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Barack Obama is perhaps the least known figure ever to enter the White House. A set of very unusual circumstances, including an economic nose-dive just a few weeks before the election, put him there. Only now, almost two years into his presidency, Americans are starting to ask: who is Barack Obama? This was the title of a recent column in the Washington Post by Richard Cohen. The question was not about Obama's policies; everyone knows about those. Rather, it was one of Obama's underlying ideology. What motivates this man?

A picture of Barack Obama Sr in his Kenyan home (GETTY IMAGES) 

Europeans are routinely given a pre-packaged portrait of Obama: he is an historic figure, the first African-American president; he is the embodiment of multiracialism and multiculturalism; he is a cosmopolitan, in refreshing contrast to his parochial predecessor; and he looks and speaks the way that many in the world think an American president ought to look and speak. Consequently, Obama's critics are often dismissed in Europe as a bunch of right-wing fanatics, otherwise known as the Tea Party movement.

So goes the usual propaganda. It was pretty much the same propaganda that helped Obama win. But now Americans have had the opportunity to see what Obama is all about and most of them don't like it. Obama's popularity has plummeted. Quite apart from the insatiable right-wing, many moderates and independents who voted for Obama are now suffering buyer's remorse.

Even some of Obama's supporters profess to being mystified by what moves the man. Appearing on a TV show, Newsweek editor Evan Thomas said he found himself curiously repelled by a president with whose ideas he generally agreed. Thomas called Obama "slightly creepy" and "deeply manipulative". He suggested that there was something fake and unreal about Obama's public persona. 

Theories about Obama abound. On the Left, he is sometimes portrayed as a champion of the civil rights movement, a kind of latter-day Martin Luther King. On the Right, Obama is often described as a closet Muslim or more often as a kind of socialist. Neither of these quite works. Obama has never sat at a segregated lunch counter. In a sense, he's not even African-American. In the US, this means you are descended from slaves. Obama's father was an educated immigrant from Kenya and his mother was a white woman from Kansas. Obama's formative experience, in Hawaii, Indonesia and Kenya, seems very remote from that of Martin Luther King.

There is no evidence that Obama is a Muslim. His father Barack Obama Sr was raised as a Muslim, the consequence of his grand-father Onyango Obama converting to Islam. His stepfather Lolo Soetoro was also raised in the Islamic faith. But neither man practised Islam, and Obama writes that his father treated Islam with the same contempt he reserved for African witch doctors. Obama studied Islam in Indonesia, where he lived for four years, but he also studied Catholicism and Buddhism and he seems to have emerged with no firm religious convictions at all.

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August 28th, 2012
6:08 PM
Love this story. I am going to go and see the movie 2016 today. And everyone needs to do the same, it will open your eyes to what Obama has in his plans for our country. I hear it did not go far enough to explain Obama though. He is determined to destroy our country and to bankrupt it too.

May 11th, 2012
2:05 PM
I just found this article, while looking into my presidents history. I have to say this is absolutely true and is the best analogy I have heard yet! Thank you for writing this, it explains a lot about the president. I am ashamed as an American for the return of the bust and our presidents lack of loyalty to our allies. By the time he is done with his term in office you will no longer recognize my country. It is hard to recognize it now. So sad to watch my country crumble under this administration.

February 12th, 2012
3:02 PM
D'Souza's article is a wonderfully useful example of how it is possible to carefully pick one's way through the complexity of a Presdient's actions to sustain a preconception. Thus while much is made of Obama's not having (yet) taken forecful action against Iran, the article manages not to mention Bin Laden or Libya. In both cases Obama's moves do not fit D'Souza's Obama-as-anticolonial theme and so they are conveniently ignored. As for colonialism being dead, go tell that to indigenous people in Canada, Australia, the USA and Brazil.

Not Convinced
December 10th, 2010
8:12 AM
I suspect that Obama did not write either of his two books. To understand him we need to check his early mentors and his father was not one of them. He is certainly very left, very inexperienced and extremely ignorant on religious doctrine and comparative religion. He means well, poor man, but he is so ignorant and immature that he is going to be useful long after he has left the White House, and not before.

November 26th, 2010
1:11 AM
curiously, the last "anti-colonialist" has nothing to say about his feudalist ally Morocco, and West Sahara, or Turkey in Kurdistan and Cyprus et al... he is very selective

November 25th, 2010
11:11 PM
obama is the typical snobish kid from harvard, he has been educated with edward said and noam chomsky books. plus, he got that messianic complex, he thinks he can really bring "peace" all around the world, a second jimmy carter clearly, a dangerous charlatan

November 20th, 2010
6:11 PM
The first paragraph on this page is enough to show that you are not serious. The huge budget deficits, and therefore America's dependence on China, started when George W Bush decided to start two wars while cutting taxes. So maybe Bush was the real socialist...

November 5th, 2010
3:11 AM
This fact that you have even featured this rant, and advertised it on the cover of your magazine is an indication of how culturally, intellectually, and morally bankrupt you have become.

November 4th, 2010
1:11 PM
Fascinating analysis, which helps explain Obama's bizarre acquiescence to the demands of Russia over the missile shield; the demands of the Arabs in the Israeli-Arab conflict; the demands of Argentina in their attempts to legitimise the desire for the Falklands; the Islamofascist Mullahs of Iran and Muslims everywhere in their dislike of the West. My only criticism is that D'Souza seems to imply when saying that Obama's anti-colonialist socialism is antiquated and ossified, that it ever was a rational or sensible political/economic model. Socialism never has been and never will be. For all our sakes, I hope he's defeated in 2012.

Steffan John
November 3rd, 2010
9:11 PM
This is terrible analysis, on numerous points. Obama opposed the Iraq war, but he was always committed to Afghan war because he saw it as fundamentally necessary to American interests, and the necessary response to 9/11. Just listen to his Nobel acceptance speech, and see the distraught faces of the audience who clearly regretted their decision as they realised that he was defending not just the war, but War itself. Yes he reduced US nuclear arms - as did Bush and every other President. 6500 nukes are entirely pointless, and even halving that number will do nothing to 'weaken' the US, as any credible strategist will tell you. Obama's been pretty open about his influence - his main one being the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, the father of anti-communist, Christian Realism. Obama's a '48 Democrat - holding the same realism as Hans Morgenthau and George Kennan. The former essentially founded American International Relations, convinced America to fight communism rather than appease it, and went on to being an early critic of the Vietnam War; the latter founded the aggressive doctine of containment, and at the age of 102, opposed the second Iraq War. He is not a '68 Democrat, nor an anti-colonialist (he's shown little or no interest in Kenya since his election for example - certainly less than Bush did). Niebuhr was quite a radical thinker during the '30s, but ameliorated himself to the establishemnt. Obama - being funded by Wall Street, with a Mitt-Romney-inspired health care system which doesn't challenge corporate power - is actually very mainstream. This article is high on innuendo, but low on any evidence - the only 'evidence' of which is his continuation of Bush's policy on nukes, and implementing Romney's health-care plan. Just because Obama's 'a bit foreign', people seem to accept any story, rather than read his actual intellectual influences, which he's been pretty explicit about.

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