When I first heard of these plans I could hear the birther wing of the G.O.Tea Party claiming that the President was going to Indonesia, as part of a four country tour of Asia, in order to: a) find and destroy his birth certificate, b) announce that he was going into exile or c) to introduce the American people to his “real” family, complete with several wives and scores of children. So far the birthers have been disappointed and Fox News is scrambling for other faux news.
Upon further reflection, I do believe that President Obama’s visit to Indonesia points out another reason why he is an exceptional president in a time that demands exceptionalism from leadership. By reason of his mother’s marriage, President Obama lived in Indonesia for four years, from the age of six to the age of ten. He returned to the United States at the end of this time and the rest, as they say, is history.
It was in Indonesia that Barack Obama first went to school. It was in Indonesia that he learned to encounter and accept a different culture. And it was in Indonesia that he first learned to encounter the planet without holding his mother’s hand. There is no way to underestimate the profound value of this experience.
I went to Japan at the age of four. I attended a Japanese kindergarten and an English Catholic school and, because my family lived in totally Japanese neighborhoods, all of my friends were Japanese and I learned to speak fluent Japanese. I didn’t go to school in the United States until I was in the fifth grade.
I can speak from experience and with certitude that President Obama’s experience of living outside of America at an early age provided him with a perspective on the rest of the world – not just Indonesia. His childhood adventure was not an adventure for him; it was another chapter in his personal book of life.
He certainly learned as a child that there is more that links all people than separates us. Clearly culture, history, politics and religion impact upon the nature of every country and every person on earth. But people are truly people at the end of the day, and perhaps seeing the world through the eyes of the child can help to inform the mind of the adult.
One cannot help but think that the benighted and historically unfortunate foreign policy decisions that characterize the administration of George Bush might reflect his America-centric life and insular existence. Invading Iraq, Afghanistan and the “my way or the highway” attitude towards allies did nothing to make this country safer and did everything to alienate the world.
As we progress through the 21st century it will not be enough for America to just be the biggest and strongest country. Indeed, China and India and coalitions of nations may have something to say about those claims in any event. Understanding the world is certainly the first step towards this country being a better global partner.
Since he became president, Barack Obama has sought to repair and reinvent America’s alliances and relationships throughout the world. We can be certain that the boyhood experience of “Barry” Obama have helped to inform the worldview of President Obama and we are all the better for the vision that he has brought to the White House.