Jacob Heilbrunn

The Birther Mystery Solved: Is Barack Obama Really An Irishman?

"Those who believe they are in full possession of the truth can be dangerous," former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced at Georgetown University's commencement ceremony on Friday. It's a barb that appears to be aimed at the Bush administration, which comes a little late in the game—or is it aimed at President Obama? Or is it a moment of self-revelation on Albright's part, who doesn't usually display much doubt about what she thinks is right ([Saddam] Hussein has," she announced on November 10, 1999, "chosen to spend his money on building weapons of mass
destruction and palaces for his cronies")? It's one of those delphic statements that means everything and nothing at the same time.

It could apply to the Europeans, whom Obama is visiting this week. Turns out Obama has some distant Irish ancestry. He's the sixth American president to visit Ireland, a country that appears to be mired in even worse economic misery than America. Ireland became a low-tax haven that is despised by its European brethren, but got its comeuppance once the real estate bubble popped. Turned out that not every plumber is entitled to a second house near a Spanish beach. Could Obama's Irish ancestry also help account for his gift of blarney? Maybe he has more in common with Reagan than anyone had thought. Apparently, there's even a film being premiered at Cannes called Barack Obama's Irish Roots. It certainly beats being called a "black mascot" for Wall Street, as Princeton professor Cornel West is referring to the president.

Which leads me to wonder whether Obama may actually have been born secretly, not in Kenya, but closer to the epicenter of the British empire—in Ireland. Perhaps it might even be wondered if the hostility that Dinesh D'Souza discerned in Obama's alleged Kenyan roots actually has its origins in the Irish struggle for independence against the hated British. This could be a far more important link, one that has been unaccountably neglected by the media and historians in their quest to understand the true Obama. It could prove a fertile field in the future for Obama scholars, who wish to divine how his heritage may have weighed upon his foreign-policy decisions.

The most peculiar stance that Obama has taken in the past week centers on the 1967 Israel borders question. Why Obama plunged into this arena is also a bit of a mystery. Perhaps he thought he could help head off the Palestinian and European charge for recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations. But Obama has spent the past week walking back his initial announcement that the 1967 borders would serve as the starting point for negotiations. As I predicted he would, Obama is now claiming that what he said is nothing new under the sun.

Meanwhile, his Republican opponents are accusing him of throwing Israel "under the bus," as Mitt Romney put it. But Obama will also be visiting Warsaw this week, where he will pay tribute to the Jews murdered by the Nazis during World War II. It's both appropriate and allows him to signal that he is not abandoning Israel.

Obama will likely be greeted with hosannas in Europe. His nimbus has not completely worn off--partly because Europe's leaders are so wretched by comparison. But whether Obama's European trip will allow him to boost his popularity at home is another question. But as with many American presidents, he is likely to find that going abroad and exploring his "Irish roots" is a welcome reprieve from being assailed back home.