Obama, Anticolonial Hegemonist?
Dinesh D’Souza has authored what may possibly be the most ridiculous piece of Obama analysis yet written. He takes a number of decisions Obama has made on a grab-bag of issues, declares that they are “odd,” and then proceeds to explain the “oddness” he has perceived by cooking up a bizarre thesis that Obama is a die-hard anticolonialist dedicated to his father’s anticolonialist legacy. That must be why he aspired to become President of the world’s remaining superpower and military hegemon–because he secretly loathes the exercise of Western power and wants to rein it in! It must be his deeply-held anticolonialist beliefs that have led him to escalate the U.S. role in Afghanistan, launch numerous drone strikes on Pakistan, and authorize the assassination of U.S. citizens in the name of antiterrorism. Yes, zealous anticolonialism is the obvious answer. Even for D’Souza, whose last book was a strange exercise in blaming Western moral decadence for Islamic terrorism, this is simply stupid. Perhaps most painful of all is D’Souza’s condescending claim that ignorant Americans aren’t familiar with anticolonialism, and that because he is an Indian he can educate all of us about it.
Even if Obama were anticolonialist, it wouldn’t actually explain why he is “anti-business,” but then you would have to believe that he is strongly anti-business in the first place. D’Souza’s initial assumption that Obama is “the most antibusiness president in a generation, perhaps in American history” is not much more than assertion. Viewed from most places in the country, Obama does not appear anti-business at all, but rather he seems pitifully captive to business interests in the worst way. One can find this reassuring or disturbing, but that is the reality.
It is hardly necessary to delve deeply into the Kenyan past or trace the roots of anticolonialist thought to discern why Obama, a thoroughly conventional center-left Democrat, favors raising taxes on wealthier people. This is a standard part of the Democratic agenda and has been for the last decade. Having opposed tax cuts for wealthier Americans earlier in the decade, Democrats are continuing to be against them. This is not mystifying. What is a little mystifying is why so many conservative pundits and writers feel the need to construct preposterous, overly-complicated Obama theories to explain what is perfectly obvious and straightforward.
D’Souza’s comments on foreign policy are even more misguided. First of all, he lumps in the Park51 project with his discussion of Obama’s foreign policy. Last I checked, Manhattan was still part of the United States, so anything Obama had to say about this really wasn’t a matter of foreign policy. Proposing to use NASA in some sort of multiculti outreach is silly, but it doesn’t reflect latent anticolonialism. It represents a clumsy and pointless exercise in showing that the U.S. “respects” Muslims at the same time that it continues to occupy and bomb Muslim countries and subsidize and arm states that subject Muslims to political repression. It is an easy gesture that costs us nothing and means nothing. Given that NASA is an enormously wasteful and unnecessary government agency that serves no real purpose, I find it hard to see how making its mission as modest as possible is a bad thing.
D’Souza trots out the very tired, already old canard that Obama does not believe in American exceptionalism. Even though he repeatedly said that his life story was possible “only in America” and he has repeated countless times his belief in the uniqueness, special role and exceptional qualities of America, because of one ambiguous answer he gave in a press conference overseas his critics have managed to figure out that Obama rejects something he explicitly endorses. It should worry them that they are leaning so heavily on such a thin reed, but these critics seem oblivious to how weak their argument is.
It is appropriate that the rest of D’Souza’s argument relies on imputing an ideology to Obama, anticolonialism, that he obviously does not accept. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that D’Souza has defined anticolonialism correctly. He writes:
Anticolonialism is the doctrine that rich countries of the West got rich by invading, occupying and looting poor countries of Asia, Africa and South America.
That claim about the source of Western prosperity is mostly untrue, but it certainly is true that there were many colonial powers that did invade, occupy and loot countries in Asia, Africa and South America. If Obama were an “anti-colonialist” in that he regards the old colonial empires poorly, this would actually put him very much in the American tradition and specifically in the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist tradition of the Democratic Party for much of the last century. That isn’t what D’Souza is claiming. He’s claiming that Obama is a “Third World” anti-colonialist and completely divorced from the American experience.
D’Souza goes on:
Anticolonialists hold that even when countries secure political independence they remain economically dependent on their former captors.
This is hardly a controversial or strange idea. Newly independent, former colonies very often are economically dependent on their former rulers. This was true of the United States to some extent for more than a century after independence, and it has been true in many other cases. One need only look at the former Soviet Union and the continued dependence of many states on Russia as a major supplier of resources or as a major market for their goods and labor. Regardless, what does this have to do with Obama? Obama is actually a firm believer in the inevitability and desirability of global interdependence, and he seems to believe that neoliberal trade policy is an important part of this. On the whole, people who take anticolonialist arguments seriously do not like globalization or neoliberal trade policy, because they view these arrangements as exploitative, and there is zero evidence that Obama shares these views. There is substantial evidence showing that he does not share these views.
In case you hadn’t figured it out already, D’Souza makes his point explicit:
It may seem incredible to suggest that the anticolonial ideology of Barack Obama Sr. is espoused by his son, the President of the United States. That is what I am saying.
This is not incredible. It is inexcusably moronic. It is ideological Birtherism. What I mean by that is that D’Souza’s argument is another example of the embarrassing insistence coming from the right that America did not really produce Obama or the political views he holds and that the only way to understand him is to look elsewhere. For starters, it simply isn’t true that Obama “learned to see America as a force for global domination and destruction.” He did not come “to view America’s military as an instrument of neocolonial occupation.” Even when U.S. policies might have given him reason to see things that way over the decades, Obama did not see things that way.
All in all, D’Souza’s article reads like a bad conspiracy theory. On Obama’s support for progressive taxation, he writes:
If Obama shares his father’s anticolonial crusade, that would explain why he wants people who are already paying close to 50% of their income in overall taxes to pay even more.
Or it could be that he believes that taxation should be highly progressive. Which seems more plausible?
On the Park51 project:
Obama supports the Ground Zero mosque because to him 9/11 is the event that unleashed the American bogey and pushed us into Iraq and Afghanistan.
Then again, perhaps he thinks a community center run by ecumenist Muslims that will have worship centers for Jews and Christians on private property with the overwhelming support of the local community is a remarkably peaceable and inoffensive endeavor. Which one makes more sense? Once again, this is the President who escalated the war in Afghanistan we’re talking about. If anyone is “unleashing the American bogey” from the anticolonialist perspective, it is Obama himself. While we’re on the subject, 9/11 did not push us into Iraq, and Obama would be the last one to believe that. As an opponent of the invasion, surely Obama would think that America foolishly jumped into Iraq, and he would not associate invading Iraq with 9/11, because they are not really related.
Considering how atrocious D’Souza’s argument is, why spend any time answering it? For one thing, when nonsense like this isn’t countered it tends to gain traction. Another reason is that conservative pundits and writers such as D’Souza have been indulging in so much evidence-free, ideological babbling for the last two years that many of them now seem convinced that this babbling is actually extremely serious, insightful commentary. If we are going to have anything remotely resembling an honest or informed debate over foreign policy or anything else during the remainder of Obama’s time in office, arguments like this one have to be knocked down.