are over-simplifying Senator Obama's comments. He never said that it his experience was fantabulous, he was clearly stating a fact. I'm an Aussie but a huge fan of the man. I was a Hillary backer but now she seems to be too much in the back pocket of the Republicans. At least Obama is a straight shooter and honest. We alwasy wish for the day when a politician will speak truthfully to us but when they do, you all go and tie a noose around their heads. See him for who he is, you may find that you respect the guy.

    November 22, 2007 07:48 pm at 7:48 pm |
  20. Lucy, Atlanta, GA

    Does someone who has only visited other countries in the context of staged tours or talks with a country's elite really know the outside world better than someone who has lived as an alien outside the US AND has non-American family? Good example: my boss recently visited a country I'd lived in. It was a staged tour and he met with elites who wanted to give certain impressions of their country. My boss' experience of the country was completely different from mine; I lived in a low-income neighborhood and had relationships with my neighbors. I knew what it was like to not enjoy civil liberties and, while I was a foreigner with more freedoms than others, I had friends who had to deal with human rights abuses on a daily basis. Did my boss see any of that–did this tour allow any of those real life issues to be understood? In this sense, I give Hillary's claims less credit and Barack's more.

    I do think Obama WILL get in trouble with many for his answer to the foreign policy question, but only because most Americans haven't lived in a non-mainstream American culture. Having grown up outside the country, I know that living somewhere before the formative age of 10 is HUGE in shaping your worldview, and everyone I know who has had to be a cultural outsider trying to fit in as a child gets this (and sorry, being an insulated military dependent doesn't compare). You learn to respect people different from you and recognize that not everyone thinks like you and must be understood within their own context. To me, that's way more experience than our last few decades of presidents can hope to claim.

    November 29, 2007 02:01 am at 2:01 am |
  21. Anonymous

    where is his tie?

    December 15, 2007 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
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