Obama’s Radical Realism

obama handIn July, 2008, the Democratic candidate for the US presidency gave an address at the Brandenburg Gate. As many as 200,000 Berliners came to hear Barack Obama attempt to echo the heroic sentiments of two American leaders who came before him. “Ich bin ein Berliner,” declared President Kennedy back in 1963, throwing his—and America’s—lot in with the freedom-loving citizens of West Berlin. President Reagan, a quarter of a century later, took a step further and spoke for all the people of Berlin, including the unfortunate souls trapped in East Berlin: “Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” There were lines in Obama’s speech that very nearly sounded Kennedy-like or Reaganesque: “People of Berlin—people of the world—this is our moment. This is our time!” The difference is that both Kennedy and Reagan defied a foreign leftist adversary keen to defeat America, while Obama exemplifies par excellence a homegrown leftism that is defeating America from within.

There are old-guard leftists, such as Tariq Ali, who reject the suggestion that President Obama’s foreign policy is in any sense radical or leftist. In The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad (2010), Ali argues that Barack Obama is nothing more than “President of Cant”, his incumbency a ruse to fool the world into believing that “the shameful interlude of Republican swagger and criminality was over”. Ali contends that Obama’s 2009 mini-surge in Afghanistan and use of drones and Hellfire missiles in that region proved there was no substantial change to US foreign policy after George W. Bush vacated the Oval Office. Ali helpfully quotes Malcolm X (from 1965) to explain his theory: “It isn’t a president who can help or hurt; it’s the system. And this system is not only ruling us in America, it is ruling the world.” Ali’s The Obama Syndrome is especially critical of Obama’s first Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and her attempt to “divide the new Bolivarian states” by offering “a few crumbs” to Ecuador in an attempt to detach it from Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela. For Tariq Ali, America’s refusal to embrace El Comandante and his self-styled Bolivarian Revolution, “the socialism of the twenty-first century”, marks out President Obama as a faux leftist.

John Pilger, another old-guard leftist, has denounced Barack Obama as the CIA’s “Manchurian Candidate”. This makes no more sense than claiming Obama is the Muslim Brotherhood’s “Manchurian Candidate”. Giving such conspiracy theories any kind of credence might lead us to conclude that President Obama steers a sensible, midway route between ultra-leftist utopianism and ultra-rightist jingoism and his foreign policy is based entirely on pragmatic calculations rather than ideological ones. Certainly President Obama never gave President Chávez a Castro-style bear hug—an awkward handshake was all he could manage—and yet the Obama Doctrine turns out to be just as radical as the overtly anti-American posturing of Ali and Pilger.

The 2009 mini-surge in Afghanistan, for instance, occurred not because Barack Obama had all of a sudden morphed into George W. Bush. As Stanley Kurtz maintains in Radical-In-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism (2010), the temporary build-up of US troops in Afghanistan under Obama’s watch happened only after a lengthy “decision-making process” in which “every conceivable alternative to escalation” was explored: “If there was a practical way out of the war, Obama would have taken it.” Fearing that a military and national scandal at that time would have devastated his radical domestic agenda, including changes to health insurance, President Obama decided that “he was more likely to put the issue to rest by escalating than by allowing the Taliban to retake the country”. An almost identical situation has arisen four years later as the homicidal forces of ISIS sweep all before them on their way to Baghdad and the establishment of a so-called caliphate. President Obama might reluctantly provide some assistance to the Iraqi government as it attempts to oppose the ISIS terrorists, but all such developments run counter to the Obama White House’s mission to diminish America’s military footprint in the Middle East.

Dinesh D’Souza, creator of the new documentary America, and author of the attendant book America: Imagine a World Without Her (2014), insists that a symbiotic relationship exists between Obama’s New Left critique of America and his post-American foreign policy. In the chapter “America the Inexcusable”, D’Souza charges Obama with being a bona fide radical who was “taught and shaped” by a socialist coterie “that detests America’s role in the history of the world, loathes America’s core institutions, and seeks to undermine America and even do physical harm to America and Americans”. Even American conservatives, such as Andrew Ferguson of the Weekly Standard, have condemned D’Souza over the years for depicting Barack Obama as a transformative or radical leftist. Obama, according to Ferguson, is a relatively conventional American-style liberal, explanation enough for the missteps that have occurred on his watch.

To accept, without further comment, Barack Obama as an American-style liberal, a regular member of a traditional if misguided stream of American political thought, would be a mistake. On the other hand, progressive and not a few conservative commentators were quick to condemn D’Souza’s earlier Obama writings, not to mention his first documentary, America: 2016 (2012), as the work of a conspiracist. This is because of the dichotomy between D’Souza’s portrait of a communist-raised (Frank Marshall Davis) fellow with Third World anti-colonialist sensibilities (literally the dreams from his father, Kenyan socialist Barack Hussein Obama Snr) and the unifying healer-in-chief image Obama presented to the American public. The leftist activists of Chicago Southside did not seek out Barack Hussein Obama Jnr in 1985—he sought them. Pastor Jeremiah “God damn America!” Wright did not plead with Barack Obama to join his congregation—Obama was an enthusiastic acolyte. According to America: 2016, the greatest deception Barack Obama perpetrated on the American public—more of a swindle than a conspiracy—was passing himself off as some kind of successor to Martin Luther King Jnr, when this was neither his rightful inheritance (being of East African extraction) nor his genuine objective.

The great ideological divide in modern-day America, contends D’Souza, is between the “spirit of 1968” and the “spirit of 1776”, between the New Left and what we might label libertarian-conservatism or so-called American exceptionalism. The problematic, ambitious, identity-challenged young Barack (born in 1961) fell entirely under the spell of New Left activists such as—to highlight just a few of the more seminal characters—Frank Marshall Davis, Edward Said, Jeremiah Wright and Roberto Mangabeira Unger. These radicals are, as D’Souza wryly puts it, the fatherless Obama’s “founding fathers”. As a consequence, Obama might be a Democrat but behaves totally unlike Truman or Kennedy or even Carter: “The reason? Obama is the first president whose ideology was shaped by the radical 1960s.”

Barack Obama’s ties to radicals like Weather Underground terrorist-cum-educator Bill Ayers were chronicled by Stanley Kurtz in Radical-in-Chief (2010). During the presidential campaign in 2008, Obama discounted a long and involved relationship with Ayers by dismissing his political mentor as nothing more than “a guy who lives in the neighbourhood”. Since then, attests Kurtz, the truth about the closeness of these two radicals through the 1990s and beyond has become even clearer. Ayers’s leftist sensibilities can be gleaned from this recent diatribe on cable television:

And the reason I’m not proud to be an American is because the damage that we do around the world is so serious and so ongoing. So if you look anywhere in the world, look at Latin America. All through Latin America, ordinary people on the street admire Cuba for one reason: they stood up to America. They stood up to imperial advances.

The Fourth Estate’s failure to investigate the Obama–Ayers connection is nothing short of a disgrace. The refusal of “progressive” multi-million-dollar media outfits such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN, Time magazine et al to vet Barack Obama’s radical background is an indictment of their unpardonable partisanship. American-style liberalism, in short, turns out to be anything but liberal.

In the future, when they come to write about the rise and rise (or rise and fall) of Barack Obama, the stratagem espoused by community organiser and writer Saul Alinsky will loom large. Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals (1971) tells us much about Obama’s subterfuge. Alinsky differentiated between rhetorical radicals and radical realists. Both types of agitators reject traditional middle-class American values as—borrowing here from D’Souza—“materialistic, decadent, bourgeois, degenerate, imperialistic, warmongering, brutalized and corrupt”. However, only the radical realist, who has learned to “freeze … hot anger into cool anger”, is ever going to attain control over the levers of power in American society necessary to “destroy middle-class values”. The radical realist needs to adopt the interests of the middle class but only in order, explains D’Souza, “to turn middle-class people against themselves, to make them instruments of their own destruction”.

For rhetorical radicals, such as Tariq Ali and John Pilger, bluster is “their touchstone of virtue”. The rhetorical radical achieves little on the political front—limited as he is to expressing righteous indignation at Late Capitalism in front of relatively small gatherings of acolytes. Conversely, the self-disciplined, patient, well spoken, seemingly middle-class radical realist, possessing “a kind of Puritan sensibility”, has the world before him. Over time radical realists can hijack a mainstream political party, appropriate public media networks, co-opt traditional cultural and educational institutions and commandeer every instrument of government, not excluding the authority to determine America’s foreign policy. This sounds like the perfect encapsulation of Barack Obama’s political game plan—give the people what they want to hear, high-blown oratory about unity and inclusiveness, world peace, healing and justice, while systematically pursuing every item on a radical agenda.

From the perspective of pre-Second World War and Pat Buchanan-esque isolationism, the USA is too good for the rest of the world and has no business putting its young people in harm’s way on distant shores. The Obama Doctrine has a different genesis—the USA is too toxic to play a constructive military role overseas. Few voters in 2008 were paying attention to such subtleties. Americans of all political persuasions were fed up with the Afghanistan War and the Iraq War and were ready to support Barack Obama’s undertaking that the USA would no longer play the role of international policeman intervening in the world to guarantee the peace. The Pax Americana, according to the Obama Doctrine, needed to be consigned to the past—for the good of Americans but also for the good of the world. Strictly speaking, this was never the view of mainstream America, and yet for war-weary (and Republican-wary) voters it seemed close enough.

Genuine scholars of the Greater Middle East, such as Daniel Pipes and Bernard Lewis, attempted to explain to Middle America the origins of Islamic terrorism in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. For a brief period of time, “progressive” magazines such as the Atlantic and the New Yorker published articles by Lewis that located overtly violent jihadist entities, such as Al Qaeda, in the wider context of Islamic revivalism and stealthy jihadist movements such as Turkey’s Justice and Development Party and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, not to mention Iran’s clerico-fascist regime. To paraphrase Lewis, much of the Islamic world was experiencing an apocalyptic sense of mortification from living in the shadow of Western civilisational supremacy, an existential threat that sparked a Holy Jihad against the Great Satan. Failure to confront this reality would only exacerbate the problem and yet, as Lewis points out in his memoir, Notes on a Century (2012), the editors of American-style liberal magazines, once they recovered from the shock of 9/11, stopped publishing work with a clash-of-civilisations theme, since this was “obviously not in accord with their worldview”—that is to say, politically-correct orthodoxy.

No high-profile American academic tried harder to delegitimise the scholarship and insights of Bernard Lewis than Edward Said, who was Barack Obama’s mentor while he was an undergraduate political science student at Columbia University (1981–83). Said’s Orientalism (1978) is the veritable bible of post-colonial studies and offers a way of disparaging the civilisational supremacy of the West without appearing crudely anti-American à la Tariq Ali or John Pilger. In the case of 9/11, for instance, Ali wrote The Clash of Fundamentalism: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity (2002) to explain the circumstances of the terrorist attack on America. Jihadi homicide, according to Ali’s crude analysis, represents a function of US (or, more broadly, Western) imperialism and the “suppression of Islam” by the petro-sheiks. John Pilger managed to sound more boorish in his anti-Americanism by claiming, at the 2010 Anarchist Bookfair in London, that “certain elements” in the Bush administration “let things happen” on September 11, 2001.

Edward Said, in contrast, was rarely so gauche in his post-American patter. To borrow from Robert Irwin, author of For Lust of Knowing (2006), Said never explicitly condoned the Muslim terrorists of 9/11, and yet he did praise them with faint damnations, as he did Saddam Hussein. Said—and the academics who control Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies in the USA—made an effective (albeit fallacious) case to Middle America on behalf of non-Americans everywhere who despise the USA and everything it stands for. Here we approach the ideological milieu from which President Obama has been operating—all would be right again with the world if America tempered its traditional alliances, brought the troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq, emptied out Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp, “re-set” relations with Putin’s Russia, kept out of the Syrian Civil War, “led from behind” in Libya, shackled Israel’s Netanyahu and, most crucially, developed positive relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran, Turkey’s Islamist government and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Mark Steyn’s After America: Get Ready for Armageddon (2011) captured, in his own inimitable fashion, the attitude of the US electorate in 2008 to the latest incarnation of Islamic millennialism, of which 9/11 represents but one (though spectacular) illustration. The American public “seemed genuinely under the delusion that wars end when one side decides it’s all a bit of a bore”. Thus, a surprising proportion of Middle America trusted candidate Barack Obama, with his Third World upbringing, close connections to Chicago’s African-American community and Martin Luther King-style oratory, to assuage the world’s—and, in particular, the Islamic world’s—anti-Americanism. The problem is that, through the lens of both violent and stealthy jihadism, America is the Great Satan and Israel the Little Satan. These are the locked-in and non-negotiable building blocks of Islamic revivalism. Steyn captured in one perfect sentence the miscomprehension of those who bought Obama’s fantastical notion that the USA, the apotheosis of Western modernity, could reconfigure itself as just another country in a world of Islamic revivalism: “In reality-TV terms, the Great Satan would like to vote itself off the battlefield.”

Throughout most of Barack Obama’s first term in office (2009–13), most Americans seemed convinced that his foreign policy was the invention of a prudent realist rather than an ideologue “shaped by 1960s radicals”. The last US troops were removed from Iraq in December 2011 and the sky did not fall. America mostly kept out of the Syrian civil war—but that was strictly an internal matter of the Syrian people. A number of Middle East dictators lost power during the so-called Arab Spring, most importantly Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak in January 2011, and for once the USA—thanks to Obama’s sympathies with the Muslim Brotherhood—found itself on the side of democratic forces in the Middle East. President Obama’s acumen appeared to be confirmed in May 2011 when he announced the assassination of Osama bin Laden. Terrorism might not be eradicated but it had suffered a serious setback: “The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat Al Qaeda.”

One indication that the president’s foreign policy storyline is a fiction built upon an ideological fantasy revealed itself with the September 11, 2012, Benghazi massacre. Susan Rice, President Obama’s then Ambassador to the United Nations, assured the American people that the murder of the US ambassador to Libya and three other American citizens was not the work of organised Al Qaeda-aligned terrorists, presumably because the existence and reach of such forces would gainsay President Obama’s foreign policy narrative on the eve of the November election. Just as illuminating, however, was Rice’s (and the White House’s) rationalisation for the massacre—random Libyan youths enraged after seeing a film about the life of Mohammed made by an Egyptian Coptic Christian living in America.

One astonishing aspect of the second 9/11 is how the reflexive response of Obama-style leftism replicated its reaction to the first 9/11. Yes, a criminal act occurred and the perpetrators shall (eventually) be brought to justice. Furthermore, as long as the USA withdraws behind “fortress America” and constricts its list of natural adversaries to the hijackers of commercial airliners (goes the mantra) then peaceful co-existence amongst the world’s equally fascinating and temperate cultures will come into play and global harmony can reign supreme: “People of Berlin—people of the world—this is our moment. This is our time!” To believe in this utopian vision, nevertheless, a politically-correct Westerner should pay no heed to the warnings of a Bernard Lewis on the subject of Islamic revivalism but instead adhere to the admonishments of Edward Said. The politically-correct Westerner must accept as true—just like Barack Obama and so many of his postmodernist mentors—that moral relativism rules and that there exists such a thing as “moderate” Islamism: that concord with Islamist Iran, the Islamist government in Turkey and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood et al is in America’s (and the West’s) best interests.

By the end of July 2014, President Obama was increasingly viewed by the US public as incapable of addressing the myriad of problems, external and internal, besetting his country, not least the chaos and mayhem ensuing from the Mexican border, with 290,000 Hispanics crossing illegally into the USA between April and June 2014. The president’s refusal to visit any of the affected areas would be his “Katrina moment”, various commentators speculated. Critical comment also resulted from his tepid response to the shooting down over Ukraine of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on July 18, 2014, by Putin-sponsored militia. Some pundits censured President Obama for choosing to the play the role of Democratic Party fundraiser-in-chief on the day of the tragedy rather than perform his job as America’s Commander-in-Chief. Two days later the Obama administration acknowledged its failure to halt the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear weapons program and—having already relaxed sanctions—allowed the regime in Tehran an extension until November 24, 2014, to keep working on their bomb. On the day of that announcement, ISIS began a new campaign of persecution against the Christians in Mosul—“Religious tax, conversion or death!”—with nary a response from the White House.

The theme of much recent anti-Obama commentary is that the president is out of his depth when faced with a crisis and has an aversion to spending time in the White House’s Situation Room, notwithstanding the famous photograph taken at the time of the assassination of Osama bin Laden. He appears to be missing in action. There might be truth in this, and certainly the notion of President Obama as a pragmatic problem-solver grows more implausible by the day. Nevertheless, to blame Barack Obama’s failure on personal weakness or lack of courage—on private inadequacies, in other words—ignores the strength of character and self-discipline required to propel him into the White House in the first place. Barack Obama’s flaw, assuredly, is less personal than ideological.

Consider the case of Bowe Bergdahl and Barack Obama’s address to the nation on May 31, 2014. Standing in the Rose Garden, alongside Bowe’s parents, Bob and Jani Bergdahl, President Obama’s speech sounded not unlike President Reagan’s January 20, 1980, announcement of the release of the last fifty-two hostages held by the Islamo-fascist regime in Iran. It was the appearance of Bob Bergdahl, resplendent in Islamic-style beard and commencing his address with the Arabic phrase that translates as “In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful”, which seemed to elicit from Middle America a collective gasp: “Mr President, you are no Ronald Reagan!”

Susan Rice, elevated to the position of Obama’s National Security Adviser in June 2013, was soon reprising the role she had played in the wake of the carnage in Benghazi. Rice assured Middle America that there was nothing untoward about the Rose Garden show and that Bowe Bergdahl had served the United States with “honour and distinction”. The next day Obama’s Secretary of State, John Kerry, dismissed as “baloney” the idea that the five newly liberated terrorists could pose any kind of danger to America. Team Obama stood exposed—in the eyes of Middle America, at least—as treacherous imposters. We might ask why the Obama administration fell into the policy trap of exchanging one American deserter for the Taliban’s five-man Dream Team held at Guantánamo Bay. The answer is straightforward—the critical priority given by President Obama to closing down Guantánamo. As of January 2014 eighty enemy combatants remained incarcerated there, but with the release of the five highest-profile violent jihadists—virtual four-star generals in the Taliban’s Islamo-fascist army—freeing everyone who remains will prove a walk in the park for the White House. The Rose Garden act was not so much about welcoming home Bowe Bergdahl as placating the so-called Islamic world by ticking off one more item on Obama’s radical “to do” list.

Both Bob Bergdahl and Barack Obama wanted to see the five-man Taliban Dream Team (and every other inmate) in Guantánamo Bay set free. Bob Bergdahl believed that growing an Islamic beard, speaking Arabic, denigrating America’s intervention in Afghanistan and doing favours for Islamo-fascists would facilitate the return of his son. His behaviour might not have been honourable but it was surely understandable. Once Bowe was safely back in the USA Bob Bergdahl shaved off his beard. There is some chance that one day, in the distant future, Bergdahl Snr will admit to himself that he gave comfort and aid to the foes of freedom, progress and the rights of women in Afghanistan, the very same criminals who gave comfort and aid to Osama bin Laden and the homicidal maniacs associated with the 9/11 atrocities. He will know himself as an enabler of evildoers, the sworn enemies of the United States of America and the free world in general, but at least he might comfort himself with the knowledge that his son is no longer a hostage in a foreign country. What excuse will Barack Obama have for having used his time in the White House to play the role of enabler?

That President Obama has been an enabler of Islamic revivalism and the millennialist tendency in so many Muslim communities can no longer be in doubt. His post-American ideology uniquely prepares him to be blind to the reality that the State of Israel is the victim of a virulent new form of anti-Semitism and that Israel’s enemies do not want a peace treaty but a death warrant. And why, in heaven’s name, does the healer-in-chief turn a blind eye to the global jihad being waged in the name of Islam against the Jews in France, the Buddhists in southern Thailand, the Christians of sub-Saharan Africa, and so on ad infinitum? Michelle Obama’s pitiful “Bring Back Our Girls” message in May 2014 was directed more at the incompetence of the Nigerian government than at the diabolical Boko Haram Islamists who murder Christians—girls, boys, men and women—every day of the week.

Because they view the world through a primitive Marxist prism, small-c communists such as Tariq Ali and John Pilger are unable to grasp the fact that Barack Obama’s latter-day leftism is now more extreme than their own outmoded ideology. The late Christopher Hitchens addressed the far-reaching radicalness of the modern-day Left when he wrote about “The Fascist Sympathies of the Soft Left” in the September 29, 2001, edition of the Spectator. An incorrigible Trotskyist, he referred to the anti-bourgeois bohemian Left as “soft”, but his point was well made and earned him the enmity of those he charged with being sympathetic—or, we might say, open-minded—about anti-Western fanaticism. In short, Hitchens referred to the not-so-secret admiration of vast swathes of the Western intelligentsia for “the hard men of Islam”.

Tariq Ali has labelled the nemesis of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, General Abdel Fattah al Sisi, as “Egypt’s Pinochet”. This is exactly the kind of clueless response one would expect from an unreconstructed Marxist who sees every­thing through the crude analysis of class struggle. Importantly, though, the secularist Tariq Ali would never have gone out of his way to embrace the Muslim Brotherhood in the manner that President Obama did in his infamous speech at Cairo University on June 4, 2009. Additionally, Ali does not embrace the Islamist Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey as President Obama continues to do—though, predictably, Ali describes the anti-West Erdogan as the creation of the West.

Old-fashioned Marxists like Ali had words about the brutal crushing of dissent in the Islamic Republic of Iran, especially during the tumultuous 2009–10 period, while the President of the United States remained mute, fearful any reproach on his part might jeopardise a future détente with Tehran. And surely the old-time Marxists of the world disapprove of the Obama administration’s keenness to overhaul the air force owned by the Emir of Qatar, the pro-Muslim Brotherhood Arab leader in league with Hamas and Turkey’s Erdogan, not to mention the proprietor of Al Jazeera, the pro-Muslim Brotherhood media network. The ideology that has led Barack Obama down such a precipitous path might be wrong-headed or even soft-headed—and maybe not leftist in an orthodox Marxist sense—but radical it most certainly is.

Reality was beginning to mug Middle America even before the disarray of recent weeks. Those surveyed in a Quinnipiac University National Poll in June rated Barack Obama as the worst president since the Second World War. The late Fouad Ajami had predicted this kind of fall-out in the Wall Street Journal back in November 2013. Ajami’s final assessment of the adventurer who went to Berlin in 2008 and impersonated genuine American heroes resonates with truth: “Rule by personal charisma has met its proper fate. The spell has been broken, and the magician stands exposed.”

Daryl McCann wrote “The Looming Prospect of a Second Cold War” in the June issue. He has a blog at


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