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This brings us to Dinesh D’Souza’s spectacular conspiracy theory, laid out with architectural logic in The Roots of Obama’s Rage. Although leftists and libertarians generally have dismissed the book as a psychotic screed, those of us who wish to end the American empire should nonetheless hope that D’Souza’s mind-bending thesis is correct. According to D’Souza, Obama’s aggressive foreign policies are actually part of an elaborate scheme to end what the president sees as the “wars of imperial aggression” in Iraq and Afghanistan and to withdraw the United States, which he considers “the last of the neocolonial powers,” from the world outside its borders. Obama’s alleged plan for Iraq is to wait for it to stabilize, “then say the troops aren’t needed any more,” and pull them all out. As for Afghanistan, Obama’s surge was simply a way for the president, who actually “doesn’t want to win” the war, to be able to later withdraw all the troops and still “seem tough on terrorism.” Why? Because “for an anti-colonialist like him, winning in Iraq is bad enough, but to win in Afghanistan also would be a nightmare! Think of what two victories in a row would do to America’s arrogance, and to its appetite for further wars of imperial aggression.” Motivating this grand subversion, according to D’Souza, is Obama’s devotion to the anti-colonial beliefs of his late father, Barack Obama Sr., who served as an official in the Kenyan government shortly after independence.
As much as I wish this were all true, the fatal flaw in D’Souza’s argument is that the senior Obama’s anti-colonialism did not include an antipathy toward American influence, even in his home country. In fact, the president’s father was a client of the United States.
Although D’Souza portrays Tom Mboya, Obama Sr.’s mentor and patron, as the original source of both Obamas’ alleged anti-colonialist passion, there is wide agreement among scholars of post-independence Kenyan politics that while Mboya was consistently opposed to European colonialism—his slogan was “To Hell With European Domination”—he was always a friend and beneficiary of American neocolonialism. When he was a 26-year-old rising leader in the Kenyan labor movement, Mboya made a speaking tour of American college campuses, during which he was recruited by representatives of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), an anti-communist, pro-U.S. federation of trade unions that was jointly financed by the AFL-CIO and the U.S. State Department and received many of its directives from the CIA. Mboya formally joined the ICFTU in 1959 and for the rest of his life worked closely with the federation and received its continued financial support. This fact has been known since shortly after Mboya’s assassination in 1969, when Ramparts reported the following: “The CIA’s program in Kenya could be summed up as one of selective liberation. The chief beneficiary was Tom Mboya.…Mboya was ideal for the CIA’s purposes—the main nationalist hero and eventual chief of state Jomo Kenyatta, not being considered sufficiently safe.” D’Souza mentions none of this.
For D’Souza, the key piece of evidence linking Mboya’s alleged anti-colonialism with Obama Jr.’s alleged anti-Americanism is an article written by Obama Sr. in 1965, which elaborated Mboya’s political beliefs. The main, damning point in it, according to D’Souza, is the following: “The question is how are we going to remove the disparities in our country, such as the concentration of economic power in Asian and European hands, while not destroying what has already been achieved and at the same time assimilating these groups to build one country?…One need not be a Kenyan to note that nearly all commercial enterprises…and industries are mostly owned by Asians and Europeans. One need not be a Kenyan to note that when one goes to a good restaurant he mostly finds Asians and Europeans, nor has he to be a Kenyan to see that the majority of cars running in Kenya are run by Asians and Europeans.” But this is precisely why Mboya was chosen by the CIA as its front man in Kenya: He and his disciples opposed America’s rivals there. Obama Sr., like his son, devoted his career not to bringing down the American empire but to installing it in place of the declining colonial powers.
Anyone who reads these books with a knowledge of the relevant information that is left out of them—namely, the history of U.S. involvement in Indonesia and Kenya—will find it difficult to take them seriously. But a reader who connects the dots between that history and the stories these books tell should find it not only unsurprising but also predictable that a brown-skinned man “with a funny name” has taken up the long American project of killing people with names and complexions like his in order to save them.
Thaddeus Russell is the author of A Renegade History of the United States (Free Press).