Opinion

Is Obama trying to 'decolonize' space?

Observers were puzzled when President Obama apparently gave the space agency NASA a new mission to reach out to the world’s Muslims. But his action makes sense when you consider the influence of anticolonial ideology.

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Soon after becoming president, Barack Obama evidently gave the space agency NASA a new mission of reaching out to the world’s Muslims. Observers were puzzled. Why should rocket scientists focused on outer space now worry about hearts and minds on Earth?

I believe I have solved the mystery. The reason is that President Obama has adopted his father’s ideology; the son is, as his father was, an anticolonialist. And according to this worldview, NASA is a symbol of America’s effort to colonize outer space. It follows that Obama wants to “decolonize” NASA, and that means converting it from its traditional mission of American exploration into a kind of international project to recognize what Muslims and others have contributed to the development of science.

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A strange new mission

Several months ago, NASA chief Charles Bolden announced that Mr. Obama had given him three priorities: “He wanted me to help reinspire children to want to get into science and math. He wanted me to expand our international relationships. And third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contributions to science and math and engineering.”

Mr. Bolden added that the International Space Station was a kind of model for NASA’s future, since it was not just a US operation but included the Russians and the Japanese.

For former astronauts Neil Armstrong and John Glenn, Bolden’s remarks – which the White House later tried to correct – surely added insult to the injury they felt Obama has caused with his new budget and vision for NASA, which includes shelving the ambitious Constellation program and relying on foreign and commercial spacecraft.

Even some Obama supporters expressed puzzlement. Sure, we are all for Islamic self-esteem, and 800 years ago the Muslims did make some important discoveries, but what on earth was Obama up to here?

What motivates Obama?

To answer this question, we must figure out what motivates Obama; we must know what is Obama’s dream. Fortunately we don’t have to speculate, because Obama tells us in his autobiography, “Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance.”

The title alone is telling, but as Obama writes in the book: “It was into my father’s image, the black man, son of Africa, that I’d packed all the attributes I sought in myself, the attributes of Martin and Malcolm, DuBois and Mandela.”

Though Obama also candidly admits to feeling mugged by reality when he learned more about his father, several figures who know him well say the ideological fire of the father still burns within the son. As his grandmother Sarah Obama told Newsweek, “I look at him and I see all the same things, he has taken everything from his father. The family is still intact, this son is realizing everything the father wanted – fighting for people, the dreams of the father are still alive in the son.”

So there it is: Obama’s dream is his father’s dream.

Anticolonial ideology

So who was Barack Obama Sr. and what was his dream? First and foremost, he was an anticolonialist. He came of age during Kenya’s struggle for independence from British rule. I know about anti-colonialism because I grew up in India in the aftermath of British rule there. Anticolonialism was the ideology of my parents and grandparents, and it shaped a whole generation of third world people during the second half of the 20th century.

The basic principle of anticolonialism is that the world is divided into two parts: the colonizers and the colonized. The colonizers are the evil Americans and Europeans, and they got rich by invading and looting the nations of Asia, Africa, and South America.

Even today, this ideology holds, America continues to occupy two countries, Iraq and Afghanistan, and to use its power to dominate and subjugate the rest of the world. The solution, of course, is decolonization, and this means that America must get out and stay out and in the future play a much more modest and humble role in the world.

We know that Barack Obama Sr. was an anticolonialist because he says as much in a 1965 article he wrote in the East Africa Journal. And it seems that his son Barack Obama Jr. is following in his father’s footsteps because he is trying to get America out of both Iraq and Afghanistan and he has informed many international audiences that he seeks a more modest global role for America.

The theory's explanatory power

Just as telling, the anticolonial assumption explains, as no other theory can, why President Obama would apparently undertake the strange task of changing the mission of NASA. Plug in our anti-colonial model and what at first seems inexplicable – converting NASA into a community outreach program for Muslims – suddenly makes complete sense. Remove the theory and it is almost impossibly difficult to account for what Obama is doing.

Recall the Moon Landing of Apollo 11 in 1969. “One small step for man,” Mr. Armstrong said. “One giant leap for mankind.” But that’s not how the rest of the world saw it. I was eight years old at the time and still living in my native India.

I remember my grandfather telling me about the great race between America and Russia to put a man on the moon. America won that race, and everybody knew it because Armstrong placed the American flag on the moon.

So it wasn’t one giant leap for mankind, but one giant leap for the United States. It was as if that flag signified, “We Americans did this. We Americans now own the moon.” I can understand how many in the third world might see the moon landing that way, because I’m from the third world and that’s the way I saw it.

If Obama shares this view, no wonder that he wants to change NASA’s focus. Even when the Muslims aren’t involved, Obama wants to make sure the Russians and the Japanese share the credit. As Bolden put it in his Al Jazeera interview: “We’re not going to go anywhere beyond low Earth orbit as a single entity. The United States can’t do it.”

Space, you see, is for human and not merely American exploration. Obama seems determined to divert NASA from being a symbol of American greatness into a more modest public relations operation that builds ties with Muslims and other peoples. For those who cherish America’s leadership role in space, it is chilling to realize that America’s own president seeks to bring that role to an end.

Dinesh D’Souza is the president of the King’s College in New York City. His new book is “The Roots of Obama’s Rage.”

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