Obama: A Man at Home in the World

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He was just a college kid, vagabonding around the world. But Barack Obama says the weeks he spent traveling through Pakistan in 1981 shaped the views that he still holds today—and that he would bring into the White House. Obama remembers most vividly the desperation and hopelessness—"essentially a feudal life"—he witnessed in the countryside surrounding Karachi, a city that is today a hotbed of jihadist activity. At the tender age of 20, Obama suggested, he was already beginning to understand more about what ailed Muslim societies—what generated terrorism and fratricidal conflicts—than George W. Bush or John McCain do today. "Both as a consequence of living in Indonesia and traveling in Pakistan, having friends in college who were Muslim, I was very clear about the history of Shia-Sunni antagonism"—which is one reason why, as an Illinois state senator 21 years later, he opposed the war in Iraq, Obama told NEWSWEEK last week. "This notion that somehow we were going to be able to create a functioning democracy and reconcile century-old conflicts, I always thought was a bunch of happy talk from this administration."

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