Now that President Obama has done the right thing and joined other countries in creating the no-fly zone over Libya, one wonders what took so long ? If the goal – as stated – was the humanitarian interest in preserving the lives of innocent Libyans, such as they are, then would it not have made more sense to enforce the no-fly zone (depriving Khadafy of his capacity to indiscriminately bomb his victims from the air) before thousands were killed, rather than after ? Certainly, some review was appropriate so as not to commit American troops hastily into a foreign civil war – but a full month while death was raining down from above ? And after the rebels were near defeat ? Why would Obama hesitate and – read this twice, for emphasis – have to be dragged by the French of all people into a military conflict ? And isn’t it even odder for a president to send US forces into harm’s way while he is in South America on an unrelated foreign trip ?
These puzzles, and much else about Barack Obama and his policies, might be explained by a recent book entitled “The Roots of Obama’s Rage,” by the conservative, Indian-born commentator, Dinesh D’Souza. D’Souza explores the enduring mystery of Obama the person: deep into his first term, Obama is obviously an historic president but he is also still a relative unknown. It is fair to say that Obama is the most unknown president in American history, both before he was elected with the skimpiest of professional resumes and even today. Of course, we need not descend into conspiracy-theory land (Obama the Kenyan ! Obama the Alien !), even though Obama has fueled these myths by refusing (as all presidential candidates have done for almost a half-century) to release his birth certificate, school and college applications and transcripts, and perhaps even health records.
The outline of his story is famous for the revealed and for the obscured. Conceived out of wedlock by a Kenyan father (Barack Obama, Sr.) and Kansan mother soon after they met in Hawaii, they married, with Obama, Sr. neglecting to tell his new wife that he was already married with children in Kenya. He abandoned them, moved to study at Harvard, and impregnated another woman there, returning with her to Kenya and his original family. Mother (Stanley Ann Dunham) and son (Barack Obama Jr.) lived in Hawaii, moved to Indonesia with her second husband, where young Obama lived and was educated for four years. She then sent him back to Hawaii to live with her parents, and from age ten on had little to do with his biological parents.
Obama was an average student at Occidental College in Los Angeles (he refuses to release his grades), then transferred to Columbia where few people recall him (again, no transcripts). He soon went to work as community organizer in the black districts of Chicago, adopting the tactics of veteran rabble-rouser Saul Alinsky which read like a campaign manual: adopt the style of the middle class – it is less threatening; be square, wear a suit and tie, never be angry; project yourselves as part of the cultural mainstream; and present as a nice young man, always smiling. “Smiles are a great way to disguise rage and contempt.” This way, “rapport” would be built with average Americans. Obama explicitly disdained the shakedown style of Jesse Jackson, even prompting an off-hand statement from Jackson during the campaign that he would like to dismember Obama whom he feared would put him out of business. (In a sense he has – Obama marginalized the charge that the United States and its business community are racist, and the latter no longer feel inclined to pay the Jackson blackmail. Al Sharpton, by contrast, has adjusted and tried to mainstream.)
Obama always struck me as rootless and lacking a real sense of an American identity. Hence, his rejection of American exceptionalism, his relentless apologies to various dictators and potentates across the globe for American imperialism, and his perception of the United States as just another country, one of 210 in the United Nations. Part of his struggles is obviously rooted in his mixed-race status, although it is interesting that in high-school (in wildly multi-cultural Hawaii), he was known as Barry and did not identify as a “black.” D’Souza notes parenthetically that he, an Indian, is darker-skinned than Obama, but would never classify himself as “black.” That was done for political reasons in college; yet, Obama never really played the race card himself, and part of his attraction to white voters in 2008 was that he presented as a “safe black” – the anti-Jesse Jackson, not a shakedown hustler – but one who could act white and transcend race. So why did he align himself with Jeremiah Wright and his church of rabid US-haters ? Not for reasons of race alone, and it all goes back to his absent father.
Barack Obama saw his father but one time during his entire life – at age ten, when his father came on a brief visit to Hawaii. Yet, Obama admittedly sees himself as fulfilling his father’s dreams and destiny – and even called his first book “Dreams from my Father.” Note that well, D’Souza emphasizes, it is not “Dreams of My Father” but “Dreams from My Father.” D’Souza posits that Obama has spent his life implementing his father’s social goals and politics. So, beyond the brief sketch above, who was Obama Sr., and how is he posthumously running our lives ?
D’Souza’s theory is that Obama is not motivated by race but by another loaded concept, anti-colonialism, and this is his father’s legacy. Obama’s father was involved in the anti-British rebellion in Kenya in the 1950s, and his family (especially his grandfather who kowtowed to the British and therefore disgusted Obama Jr.) suffered under the British. Obama Sr., upon his return from America, took a government job in Kenya. He was an economist by training, but more importantly defined himself as an “African socialist” who felt that undoing colonialism meant having African state control over the means and sources of production – i.e., a state-planned and controlled economy. When Jomo Kenyatta became president of Kenya and embraced the free market, Sr. found himself without a government job – or any job. His life spiraled out of control, and he became a raging alcoholic. In one drunken car crash, he lost both his legs, and in another – his last – he crashed into a tree again driving while intoxicated. He died, penniless, at age 46.
Obama understandably idolized his father, around whom he concocted a past of nobility and success. (His half-brothers, who spent more time around their father, have no such illusions.) Interestingly, and like other politicians whose recollections are not corroborated by facts, Obama claimed during the campaign that his father came to US after the riots in Birmingham and Selma induced President Kennedy to offer college scholarships to promising African students. On the campaign trail, he even thanked the good people of Selma whose protests brought his father to America and enabled Obama Jr. to be born. Great story – unfortunately, the riots took place in 1963, but Obama Sr. arrived in America in 1959 – long before Birmingham, Selma and Kennedy. Obama himself was born in 1961 !
But Obama absorbed from his father – and his mother – a strain of anti-colonialism that surreptitiously shapes his life and policies. In short, he perceives America as his father did the British – and as Africans, Asians, and South Americans perceived Europeans (and Americans, where appropriate) – as colonizers, imperialists and exploiters of the poor.
D’Souza contends that anti-colonialism explains Obama’s personality and policies (and endanger America’s future). Consider what Obama has done since he took office:
1) Remove the bust of Winston Churchill that graced the Oval Office – ostensibly a tribute to a great American ally but to Obama a symbol of British colonial rule, and the prime minister who suppressed the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya;
2) Attempt to close Guantanamo, even without considering realistic alternatives – to him, a symbol of American imperialistic overreach in other countries;
3) Apologize for American actions across world – especially to Muslim, African and South American worlds – without even mentioning the virtuous aspects of American intervention or culture;
4) Refuse to allow offshore drilling in US (but, oddly, subsidizing off-shore drilling in Brazil – for Brazil). This cripples US oil production, and essentially transfers wealth from the colonizer to the colonized. America will be forced to import more and more oil, weakening the US economy, while benefiting the economies of the previously “exploited” regions;
5) Humble what Obama considers the “overclass,” the “fat cats” – by asserting control over US corporations, limiting both the salaries of CEOs and corporate profits, demanding and incentivizing the manufacturing of products that few want (electric cars), and limiting bank offerings and products. He even forced all banks to receive government bailouts – even those that didn’t need or request a bailout, just to have control for future mischief.)
6) Distance America from Israel – whom he perceives as another illicit colonizer;
7) Pay lip service to thwarting Iranian nuclear ambitions, but which he will do nothing to stop because that would be an “imperialistic” act.
8) Disrespect Britain and France (old Europe=colonizers), even spurning a dinner invitation from Sarkozy first time Obama visited Paris as president.
9) Complain that the US consumes too much (even though biggest emitters of carbon dioxide are India and China, who get a pass –one of the privileges of being the “colonized”;
10) Spend the US into dependent status that will either bankrupt country or lower the standard of living through the imposition of higher taxes – all to effect a transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor. Obama believes that the rich always get rich at the expense of the poor, and that the poor are always poor because of the nefarious deeds of the rich. American influence will surely decline as it becomes a debtor nation living at the whim of the Chinese.
11) Ram through health care reform, to provide (ultimately) the same care for all under the control of the government.
12) Construe US as rogue state, and ending talk of “war on terror.” Terrorists are criminals to be judged in courts; otherwise, the US seems like just another colonial power. And merely for alluding that he will effectively restrain US power and influence, and no longer lead, he received the Nobel Prize;
13) Criticize civil rights in the US whenever he criticizes it in foreign nations (e.g., comparing Chinese trafficking of women to some in the US who have old-fashioned views of women; comparing Turkish genocide of Armenians to US “treatment of native Americans.”)
14) Weaken alliances with America’s traditional allies, while unsuccessful in forging alliances with the Third World countries who have no natural affinity for US or democracy. Like many of this ilk, Obama disdains Netanyahu, Sarkozy, Cameron, et al, but has no objection to native tyrants (Zimbabwe, Hussein, Chavez) – only foreign ones.
This explains Obama’s attraction to Jeremiah Wright – it wasn’t the black empowerment or even the Jew-baiting but rather the anti-Americanism. Wright perceives America as an evil colonialist exploiter that uses its dominance and power for selfish and hateful ends. Those were the sermons that Barack Obama heard for 20 years. And it also explains why Obama hesitated on Libya and cannot wait to pull out American forces –in his mind, it is the act of a colonialist imposing its values on a backward country. Like other initiatives in his presidency (keeping Guantanamo open, for one, and the surge in Afghanistan, for another), Obama occasionally has to bend his will to the political reality in which he lives. Obama also feels a natural affinity for Latin American dictators, even more than for European prime ministers. He doesn’t seem to realize that the world benefits when America leads.
D’Souza notes that the point Obama misses most is that – despite the hardships – colonialism worked. India’s Prime Minister said recently at Oxford that, despite the past bitterness, with the perspective of time, it is clear that India benefited from the British rule (of more than two centuries) because the British fashioned for Indians concepts such as democracy, rule of law, free press, universities, etc. Both India and China have benefited enormously from free trade, and become critical parts of global economy. (That is the advantage of a poor country – they can pay low wages and make better export deals.) So hundreds of millions people have been lifted out of poverty in last 30 years in those two countries – but Obama opposes free trade agreements because he is beholden to American unions and because he feels such agreements always exploit the poorer country, despite the evidence to the contrary.
Ironically, Africa missed out on these developments because European colonialism did not endure on that continent for more than 50 years. Africa was thus never able to develop modern political institutions, and despite its great natural resources, Africans subsist in dire poverty and mostly under the rule of brutal dictatorships. The greater irony, D’Souza notes, is that Obama is the last anti-colonialist. If he were to see the advantages of colonial rule – followed by colonial departure – he would embrace a different type of American statecraft. But he can’t, paralyzed by the need to implement his father’s dreams.
In summary, D’Souza concludes that about Obama Sr. that “this philandering, inebriated African socialist is now setting the nation’s agenda through the reincarnation of his dreams in his son.” And that will continue, at least for another 22 months.
It is a good a theory as any I have heard.