Middle East studies in the News
Radical Son? Obama at Columbia [incl. Rashid Khalidi]
I don't think anyone can seriously make the argument at this point that Barack Obama did not dabble in radical leftist politics in his youth. It is also difficult to ignore the fact that throughout his adult life, the president has been attracted to left-wing radicals and, for whatever reason, kept them close as advisors and mentors.
His relationships with Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers, Father Michael Pfleger, Rashid Khalidi, as well as his  ties to ACORN and his use of the radical  Chicago New Party in Chicago in his first run for state senator were widely reported prior to the election. It's not as if voters were unaware of these connections.  Poll after poll prior to the vote showed that while up to two thirds of Americans knew of Obama's radical associations, they didn't hold it against him.
It is also clear that Obama and his campaign tried to hide the extent of these radical associations prior to last year's election. The reason was simple: Being "acquainted" with Ayers et. al. was one thing, but holding similar views as these radical associates was quite another. Hence, Ayers was "just some guy in the neighborhood" and not a close collaborator on radical education reform in Chicago. And Obama knew nothing regarding Wright's radical sermons even though he sat in the same church for 20 years.
But this tells us little about what Barack Obama actually believes. What it shows is that the campaign was worried about the perception being spread that Obama held radical views, not whether the candidate himself believed in a radical philosophy. That question is still an open one as far as I'm concerned. Certainly some of the president's policies have been radical. But the excuse given — that the nearly unprecedented economic problems we are experiencing demanded radical action — seems to have been acceptable to most Americans. (Or it was at first.  Recent polls now say otherwise.)
Here is where an independent press corps should have stepped in and solved the mystery for us. Is Obama still a radical or isn't he? It turns out that they didn't want to know the truth and refused to pursue what is turning out to be a fascinating story that gives deep insights into the thinking of our current president.
A recently  unearthed article by Barack Obama from his student days at Columbia University is significant because the language, imagery, and substance of the piece clearly reveal a young man in thrall to the radical leftist ideology of the day. In the article titled "Breaking the War Mentality," the future president of the United States reveals a belief that U.S. militarism is only a symptom of what really ails us: economic and political injustice.
Generally, the narrow focus of the [Nuclear] Freeze movement as well as academic discussions of first versus second strike capabilities, suit the military-industrial interests, as they continue adding to their billion dollar erector sets. When Peter Tosh sings that "everybody's asking for peace, but nobody's asking for justice," one is forced to wonder whether disarmament or arms control issues, severed from economic and political issues, might be another instance of focusing on the symptoms of a problem instead of the disease itself.
At his age, I thought John Lennon was a great philosopher, so we might excuse the president his childlike belief that a reggae singer has anything profound to say about war and peace. But it is crystal clear from reading this overly long, tiresome reiteration of leftist claptrap about America being the center of all evil and radical groups agitating for disarmament being heroic examples of grass roots activism that at one time in his life our president was much farther left in his thinking than the man who stood before the people as a candidate last year.
That man was not some hot-headed political agitator but a cool, serene, comforting presence who espoused liberal policies using the most moderate language. He never spoke of "revolution," only "change." And the ideas that he espoused had been tossed around mainstream liberal salons and think tanks for a quarter century or more. Is it possible that both candidate Obama and student radical Obama are the same person? Can one moderate their views so drastically?
If you ask David Horowitz and the many thousands of radicals from the 1960s and 70s who eventually broke with their revolutionary brethren and made the painfully arduous intellectual journey from left to right, the answer would be a resounding "yes." Horowitz and his "Second Thoughts" conferences showed that a not insignificant number of former leftist radicals had their eyes opened by excesses of the movement and discovered friendlier turf on the right.
Then I imagine there are many like me who were radicalized by what we thought we knew about the Vietnam War and, filled with the utter certainty (and stupidity) of youth, believed that revolution was inevitable. We saw exactly the same things Obama saw about the United States then and probably asked the same questions.
What changed? We grew up. We expanded our reading list beyond that which had been ordered up by the educational establishment and discovered a whole new world of ideas. It did not happen overnight, but eventually the wheel turned and I am constantly amazed by how many followed the same intellectual path out of the radical wilderness of our youth toward a more realistic worldview as represented by conservatism.
I believe most young radicals eventually come face to face with this reality — a job, marriage, kids — and moderate their views. Many do not square the circle and become conservatives. But their calls for revolution fade away as they join the political mainstream and become good Democrats.
Did this happen to President Obama? Did he toss aside his youthful dalliances with far left radicalism and enter the mainstream of Democratic politics?
Judging by the radical company he has kept over the years and some of his foreign and domestic policy initiatives, an argument can certainly be made that the president still has radical tendencies. But I also see some moderation in the president's attitude toward America, as he took his own journey of self discovery as related in Dreams of My Father. He no longer sees America as quite the villain he did in his youth. And judging by the speeches he has given since becoming president, he has come to realize that America can indeed be a force for good in the world. We may disagree violently with how he will go about realizing that notion. But it is still an internationalist vision and not the radical isolationism that was the current of thought when he was at Columbia.
It is true that the voting public had little idea just how liberal Barack Obama truly is when they elected him. But it is also true that Obama is probably not the radical he was when he burned with revolutionary fervor at Columbia.
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