Why Barack Obama Doesn’t Much Care for Britain

Posted on Sat 12/11/2010 by


By Daniel Hannan

Obama Kenya

On the visit to Kenya that shaped his view of the world.

Let’s review the evidence. President Obama received from Gordon Brown a pen-holder made from the timbers of a Royal Navy anti-slavery vessel, and reciprocated with DVDs. He silkily downgraded the UK from “our closest ally” to “one of our allies”. He gave the Queen an iPod full of his own speeches. He used the Louisiana oil spill to attack an imaginary company called “British Petroleum” (it has been BP for the past decade, ever since the merger with Amoco gave it as many American as British shareholders). He sent a bust of Winston Churchill back to the British Embassy. He managed, on his visit to West Africa, to refer to the struggle for independence, but not to the Royal Navy’s campaign against slavery. He has refused to acknowledge our presence in Afghanistan in any major speech. He has even come dangerously close to backing Peronist Argentina’s claim to the Falkland Islands. There’s no getting away from it: Barack Obama doesn’t much like Limeys.

What has he got against us? The conventional answer is that he is bitter about the way his grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, was interned during the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya. But this explanation doesn’t fit with what Obama himself has written. Barack never knew his grandfather, but what he later found out repelled him. Despite his detention, Onyango remained something of an imperialist, believing that the British had earned their place in Kenya through superior organisation. He even used to argue that Africans were too lazy to make a success of independence. The young Obama was horrified: “I had imagined him to be a man of his people, opposed to white rule,” he wrote in Dreams from my Father. “What Granny [Sarah Obama, one of Onyango’s wives] had told me scrambled that image completely, causing ugly words to flash across my mind. Uncle Tom. Collaborator. House nigger.”

No, the 44th president’s antipathy comes not from the grandfather he disdained, but from the father he worshipped – albeit from a distance. Barack Obama Senior abandoned Obama’s mother, and had almost nothing to do with the young Barry (as he was known throughout his childhood and adolescence). He did, however, make one journey to Hawaii which had an enormous impact on the ten-year-old future president. Barry, as boys sometimes do, had been telling tall tales about his absent father. He had implied to his classmates that Barack Senior was a great chief, and that he would himself one day inherit the tribal leadership. He was mortified when his class teacher asked his father to talk to the class, fearing that his fibs would be exposed. His anxieties vanished as the handsome Kenyan strode into the room in African dress, and proceeded to give a talk which was the defining moment of Barry’s childhood:

He was leaning against Miss Hefty’s thick oak desk and describing the deep gash in the earth where mankind had first appeared. He spoke of the wild animals that still roamed the plains, the tribes that still required a young boy to kill a lion to prove his manhood. He spoke of the customs of the Luo, how elders received the utmost respect and made laws for all to follow under great-trunked trees. And he told us of Kenya’s struggle to be free, how the British had wanted to stay and unjustly rule the people, just as they had in America; how many had been enslaved only because of the color of their skin, just as they had in America, but that Kenyans, like all of us in the room, longed to be free and develop themselves through hard work and sacrifice.

In The Roots of Obama’s Rage, the American author Dinesh D’Souza advances the theory that Obama’s world-view is based on his father’s  anti-colonialism. The mistake that every other analyst has made, argues D’Souza, is to try to fit Obama into America’s racial narrative. But the battle for civil rights is only tangentially a part of his story. Indeed, he has infuriated many black political organisations by refusing to take up the issues that they care about, such as the minimum wage and affirmative action. His struggle was not that against desegregation in Mississippi but that of Southern colonies against Northern colonists, of expropriated peoples against those who had plundered them.

Only this explanation fits all the facts, argues D’Souza. For example, Obama’s climate change policies make little sense either as an attempt to slow global warming or as a way to make the US more popular. But they make perfect sense as a mechanism for the redistribution of wealth from rich nations to poor. (D’Souza notes, as an instance, the way in which the Obama administration has banned offshore drilling in the US while sponsoring it in Brazil). The same is true of his enthusiasm for nuclear disarmament. It seems bizarre to be pursuing the elimination of atomic weapons in a forum that doesn’t include Iran or North Korea. But, argues D’Souza, this isn’t really about Iran or North Korea. It’s about making America a less warlike, less intimidating, less – in a word – imperial nation.

Some will dismiss D’Souza as an angry conservative. In fact, until now, he has said nothing critical about his president. He is obviously uncomfortable with shrill attacks on Obama that alienated so many people (including me) at the 2008 election (“he’s a Muslim, he’s a Marxist, he pals around with terrorists, where’s his birth certificate blah blah”). An Indian immigrant himself, D’Souza has no time for those who imply, however eliptically, that Obama is somehow un-American. Nor does he believe that the president is a socialist. Indeed, as he shows in his book, socialism – in the traditional sense of state control of the economy – is a very inexact description of Obama’s strategy. Obamanomics is far better understood as an attempt to redistribute wealth – which, to the anti-colonialist mind, is simply an act of restitution.

Stated baldly, D’Souza’s thesis sounds improbable. But he backs his assertions with a mass of evidence from the best possible source: Obama’s own words. Think about the title of his book. It’s not Dreams of my Father, but Dreams from my Father. What were those dreams? They were the dreams of a 1950s Kenyan trade union activist. The rich got rich by taking from the poor, the imbalance of wealth in the world is the chief ill of our times, the system is rigged in favour of industrialised countries, etc. These ideas, associated as they were with the father whom he idealised, became the template of the young Barry’s thinking. They explain why, in early adulthood, he Africanised his name. They explain, as no other theory does, his relationship with Jeremiah Wright. American conservatives have focused on Wright’s loopier Afrocentric theories; but Obama plainly doesn’t share these views. What observers tend to miss is the centrality of anti-colonialism to Wright’s sermons. We have watched, over and over again, the passage about America’s chickens coming home to roost. What is in many ways more representative is the passage that came immediately before:

We took this country by terror away from the Sioux, the Apache, the Iroquois, the Comanche, the Arapaho, the Navajo. Terrorism. We took Africans from their country to build our way of ease and kept them enslaved and living in fear. Terrorism. We bombed Grenada and killed innocent civilians, babies, non-military personnel; we bombed the black civilian community of Panama, with stealth bombers, and killed unarmed teenagers and toddlers, pregnant mothers and hard-working fathers. We’ve bombed Gaddafi’s home and killed his child. “Blessed are they who bash your children’s heads against the rocks.” We bombed Iraq; we killed unarmed civilians trying to make a living. We bombed a plant in Sudan to pay back an attack on our embassy. Killed hundreds of hard-working people, mothers and fathers who left home to go that day, not knowing that they would never get back home. We’ve bombed Hiroshima, we’ve bombed Nagasaki, we’ve nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon and we never batted an eye. Kids playing in the playground, mothers picking up children after school, civilians not soldiers, people just trying to make it day by day. We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant. Because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back into our own front yards.

Now anti-colonialism is not the same thing as anti-Americanism. On the contrary, a measure of anti-colonialism was encoded in the DNA of the new republic, as Obama reminded his Inauguration Day audience (”In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river.  The capital was abandoned.  The enemy was advancing.  The snow was stained with blood…”) Although the US has had some minor colonial adventures – Guam, the Philippines, Puerto Rico – most Americans think of themselves, quite sincerely, as opponents of empire. Obama does not, as his more hysterical critics allege, “hate America”. As he sees it, making America more peacable, more internationalist and more engaged with global institutions is in the national interest. He may be wrong, but I don’t doubt that, after his fashion, he loves his country.

Ours is a different matter. Britain created the greatest and most extensive empire the world has known. For Obama, Winston Churchill is not simply the man who defeated Nazism; he is also the man who defeated the Mau Mau insurrection. No wonder he didn’t want to have the bust in his office. For Obama, the Falkland Islands are not a democratic society threatened by an autocratic aggressor, but a colonial relic.

Of course, I might be wrong about all this. Perhaps D’Souza’s interpretation is fanciful. Perhaps Obama appreciates that we are the only country that can generally be relied on to deploy troops in serious numbers alongside our American allies. If this is the case, it would be nice to hear him say so.

FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributor Daniel Hannan is a British writer and journalist, and has been Conservative MEP for South East England since 1999. He speaks French and Spanish and loves Europe, but believes that the EU is making its constituent nations poorer, less democratic and less free. He is the winner of the Bastiat Award for online journalism.

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