Foreign policy training in the streets
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof says ($link) that Barack Obama is qualified to lead nation's foreign policy because he was a Jakarta "street kid" for 4 years, and is charmed to learn that the candidate regards the sound of the Arabic call to prayer "one of the prettiest sounds on Earth at sunset." No kidding.
In some respects, Mr. Obama is far more experienced than other presidential candidates. [....]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."I was a little Jakarta street kid," he said in a wide-ranging interview in his office (excerpts are on my blog, www.nytimes.com/ontheground). He once got in trouble for making faces during Koran study classes in his elementary school, but a president is less likely to stereotype Muslims as fanatics - and more likely to be aware of their nationalism - if he once studied the Koran with them.Mr. Obama recalled the opening lines of the Arabic call to prayer, reciting them with a first-rate accent. In a remark that seemed delightfully uncalculated (it'll give Alabama voters heart attacks), Mr. Obama described the call to prayer as "one of the prettiest sounds on Earth at sunset."
What sets Mr. Obama apart is the way his training has been at the grass-roots rather than in the treetops. And that may be the richest kind of background of all, yielding not just experience, but also wisdom.
Our biggest mistake since World War II has been a lack of sensitivity to other people's nationalism, from Vietnam to Iraq.