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Barack Obama says family experience gives him broader base for foreign policy views


Democrat Barack Obama said Monday his childhood experience in Asia and his family in Kenya give him a greater foreign policy understanding than politicians who merely take junkets to other countries.

The first-term Illinois senator is frequently asked whether he has the foreign policy credentials to be president, and he faced the question again at a town hall meeting in Clarion.

“I spent four years living overseas when I was a child living in Southeast Asia,” said Obama, who was born in Hawaii and spent four years in Indonesia. “My father is from Kenya. That’s where I got my name. He’s passed away now, but I still have family.”

“A lot of my knowledge about foreign affairs is not what I just studied in school. It’s actually having the knowledge of how ordinary people in these other countries live.”

Obama contrasted that with tightly controlled congressional trips overseas.

“You get picked up at the airport by a state convoy and a security detail. They drive you over to the ambassador’s house and you get lunch. Then you go take a tour of some factory or some school. Children do a native dance.”

Obama said foreign policy decisions are rooted in an understanding of foreign cultures, and he argued he has a much keener perception than his rivals.

“It’s very hard for you to make good foreign policy decisions. Foreign policy is all about judgment,” said Obama. “It’s understanding what the world looks like from the outside.”

Later in the day, Obama was to appear at a fast-growing community college in Fort Dodge and outline a plan to give community colleges incentives to grow and tailor their programs to meet the needs of local industries.

In remarks provided by his campaign, Obama said community colleges are often a forgotten link in the nation’s education system.

“This initiative will help community colleges analyze what skills are needed to prepare students to work in local industry,” Obama said in a statement. “We’ll reward success by providing grants to schools that graduate more students and to schools that increase the number of their students who transfer to four-year colleges.”

In addition, Obama said he would streamline a student aid program that he argued is so complex that as many as 1.5 million eligible students a year don’t bother applying.

“That’s why I’ll simplify the process by eliminating the applications for student loans altogether,” said Obama. “Instead, families will just check a box on their tax form to determine eligibility.”

Obama has called for a $4,000 refundable tax credit for higher education expenses, and he said that tax break would cover the cost at most community colleges.

Obama was wrapping up a two-day trip to Iowa, where he’s locked in a tight race for the state’s leadoff precinct caucuses with party rivals Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Edwards. Clinton and Edwards also were campaigning in the state Monday, barely six weeks before the caucuses are held.

A new Washington Post/ABC poll shows Obama with 30 percent support among likely Democratic caucus-goers. Clinton has 26 percent and Edwards 22 percent. Significantly, the poll showed that about half of Clinton’s supporters and 43 percent of Obama’s supporters said they had never attended a caucus. The voters considered the most reliable caucus participants are those who have caucused in the past.

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