WASHINGTON—Retired Air Force Gen. Scott Gration, who accompanied Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) on his trip to Kenya in 2006, on Monday defended Obama’s trying on local garb over his clothes during a visit to the rural Wajir region in the country, a picture of which is at the top right now of the Drudge Report. LINK
Obama was merely being a “great guest,” Gration said.
The main story on the Drudge Report on Monday shows Obama fitted as a "Somali Elder” and Drudge’s story said “Clinton staffers” –who were not named--were circulating the picture.
The Obama campaign said release of this photo was “fear mongering” and “ divisive.” The Clinton campaign said the senator has been widely photographed wearing traditional dress, suggesting that there was nothing to raise a fuss about.
Gration was with Obama on every leg of the African visit, including Wajir, an area that often does not get the attention of foreign visitors. Obama, whose father was Kenyan, was treated as a head-of-state during the visit, part of a multi-nation trip of which Kenya was the highlight. Obama, his wife Michelle, their two daughters and friends accompanied them on the Kenya leg of the trip.
Gration is a Swahili-speaking retired Air Force major general, a native of St. Charles, Ill., who spent much of his youth in Africa. I asked him about the circumstances surrounding the photo during a conference call the Obama campaign organized as a prebuttal to a major foreign policy speech Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) will deliver today in Washington. The just completed call featured Obama foreign policy advisors Susan Rice, Gration and former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig.
“I was along on that picture,” Gration said. They were seeing a “community mobilization” in Wajir and witnessed the “live auction” of camels and other livestock..
During the course of this, Obama was given an outfit, and “as a great guest,” he tried it on, much in the way, Gration said, people “try on Christmas gifts” they may not want to keep.
Obama did “what any leader should do…accept the gift, accept the hospitality,” said Gration. Obama was “accepting a gift of friendship in a way we expect,” he said.
Rice, who served as an African expert in President Clinton’s White House, said release of the photo was designed “to be divisive.’’ But she also noted that President Clinton had himself dressed in kinte cloth as part of respecting local customs and cultures.
The reporters covering Obama on the trip did not accompany Obama to Wajir, told that there were too many logistical challenges to getting many people to a remote site for a short visit.
Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said in a statement, release of the photo “On the very day that Senator Clinton is giving a speech about restoring respect for America in the world, her campaign has engaged in the most shameful, offensive fear-mongering we’ve seen from either party in this election. This is part of a disturbing pattern that led her county chairs to resign in Iowa, her campaign chairman to resign in New Hampshire, and it’s exactly the kind of divisive politics that turns away Americans of all parties and diminishes respect for America in the world.”
Clinton campaign manager Maggie Williams countered in a statement, “If Barack Obama's campaign wants to suggest that a photo of him wearing traditional Somali clothing is divisive, they should be ashamed. Hillary Clinton has worn the traditional clothing of countries she has visited and had those photos published widely.