President Obama’s Legacy of Cultural Imperialism

Multiculturalism, pluralism, diversity, and tolerance: these were once the watchwords of liberalism. When it comes to issues like abortion and sexuality, however, modern liberalism has no room for such things. Particularly in the realm of international affairs, wealthy elites in developed countries are intent on imposing socially liberal policies on economically developing nations, without considering those countries’ traditional cultures and religious beliefs. In other words, today’s social liberals want to colonize foreign souls rather than foreign soil. Instead of stripping the developing world of its labor and resources, social liberals seek to strip cultures of their traditional religion and morality.

I have called this impulse “the new cultural imperialism,”[1] and it has become a defining characteristic of the Obama administration’s relationship with the developing world, especially Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Over the past eight years, this attitude and course of conduct have become especially pronounced, infiltrating all aspects of U.S. foreign policy.

The Liberal Contradiction

Liberals once staunchly opposed colonialism, politically as well as economically and culturally. Denis Diderot, Immanuel  Kant, and other Enlightenment thinkers—building on the work of Christian social reformers like Bartolomé de Las Casas—condemned coercive and exploitative colonization practices.[2] These writers recognized both the individual rights of non-European peoples as well as the tendency of different peoples to develop divergent customs and institutions.[3] Shortly after the scramble for Africa at the turn of the twentieth century, Marxist-Leninists condemned imperial colonization as a natural outgrowth of degenerate global capitalism.[4] The New Left fused liberal progressive ideals with these Marxist critiques of economic imperialism to form the critical theory of postcolonialism, which attempted to deconstruct modes of Western thought and power relations during the decolonization period of the 1960s and 1970s.[5]

It was in this milieu that the young Barack Obama found himself discussing “necolonialism, Franz Fanon, [and] Eurocentrism” with fellow students in the dorms at Occidental College.[6] Much later, in his memorable 2009 Cairo address, President Obama blamed tension between the Middle East and the West on historic “colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims.”[7] One prominent conservative academic has even advanced the theory that President Obama’s predominant political paradigm is shaped by anti-colonialism.[8] Yet despite his familiarity with and apparent antipathy toward historic colonialism, President Obama’s term of office has been marked by an imperialistic attitude and course of conduct toward foreign peoples—particularly on issues regarding abortion, sexuality, and the family.

Seminal post-colonial thinker Edward Said, who was one of President Obama’s professors at Columbia, defined imperialism as “the practice and theory, and the attitudes of a dominating metropolitan centre ruling a distant territory.”[9] On this view, colonialism is a natural outgrowth of imperialism. Said acknowledged that “direct colonialism” had already ended, but warned that imperialism “lingers . . . in a kind of general cultural sphere as well as in specific political, ideological, economic, and social practices.”[10] Cultural imperialism, then, could be defined as “the domination and eventual subversion of a previously autonomous and vital culture by a more powerful one.”[11]

If cultural imperialism is an oppressive relationship between power-imbalanced cultures in which the values of the weaker are replaced by the stronger, President Obama and his fellow social liberals face a contradiction. One the one hand, they claim to oppose colonialism and imperialism. On the other, they seek to impose their views of abortion and sexuality upon the rest of the world. Of course, it should be noted that one need not accept the premise that cultural imperialism exists or even that it is always bad, to criticize this contradiction.

This examination of cultural imperialism will focus on its political expressions, even though the global export of American sexual mores also manifests itself through the activity of private individuals—such as through music, film, television, the Internet, and tourism. Namely, this paper will explore America’s use of strong-arm diplomacy to impose libertine sexual dogmas about abortion and the family upon foreign cultures and peoples. These practices can be divided into three channels of diplomatic influence: direct advocacy, financial incentives, and international institutions.

Direct Advocacy: “It is part of our diplomacy now.”

Under President Obama’s administration, the American diplomatic corps has become the international advocacy arm of the sexual revolution. Despite a lack of domestic consensus on the issues of abortion and same-sex unions, these subjects have become centerpieces of American foreign policy.

Shortly after being confirmed as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton acknowledged in a Congressional hearing that the administration intended to cajole Latin American and African nations into legalizing abortion.[12] Within weeks, Clinton flew to the Dominican Republic to lobby with missionary fervor against a constitutional amendment designed to to protect life from conception.[13] Clinton later told a global audience that “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed” in order to promote abortion.[14]

In 2011, the President issued an executive order which made the “vigorous” promotion of LGBT issues an overarching foreign policy priority.[15] Evidence of this directive can be seen above many American embassies and consulates each June, as they wave rainbow flags beside the Stars and Stripes to celebrate “pride” month. In countries where the natural family is the norm, these displays send an unwanted and imposing message. In one recent instance, Jamaica’s Attorney General Malahoo Forte called the American embassy’s display of a rainbow flag “disrespectful” of Jamaica’s laws and values.[16]

Last year, President Obama’s first Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons, Randy Berry, rankled his Jamaican hosts with an unannounced visit intended to pressure the former British colony into normalizing homosexual relations.[17] Since his appointment in 2015, Berry has traveled to 42 countries to promote, among other things, the legal recognition same-sex relationships. Nigerian Bishop Emmanuel Badejo explained that Berry’s appointment “shows how little the current US administration respects the democratic values it seems to preach, especially when they preach them abroad.”[18]

President Obama received an icy reception in Kenya and Nigeria—both former British colonies—when he made the redefinition of marriage a centerpiece of his 2015 visit. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta rebuffed the suggestion, explaining at a joint press conference that “Kenya and the U.S. share so many values—common love for democracy, entrepreneurship, value for families,” but that “there are some things that we must admit we don’t share. [Things that] our culture, our societies don’t accept.”[19]

“We want to focus on other areas that are day-to-day living for us,” Kenyatta told Obama, alluding to everyday needs, such as adequate nutrition, clean drinking water, and basic education. “The fact remains that this issue is not an issue that is on the foremost mind of Kenyans.”

Several hundred evangelical pastors, representing ten million Kenyans, wrote a letter to President Obama, asking him to refrain from “push[ing] us to [accept] that which is against our faith and culture.”[20] Just a few years prior, Obama’s USAID spent $23 million to support liberalized abortion laws during a Kenyan constitutional referendum.[21]

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari was even more direct, giving the Obama administration a “point-blank” no when it came to the issue of recognizing same-sex relationships.[22] That rejection has come at a price. According to Bishop Badejo of Nigeria, the United States has refused to assist with the fight against Boko Haram’s terrorism until the nation changes course on homosexuality and abortion.[23] “Africa is suffering greatly from a cultural imperialism that threatens to erode our cultural values,” he said.[24]

In fact, advancing the sexual revolution in the developing world appears to trump almost every other American foreign policy consideration. When Venezuela descended into political and economic chaos this summer, the U.S. Embassy in Caracas signaled its own priorities, hoisting the rainbow flag and announcing on its website, “We, the U.S. Embassy community, are committed to advancing human rights for all, including LGBT individuals.”[25] Meanwhile, the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Roberta Jacobson, marched in the Mexico City “pride” parade, telling reporters, “It is the policy of my country, and President Obama in particular, to support LGBTI communities. And it is part of our diplomacy now.”[26]

Financial Incentives

President Obama’s administration has not shied away from exploiting the financial dependence of developing countries to advance its sexual agenda. Between 2012 and 2015, the United States spent over 41 million taxpayer dollars to promote the LGBT agenda globally.[27] That’s in addition to monies from a $700 million slush-fund “earmarked for marginalized groups” that was used to “support gay communities and causes”—more than half of which was spent in Sub-Saharan Africa.[28]

In one notable instance, Ambassador James Brewster used his office to push the LGBT agenda in the Dominican Republic, suggesting, among other things, that “USAID will make money available for political candidates who support the LGBT cause.”[29] The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Dominican Republican wrote a letter asking for the openly homosexual ambassador’s dismissal, calling Brewster’s offer “a violation of [the Dominican Republic’s] national sovereignty and its electoral laws” and “a serious act of blackmail towards national policy.”[30] Ambassador Brewster has not been recalled, and he recently joined European and U.N. diplomats at the Santo Domingo “pride” parade.[31]

International abortion groups have also prospered on the taxpayer’s dime. Thanks to President Obama’s repeal of the Mexico City policy during his first week in office, abortion groups have received billions of dollars for population control programs, including $644 million in 2015 alone.[32] The U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA)—which is tied to China’s forced abortion agency—has received over $230 million since 2009.[33] Due to another Presidential directive, the funding eligibility of religious charities is now determined in part upon whether they will train staff to identify transgender children and offer refugees abortions.[34] “Countries are told ‘unless you pass certain legislation [on abortion and homosexuality], you are not going to get the aid from the government or the agencies that give aid,” said Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban, South Africa.[35]

Many would rather lose foreign aid than sell out their culture and beliefs. One writer in Ghana steamed, “The imperialists are at it again. This time, they are threatening to cut foreign aids to countries, including Ghana, that have refused to legalize same sex marriage. . . . We must refuse to take their money. Let us not allow them to divide us in order to colonize us again.”[36]Or as Bishop Badejo put it, “African values are not on sale.”[37]

International Institutions As Instruments of “Ideological Invasion”

The United Nations charter protects the “self-determination of peoples,”[38] and the charter of the Organization of American States (O.A.S.) enshrines “respect for the cultural values of the American countries” as one its core principles.[39] But when developing countries fail to subscribe to the prevailing Western orthodoxy on abortion and gender, these lofty declarations get tossed out the window. The United Nations—which has overseen the decolonization of more than 80 countries in the last century[40]—has now become a tool of the United States and European nations to impose their cultural agenda on the developing world.

The United States and its liberal European allies were the driving force behind the adoption of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, which treat laws that protect human life in the womb as an obstacle to development.[41] Even though no international treaty recognizes a right to abortion,[42] member states are forced to report to UN monitors about the extent to which they permit abortion in their countries.[43] One analysis showed that during the last cycle of treaty compliance review, 74% of pro-abortion recommendations were directed at Latin American nations.[44]

In June, U.S. diplomats whipped votes in the UN Human Rights Council to establish a Special LGBT Rapporteur to focus on “sexual orientation and gender identity,”[45] even though no international treaty recognizes those terms as legal categories.[46] Deputy Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinden pressured countries to support the resolution, while Keith Harper, the U.S. envoy to the Human Rights Council, visited national delegations to encourage them to support the resolution—all with the understanding that American aid could be endangered by a lack of cooperation.[47] As in the past, several countries on the Human Rights Council protested this interference as “cultural imperialism” designed to undermine their traditional national cultures.[48]

Many developing nations perceive these shakedown tactics to be hostile and ham-fisted. “We are no longer faced with an invasion using weapons but an ideological invasion,” said Bishop Víctor Masalles ahead of the 2016 OAS assembly in the Dominican Republic.[49] He described this ideological invasion as “one that ignores and even has contempt for traditional Dominican values, and which is seeking a cultural change in a country according to principles alien to that country.”

“Our values come from the Western Christian humanist tradition,” Masalles said. “The OAS should encourage the strengthening of that tradition, not seek to undermine it.”

The Backlash Begins

This unwanted interference in the affairs of developing nations is what Pope Francis has denounced as “ideological colonization.”[50] The Pope has described it as “conditions . . . imposed by imperial colonizers” to promote “gender theory” and other ideologies which undermine traditional moral, religious, and cultural values.[51] The Pope accused those imposing foreign ideologies of trying “to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life.”[52]

Speaking in the Philippines—a former colony of Spain and the United States—Pope Francis encouraged crowds to “say ‘no’ to all attempts at an ideological colonization of our families.”[53] He later added, “Every people deserves to conserve its identity without being ideologically colonized.”[54] Cardinal Robert Sarah, a native of the small West African nation of Guinea, has also expounded on this theme, calling the promotion of “gender ideology” a destructive form of “ideological colonialism” that endangers the family.[55]

For those in the developing world, the comparison to direct colonialism strikes a chord. Many are tired of being force-fed foreign ideologies that undermine their religious beliefs and cultural values. In July, 100,000 Panamanians flooded the streets to oppose a UNFPA “comprehensive sexuality education” bill that would have indoctrinated children with the tenets of gender ideology.[56]

The critique of cultural imperialism also creates a conundrum for modern liberals who deny the existence of a transcendent foundation for human rights, but who want to impose their moral views on the rest of the world. From the perspective of the modern left, abortion and same-sex unions are human rights that all cultures must respect, even though international law does not recognize them as such. But what could justify this normative claim? If there is no universal grounding for human rights, how could any culture assert that another culture is bound to respect their foreign set of norms? Belief in cultural relativism reduces any such arguments to smug pretensions of moral superiority.[57]

By framing the debate in this manner, defenders of the family have artfully appropriated the language of the left and employed it to expose the ideological inconsistencies of those who oppose colonialism with their words, but impose the agenda of the sexual revolution with their deeds.[58]

So what will President Obama’s legacy be? In Dreams from My Father, the President recalled the words of a Kenyan friend: “[T]he worst thing that colonialism did was to cloud our view of our past.”[59] Today, President Obama’s own ideological colonialism—motivated by a historicism that attempts to dictate “the right side of history”—risks clouding the future for the rest of the world. Those on the American left, including the President, have correctly recognized the wrongfulness of traditional spades-and-swords colonialism. It is a tragic irony that these same individuals have replaced it with a condoms-and-cash variety.

Joshua J. Craddock is a J.D. Candidate at Harvard Law School. Between 2011 and 2014, he managed advocacy teams for several non-profit organizations at the United Nations and engaged in human rights and family policy negotiations related to the Sustainable Development Goals

[1] Josh Craddock, “The New Cultural Imperialism,” National Review (April 28, 2015), available at

[2] Sankar Muthu, Enlightenment Against Empire (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003): 3-4.

[3] Ibid., at 76.

[4] Vladimir Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (Penguin Books, 2010) (1917).

[5] John Baylis et al., eds., The Globalization of World Politics, 5th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 140–45, 187–90.

[6] Barack Obama, Dreams From My Father (Crown Publishers, 2007) (alteration added).

[7] Barack Obama, Remarks by the Presiden at Cairo University, June 4, 2009, available at

[8] Dinesh D’Souza, The Roots of Obama’s Rage (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2011).

[9] Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (London: Chatto & Windus, 1993). 

[10] Ibid

[11] Ralph H. Bowen, “American Cultural Imperialism Reconsidered,” Revue Française D’études Américaines  24/25, May 1985, at 179-93.

[12] “Hillary Clinton Defends Worldwide Abortion Rights,” Newsmax, April 23, 2009, available at

[13] Josh Craddock, “Unmasking the U.N.’s Abortion Agenda,”  Live Action News, April 18, 2012, available at

[14] Kerry Picket, “Hillary On Abortion: ‘Deep-Seated Cultural Codes, Religious Beliefs And Structural Biases Have To Be Changed,’” Daily Caller, April 23, 2015, available at

[15] Office of the Press Secretary, Presidential Memorandum—International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Persons, The White House, December 6, 2011, available at 

[16] Ed Adamczyk, “Jamaican Attorney General: Flying Rainbow Flag at U.S. Embassy Disrespectful,” United Press International, June 16, 2016, available at 

[17] See Helene Nicholson, “Opinion, After the visits . . . ,” Jamaica Observer, December 31, 2015, available at

[18] Diane Montagna, “Nigerian Bishop: Hillary Clinton’s Remarks About Religious Beliefs Show She ‘Thinks She Is a God,’” Aleteia, April 29, 2015, available at

[19] Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Kenya, Joint Press Conference with Barack Obama (July 25, 2015), available at https://youtube/ZUbb2QHKngM.

[20] George Thomas, “Kenyan Pastors to Obama: Don’t Bring ‘The Gay Talk’ Here,” CBN News, July 22, 2015), available at 

[21] “White House Spent $23M of Taxpayer Money to Back Kenyan Constitution That Legalizes Abortion, GOP Reps Say,” FOX News, July 22, 2010, available at 

[22] Nnenna Ibeh, “Buhari ‘Pointblank’ on Gay Rights, Says ‘No’ to U.S. Presidency,” Premium Times, July 22, 2015, available at 

[23] Diane Montagna, “US Won’t Help Fight Boko Haram Until Nigeria Accepts Homosexuality, Birth Control, Bishop Says,” Aleteia, February 17, 2015, available at

[24] Ibid.

[25] Embassy of the U.S. in Caracas, Venezeula, Department of State, LGBT Pride Month, June 2015, available at

[26] “U.S. Ambassador Roberta Jacobson Joins Gay Pride Parade in Mexico City,” The Yucatan Times, June 27, 2016, available at

[27]  Norimitsu Onishi, “U.S. Support of Gay Rights in Africa May Have Done More Harm Than Good,” New York Times, December 20, 2015, available at

[28]   Ibid.

[29] “El Episcopado pide al Gobierno que proteste con Washington por las conductas personales del embajador USA James Brewster porque su unión homosexual es un mal ejemplo para los niños,” Il Sismografo, March 25, 2016, available at

[30] Ibid.

[31] Dalton Herrera, Dia Del Orgullo Gay, Listin Diario, “Siete embajadores, incluido el de EE.UU apoyan marcha LGBT en Santo Domingo,” July 4, 2016, available at

[32] “President Proposes $644 Million for International Family Planning and Reproductive Health,” Population Institute, April 22, 2014, available at 

[33] Wendy Wright, “Obama’s Foreign Policy Legacy: Chaos and LGBT,” Center for Family & Human Rights, May 5, 2016, available at

[34] Susan Yoshihara, “Obama Tells Faith-Based Groups they Must Refer Refugee Children for Abortions,” Center for Family & Human Rights, February 19, 2015, available at 

[35] Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, “Cardinal Napier: Africa is Suffering ‘Ideological Colonization’ by the U.S.,” October 9, 2015, available at

[36] Emmanuel Dela Coffie, Opinion, “Of Gay Right, Obama, And The Threat To Cut Foreign Aid,” Modern Ghana, December 9, 2011, available at

[37] Montagna, “US Won’t Help Fight Boko Haram.”

[38] U.N. Charter art. ¶ 2.

[39] Charter of the O.A.S., art. 3 ¶ m.

[40] U.N., The United Nations and Decolonization, available at 

[41] Josh Craddock, “What Can Pro-Lifers Expect From The UN’s New Development Goals?,” Aleteia, January 21, 2015, available at

[42] San Jose Articles, 2011, available at 

[43] Craddock, “What Can Pro-Lifers Expect . . . ?”

[44] Rebecca Oas, “UN Human Rights System Becomes Pro-Abortion Echo Chamber,” Center for Family & Human Rights, November 26, 2014, available at

[45] Personal interview with Luis Losada, Spanish Language Campaigns Director for CitizenGO, June 30, 2016.

[46] Family Watch International, “Talking Points for HRC SOGI Resolution 1,” 2016, available at 

[47] Losada, personal interview.

[48]   Ibid.; see also Craddock, “The New Cultural Imperialism.”

[49] Austen Ivereigh, “Bishop Accuses OAS of Pro-Abortion, Pro-Gay ‘Ideological Colonization,’” Crux (June 11, 2016), available at 

[50] Alan Holdren, “Pope Francis Warns West Over ‘Ideological Colonization,’” National Catholic Register, January 20, 2015, available at

[51] Ibid

[52] Ibid.

[53] Pope Francis, Address at the Mall of Asia Arena, January 16, 2015, available at 

[54] “Pope Francis Discusses Contraception, Charlie Hebdo, Travel Plans,” CBS News, January 19, 2015, available at 

[55] Adelaide Mena, “Resist ‘Ideological Colonization,’ Cardinal Sarah Urges at Prayer Breakfast,” Catholic News Agency, May 18, 2016, available at

[56] Marianna Orlandi, “100,000 Panamanians March Against UN-Style Sex Ed,” Center for Family & Human Rights, July 28, 2016, available at

[57]   Cf. Michael Ignatieff, “Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry” (Princeton University Press, 2003), 53–98 (presenting, though ultimately rejecting, this line of argument). 

[58] This tension might be explained within the theory of cultural imperialism itself. One of Edward Said’s intellectual influences was Antonio Gramsci, an Italian Marxist who advanced a theory of “cultural hegemony” to explain how a “dominant fundamental group” can impose a “general direction . . . on social life.” See Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks 12 (Quintin Hoare ed., Geoffrey Nowell-Smith trans., International Publishers 1971). Gramsci believed marginalized groups needed to create a counter-hegemony—that is, a new and inapposite set of values to guide society—to thwart and eventually overthrow the dominant capitalist system. Favoring a subtle “war of position” to open class conflict, Gramsci viewed all of civil society as a battlefield for culture war. Later cultural Marxists, fusing their theory with Freudian sexuality, saw how the war of position could be applied to marriage and the family. Understood through a Gramscian lens then, the modern left’s opposition to “direct colonialism” and simultaneous support for sexualized cultural imperialism might be reconciled after all. On this view, the sexual revolution is a counter-hegemonic force resisting historically dominant—that is, traditional—cultures and values. Even if the contradiction could be resolved in this manner, however, the left’s apparent opposition to broad-stroke “imperialism” and “neocolonialism” would be at least misleading, if not dishonest.

[59] Obama, Dreams From My Father, at 434.