Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 8, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

OBAMA'S FOREIGN POLICY....Joe Klein reports that Barack Obama has been working behind the scenes to try to defuse the violence in his ancestral homeland of Kenya. On January 2nd he taped a message for Voice of America, and then:

On January 3, the day of the caucuses, he had a conversation with Bishop Desmond Tutu, who had flown to Nairobi to see if he could begin negotiations with the factions. In the days since his Iowa victory, Obama has had near-daily conversations with the U.S. Ambassador in Kenya or with opposition leader Raila Odinga. As of late this afternoon, before his rally in Rochester, N.H., Obama was trying to reach Kenyan President Kibaki.

Impressive stuff for a guy who has a lot on his plate right now.

Kevin Drum 6:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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All obligatory Joe Klein jokes aside, this is good stuff, and doesn't seem to be for domestic political consuption. I hope it does some good. Africa can always use good news.

Posted by: Jeff S. on January 8, 2008 at 6:39 PM | PERMALINK

Too bad he can't be in the Senate doing senatorial things, like defending the Constitution he is sworn to uphold.
Is he really that influential in Kenya, or is this just political opportunism and ego at work, or some of both?

Posted by: jussumbody on January 8, 2008 at 6:55 PM | PERMALINK

I saw in an interview with him they asked about and he said Odinga was willing to have a meeting with Kabiki, but Obama hasn't been able to get in touch with Kabiki yet.

jussumbody--considering he hasn't been bringing it up at all on the campaign trail, I sincerely doubt its political opportunism. And yes, he's wildly popular in Kenya (his father in Kenyan, his paternal grandparents still live in Kenya); he received a hero's welcome when he visited there on Senate business a couple years back, thousands of people mobbed him. It was described at the time as "obamamania"

Posted by: Michael on January 8, 2008 at 7:02 PM | PERMALINK

I was listening to the BBC in America on NPR this morning, and the interviewer was asking Raila Odinga about conversations he's been having with Obama. The interviewer asked if that were the case that Odinga & Obama's were of the same tribe when Odinga said that, in fact, Obama's father was his maternal uncle. I almost spilled my coffee.

Posted by: junebug on January 8, 2008 at 7:04 PM | PERMALINK

jussumbody, you mean he should be hanging around an empty Senate while the Senate is not in session? http://www.senate.gov/pagelayout/legislative/two_column_table/2008_Schedule.htm

Posted by: Jack S on January 8, 2008 at 7:05 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe I’m just having a bad reaction to all the messianic Obama is “The One™” hype, but I don’t see why taping a talk for the Voice of America is “impressive stuff”. Kevin, in what way is the mere act of taping a message impressive? Would it be equally “impressive stuff” if Hillary Clinton or John Edwards or even a Republican presidential candidate taped such a message?

Also, shouldn’t its “impressiveness” be gauged by the result obtained? It would be impressive is if he got a positive result as a result of Kenyans being moved to come together by his speech. Lets try judging Obama by the same standards as everyone else in politics and see how he does. Show me a result fairly attributable to Obama and I’ll be impressed. Otherwise, it’s just another speech by another politician.

Also, if it wasn’t for domestic consumption, how come we are reading about it right before the New Hampshire primary in a blog post by Joe Klein?

Posted by: Mitch Guthman on January 8, 2008 at 7:08 PM | PERMALINK

Impressive stuff for a guy who has a lot on his plate right now.

Indeed, but dollars to doughnuts that's not the way it'll be spun over the next few days. (As jussumbody helpfully illustrates.)

Posted by: raff on January 8, 2008 at 7:11 PM | PERMALINK

I've been wondering if at some point if the violence in Kenya gets worse the US government (and Obama himself) doesn't consider asking Obama's closest family members (his grandma and uncle) to come visit the States for a little while.

Posted by: matthew on January 8, 2008 at 7:14 PM | PERMALINK

I like Obama, but isn't that a little, um, overstepping the bounds. I'm starting to get a queasy feeling that people are WAY too invested in this guy. If he's elected and doesn't solve world hunger and global climate change in his first 100 days, they'll be hell to pay!

Posted by: SFmike on January 8, 2008 at 7:16 PM | PERMALINK

In the days since his Iowa victory, Obama has had near-daily conversations with the U.S. Ambassador in Kenya or with opposition leader Raila Odinga. As of late this afternoon, before his rally in Rochester, N.H., Obama was trying to reach Kenyan President Kibaki.

If Obama can create peace in a foreign land half a world away while Senator, what more could he do if he was President? Food for thought.

Posted by: Al on January 8, 2008 at 7:35 PM | PERMALINK

Joke Line, he of Primary Colors by Anonymous fame, is a journalistic fraud.

He lied about his authorship of that book, and most recently he wrote a phony FISA story for TIME that falsely accused Democrats of requiring court approval of individual foreign surveillance targets, which the magazine had to backpedal from.

Why you continue to insist on posting the disingenuous musings of this asshole is completely beyond me.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on January 8, 2008 at 7:39 PM | PERMALINK

I'm sorry, but could someone explain the "Al" entity to me? I post here occasionally and was getting used to the right-wing troll/mock troll dichotomy, but I think I've missed a key element its progression somewhere along the way.

Abort? Retry? Fail? Ignore?

Posted by: sweaty guy on January 8, 2008 at 7:54 PM | PERMALINK

What's the big deal? He's obviously concerned about Kenya on a personal level with family there, etc. It is good to know Obama is a stand up guy when it comes to doing what he can for those he cares about. That's what he's supposed to do. It's not an extra credit situation here, although after the past seven years of bush, doing what one is supposed to seems almost heroic. The only troubling aspect of it to me is the timing of the story coming out.

Posted by: fljim on January 8, 2008 at 7:56 PM | PERMALINK

sweaty guy: "I'm sorry, but could someone explain the 'Al' entity to me?"

Six words: "Yahoo! I'm cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs!"

That about sums him up.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on January 8, 2008 at 9:12 PM | PERMALINK

Clinton wins NH. Chris Matthew, Andrea Mitchell and Howard Fineman cry cry and cry.

Posted by: Mike on January 8, 2008 at 10:43 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, kinda makes Bush's "roadmap to peace" appear to be the meaningless tripe that it always was...

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on January 8, 2008 at 10:50 PM | PERMALINK

I've been to Kenya, and it's a breathtakingly beautiful place. The people are super friendly, and the music is sublime. Anything Obama can do to leverage a solution is AOK by me.

I've been very sad to see the reports of violence there recently. Nairobi was just about one of the most incredible places I've ever seen...

Posted by: steveconga on January 8, 2008 at 11:24 PM | PERMALINK

steveconga, you are so right about Kenya. Beautiful place, wonderful people. I lived there a long time ago, when my family worked for the US embassy (same one Al Qaeda blew up in 1998, along with a couple hundred Kenyans).

But it is easy to forget how tribalized the place was (I guess still is), even though it has a reputation as being a fairly stable and modern country. I remember in the embassy, all the staff would list which tribe they came from on a big chart on the wall with their picture, an easy way for American staff to notice it so they wouldn't accidently pick people from the same tribe for certain jobs and thereby "play favorites".

Hard to square that with democratic politics for too long, it's like red state/blue state on steroids.

Posted by: sweaty guy on January 8, 2008 at 11:58 PM | PERMALINK

I also lived in Kenya in the 80's and have some photos up at

I also visited that Embassay.

I am saddened at the violence - though Kenya was never as stable as people claimed. The tribal tensions were always there and there has been low scale violence for years. The Luos (Odinga's tribe) have been pushed to the edges for a long time. I'm not sure if the murder of the senior Odinga was ever really solved (as to who ordered it). Few Kenyan politicians are really national figures.

I had hopes for Kabiki, but he has been a big disappointment.

Posted by: JohnN on January 9, 2008 at 12:38 AM | PERMALINK

OOPS. Bad brain blip - I was thinking of the murder of Tom Mboya. Nothing to do with Odinga. Sorry, sorry.

Posted by: JohnN on January 9, 2008 at 12:41 AM | PERMALINK

I think the story would be more likely to hurt him than help. At least in the general election. People in this country have a strong "our government shouldn't be helping other countries before our own" sentiment. This is how most independends couch their opposition to the Iraq war - that we have spent enough money on "those people", and to little effect. Bring the troops home, focus on domestic problems, blah blah.

(I always wished the American people who do oppose the Iraq war could find a non-selfish reason for it - like, perhaps, it's wrong to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people).

Plus, an Obama/Africa story just calls attention to his "otherness".

So I'd guess it was a sincere move on Obama's part. (Not that I'm a fan otherwise).

Posted by: luci on January 9, 2008 at 2:17 AM | PERMALINK

It sure makes me wonder if his loyalties are here or there.

Posted by: bobo on January 9, 2008 at 3:00 AM | PERMALINK

It sure makes me wonder if his loyalties are here or there.

Where's "here"? I'm guessing you're reporting to us from the 1950s?

Xenophobic prick.

Posted by: sweaty guy on January 9, 2008 at 4:42 AM | PERMALINK

During my time working in Kenya this past summer, I can't even count how many people asked if I was voting for Obama, if I thought he would be president, etc, etc... In Kisumu, where I was based, that has been very hard struck by election related violence (Odinga's home town, the stronghold for ODM, Luo majority which is Obama's ancestry), pictures of Obama from his visit to Kenya were posted everywhere. There were even multiple "Barack Obama" themed matatus (shared taxi most people use to get around). He has superstar status, especially in the Western regions but still true all throughout the country - much more than Kibaki or Odinga because of their past baggage. My only disappointment was that with no power in certain areas (like Kisumu) and media blackouts people did not hear his plea for calm. He can use his status with the masses as somewhat leverage to reason with leaders that Rice and the ambassador to Kenya from the US or UK simply do not. I just can't see how sending a statement asking Kenyans to remain peaceful and trying to get leaders to communicate and negotiate somehow is overstepping his bounds (especially as this article states that he was asked by Rice to do that). Hopefully peace will be restored soon.

Posted by: JS on January 9, 2008 at 4:49 AM | PERMALINK

It's "impressive" because obviously Obama is too inexperienced in FP matters to know where to go to tape a VOA broadcast or dial the international country code for Kenya. I mean, really people, he's like so inexperienced that he probably, like, only sees Kenya through a boy's eyes.

In fact, this just proves he's a sleeper again for Invade US From Kenya and Create A Revolution (IUSFKCAR) Front. That and he's so obviously Muslim and will turn our fine land into a Shia Province of the New Messanic Empire of Islam.

Posted by: Nobcentral on January 9, 2008 at 9:01 AM | PERMALINK

More seriously, let me just point out that Obama has already done more the help alleviate tensions and end the violence in Kenya than the current, sitting administration. People say he's all talk and no action. I'd say this is an example that "people" are wrong.

Posted by: Nobcentral on January 9, 2008 at 9:06 AM | PERMALINK

My daughter performed her "Study Abroad" in Kenya recently.

She reminded me that calling them "tribes" is very insulting to the Kenyans. Also, they do NOT live in "huts." More like "shacks," which is a pity in itself.

They are pretty pissed at the US right now because of Bush's neglect. They absolutely loved Clinton because of the tiny amount of attention he paid to Africa.

Unfortunately, she is hearing that they want Obama to stay out of it - he is an outsider - although maybe my daughter is hearing mostly from Kibaki supporters.

Posted by: Tripp on January 9, 2008 at 10:08 AM | PERMALINK

Barack Obama is quite the character. He has a lot on his plate and make it in his best effort to remedy the situation currently happening in Kenya.

Posted by: Nascar on January 9, 2008 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK

Reviewing Obama's "Dreams from My Father" suggests that it's unlikely that Obama's fellow Luo tribesman Raila Odinga is actually his first cousin. Odinga's mother's name is Mary, and none of the listed four children of Obama's polygamous grandfather by his three wives were named "Mary." But, the two politicians may well be more distant kinsmen -- they are Luo, and their families are from villages within 50 miles of each other.

Presumably, Odinga is trying to create some momentum within Kenya for overturning the election by suggesting to his fellow Kenyans that come 1/20/09, he will have a relative in the White House. After all, America helped overturn election results in Serbia and Ukraine, so why not in Kenya? Obama should speak out publicly to defuse expectations widespread among the Luo that his election would lead to America supporting Luo tribal interests in internal Kenyan politics.

Posted by: Steve Sailer on January 9, 2008 at 8:30 PM | PERMALINK



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