Russian Central Election Comission chief Vladimir Churov -- nicknamed "the Magician" does not lack for chutzpah:
"The U.S. presidential election is not direct, not universal and not equal, and it does not safeguard the secrecy of voting," Churov, who heads Russia's Central Election Commission, wrote in the government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta's online edition.
"The electoral system and electoral laws in the United States are far from perfect. They are contradictory, archaic and do not correspond to the democratic principles the United States has declared as the basis of its foreign and domestic politics."
Although he does likely share a distaste for OSCE observers with some American authorities.
ALEXEI NIKOLSKY/AFP/Getty Images
As a recent BBC World Service poll suggested, Barack Obama would cruise to victory if countries ranging from France to Kenya to Canada could vote in the U.S. presidential election. But a new Peace Index poll reveals that Mitt Romney has a sizable advantage in at least one country: Israel.
The survey, which was conducted last week by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University, found that 57 percent of Jewish Israelis felt that it would be preferable for Romney to win the election from the perspective of Israeli interests, while 22 percent said the same about Obama. Seventy percent of self-identified right-wingers, 54 percent of centrists, and 30 percent of left-wingers surveyed expressed support for Romney. Meanwhile, a plurality of Arab Israelis in the poll preferred Obama (45 percent) to Romney (15 percent).
A Peace Index poll over the summer, when Romney traveled to Jerusalem, yielded similar -- if less pronounced -- results, with 40 percent of Jewish Israeli respondents supporting Romney and 19 percent backing Obama on a slightly different question: Which candidate would assign "more importance to defending Israel's national interests?"
In this month's Peace Index poll, which will be released in full on Monday, 69 percent of Israeli Jews said they do not believe the result of the U.S. election will influence the outcome of upcoming Israeli elections, while 51 percent of Israeli Arabs said they think the U.S. race will have an impact on the Israeli contest. I've written before about speculation in the Israeli press that Benjamin Netanyahu could be punished at the polls if Obama wins reelection and bilateral relations suffer because of the Israeli prime minister's aggressive efforts to establish "red lines" for Iran's nuclear program during the U.S. campaign.
One surprising result of the BBC World Service poll last week was that the only country where more respondents favored Romney than Obama was Pakistan, where drone strikes and the Osama bin Laden raid have inflamed anti-American sentiment. But the real story there was that most Pakistani respondents were, well, undecided: a whopping 75 percent had no opinion about the candidates. In Israel, at least among Israeli Jews, the preference for Romney appears to be far more resounding.
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
One of the odder moments of last night's debate was Mitt Romney's reference to America's 42 allies:
We need to have strong allies. Our association and — and connection with our allies is essential to America’s strength. We’re the — the great nation that has allies, 42 allies and friends around the world.
Spokeswoman Andrea Saul told the Daily Caller that Romney was referring to "NATO Allies, Major Non-NATO Allies, and NATO contact countries” and provided a list. It's still a strangely limited definition.
I suspect most Americans would be surprised by a list of allies that includes Pakistan, but not Mexico. The exclusion of China is certainly arguable, though it's America's second-largest trading partner, but what about India? The United States, apparently, has no allies in sub-Saharan Africa, which is probably news to those U.S. troops helping to train the Ugandan military. The only U.S. ally in Latin America is Argentina. (So much for that whole Plan Colombia thing.) Bahrain is a U.S. ally, but non-NATO member Sweden -- which has sent troops to Afghanistan -- is not. We may all be Georgians, as John McCain famously put it, but the Georgians are not U.S. allies.
Romney's list is actually smaller than the 49 countries than the Bush administration listed as part of the Coalition of the Willing. A symptom of American decline, perhaps?
BuzzFeed has called it the "moment where Barack Obama won the debate." MSNBC's Rachel Maddow dubbed it a "political disaster" for Mitt Romney. National Review's Jim Geraghty described it as "one of the most egregious misjudgments of any moderator in the history of presidential debates."
During Tuesday night's presidential debate, moderator Candy Crowley corrected Romney when he pounced on Obama for claiming that he'd cdescribed the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi as an act of terror. "He did call it an act of terror," Crowley noted to applause and Obama's delight. Romney retorted that it had taken a long time for the administration to describe the assault as a terrorist attack rather than a spontaneous reaction to an inflammatory film.
Within hours, political observers were characterizing the exchange as a pivotal moment in the campaign -- a gaffe for the history books. Romney "was even held accountable by Candy Crowley for not telling the truth about the president acknowledging an act of terror," Senator John Kerry (D-MA) noted. "I think tonight Mitt Romney's campaign fell away."
Political Wire's Taegan Goddard, meanwhile, compared Romney's misstep to Gerald Ford's famous declaration during a 1976 debate with Jimmy Carter that "there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration." Here's Goddard:
[Romney] scored many points. But he lost most of them by not knowing his facts on what President Obama said the morning after the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya. Obama acted like a president in the exchange while Romney was much less. It was Romney's Gerald Ford moment.
Over at the New York Times, Andrew Rosenthal went a step further, likening Romney not just to Ford but to George H.W. Bush:
When George H.W. Bush looked at his watch in a 1992 debate with Bill Clinton and Ross Perot and absolutely bungled a question about how the national debt had affected him personally, he cemented the impression that he was out of touch with real Americans' lives.
When Gerald Ford denied in 1976 that there was any "Soviet domination" of Eastern Europe, he cemented the impression that he was out of touch with pretty much everything....
Tonight, Mitt Romney may have had a similar moment, during a back-and-forth about the attack on the Benghazi Consulate.
There's ample reason to be skeptical of these damning assessments, however. For starters, the controversy surrounding the candidate's remarks involves semantics -- act of terror or terrorist attack? -- and won't deter Republicans from continuing to criticize the administration's response to the assault and overall Mideast policy.
What's more, Americans were deeply concerned about the Soviet Union at the time of Gerald Ford's gaffe -- something that can't be said for the public's attitude toward Libya at the moment. In a national survey conducted by the Foreign Policy Initiative in mid-September, just over 2 percent of respondents cited Libya in response to an open-ended question about the country that presents the most danger to American national security interests.
Rosenthal concedes that Romney's Libya remarks "likely won't have the same impact as Mr. Ford's Soviet domination gaffe or Mr. Bush's watch episode, which "may have cost them their elections." But even here, there's not much evidence that the Ford and Bush blunders had any such effect.
A 2008 Gallup study, for example, found that the 1992 presidential debates didn't affect the standing of Bush or challenger Bill Clinton, though they may have boosted support for third-party candidate Ross Perot. The polling firm concluded that the 1976 presidential debates may have made the race "more competitive" but did not change the contest's "fundamentals," since Carter was leading before the debates. "After Ford's statement about the lack of Soviet domination of Eastern Europe -- widely perceived as a gaffe - Carter's lead expanded slightly to 6 points and remained at about that level after the third and final debate," Gallup noted.
The emerging Romney-equals-Ford narrative, in other words, doesn't really work. Still, Ford's experience does offer some cautionary tales for Romney. Ford campaign staffer Doug Bailey once recalled that while the Eastern Europe gaffe didn't sway the election, it did halt the steady gains Ford had been making against Carter in the polls:
Our own polling data would suggest that really in the end we did not lose any people because of the Eastern European statement. That, by and large, people were shocked by it; dumbfounded by it, and some people close to that issue were offended by it.... But over time, almost all of those people came back to us. What it did cost us was momentum because we were just caught dead in our tracks for a week to ten days. And the progress of closing those gaps with about a half point per day stopped, at the same rate, after that ten day gap where everything just stood still.
And news outlets may have played a significant role in creating that dynamic that Bailey described. As the political scientist John Sides recently noted, debate viewers didn't mention the Eastern Europe remarks in a poll conducted on the night of the Ford-Carter matchup. "Only for viewers interviewed the next day did this gaffe become more salient -- evidence that the public needed the news media to point out that Ford had made a mistake," Sides observes. Indeed, the president was subsequently assailed by headlines such as "The Blooper Heard Round the World" and "Jerry Ford Drops a Brick."
These days, the media's judgment is near-instantaneous. If the press hype over the Libya exchange keeps building, it could be bad news for Mitt-mentum.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
CNN's Elise Labott, traveling with Hillary Clinton in Peru, got the secretary of state to make news by stating the obvious: that she is ultimately responsible for the safety of U.S. diplomats.
There's a bit of editorial sleight of hand going on, because the headline quotes her saying "I take responsibility" and then throws in "... for Benghazi" without quotes. So there may be less to this story than meets the eye. Without the full context of her remarks, it's hard to say whether she was really taking the hit for the whole fiasco or not. (The AP has a slightly different version, as does Fox News.)
But hey, it's close enough, and Clinton's comments are obviously going to get wide play and will of course be instantly politicized -- regardless of whether she's merely doing the right thing, or whether she's actually just shielding Obama from scrutiny ahead of Tuesday night's debate, as some are already suggesting, or whether, as the conspiracy-minded would have it, she's pulling some Machiavellian maneuver to appear like she's taking responsibility only to make the president look bad and set herself up for 2016. (Clinton may have unintentionally set Obama up to be more directly attacked, by the way: Three Repubublican senators already have issued a press release saying that the president himself needs to take responsibility.)
Whatever the case, I want to make a couple points about how this Benghazi story is going down.
1) It's a bit rich for all these people to suddenly be arguing that Libya is the most important story in the world after ignoring it for months. It reeks of political opportunism. Did Daryl Issa show any sign that he cared one iota about Libya before the morning of Sept. 12, 2012? Did Mitt Romney?
2) I don't think anyone has a good understanding of what is actually going on in Benghazi. It seems the politics of the place are pretty Byzantine, and the United States has a hard time telling friend from foe. Something doesn't smell right about the February 17 Brigade, the Libyan militia that was responsible for external security at the U.S. consulate. I have my theories, but nothing that's fit to print just yet. One thing I'm sure of: Nobody is telling us the whole story.
3) The Benghazi attack was arguably more of an intelligence failure than it was a security failure. What were all those intelligence folks doing in that annex? Were they so focused on tracking down loose MANPADs that they weren't paying enough attention to the militants next door?
Relatedly: It probably isn't wise for officials like Susan Rice to be pointing fingers at the spooks for handing her talking points that weren't fully accurate, even though it may be fully warranted. Some in the intelligence community are evidently upset, and have been leaking damaging information. Surely there's more where that came from?
4) What about the media's mistakes? Reputable media outlets, including Reuters and the New York Times, initially reported that there was a demonstration, and the Times at least is sticking by its story even though the State Department now says there was no protest at the consulate and footage recovered from that evening shows no such thing.
5) So far, I haven't see any evidence that the Obama administration lied about what happened -- just confusion amid the usual fog of war and poor media management under pressure. Unless I'm missing something, the charge of a "coverup" seems vastly overblown to me. The White House doesn't get involved in security arrangements for U.S. embassies. Are people suggesting that it should?
6) Nobody wants to say it, but Amb. Chris Stevens was a big boy and he made his own decision to go to Benghazi despite the risks. If he thought it was too dangerous, he should not have gone.
7) This crisis could have been a lot worse. For now, it seems the moment has passed and Benghazi was the worst of it. That's a huge relief -- imagine what could happen in a place like Yemen or Pakistan. But further attacks may be in the works, and militant groups have now seen the awesome power of assymetric attacks on U.S. facilities. There will be fresh attempts.
8) The United States can't turn its diplomatic installations into armed camps. U.S. diplomats are going to need to take risks from time to time, and many of them are fully prepared to so. That said, it seems inevitable that this tragedy is going to have precisely the effect the State Department fears: more restrictions on diplomats' movements, more fortress-like facilities, and less interaction with the locals. American diplomacy will be the worse for it -- and that will ultimately make us less safe.
Rep. Paul Ryan asserted last night that if defense cuts mandated as part of a bipartisan budget deal go through, "our Navy will be "the smallest it has been since before World War I."
This echoes an even more dire warning on the Romney campaign's website: "The U.S. Navy has only 284 ships today, on track to hit the lowest level since 1916. Given current trends, the number will decline, and the additional contemplated cuts will cause it to decline even further."
Fact-checkers are dinging Ryan for the statement, noting that ship numbers have gone below 284 several times in the 20th century, but in his defense, he's only echoing a warning by Obama's own defense secretary. Leon Panetta wrote in a Nov., 2011 letter to Sen. John Mccain that, “Rough estimates suggest after ten years of these cuts, we would have the smallest ground force since 1940, the smallest number of ships since 1915, and the smallest Air Force in its history.”
Whether or not the cuts would actually be this dire, measuring naval strength in terms of number of ships is a bit misleading. Here are the numbers from the 1915 fleet of 231 total ships, according to the U.S. Navy website:
Here's the current fleet:
Even after a 19 percent cut, I think I'd take the navy with the aircraft carriers and the nuclear subs in a fight.
Moreover, the pre-World War I line gives the impression that the number of ships has steadily increased since that time and is in danger of staring to decline. The U.S. fleet actually hit its high point at the end of World War II with 6,768 ships. In the post-war era, it hit its high with 1,122 ships in 1953 and has been steadily declining ever since.
This isn't because of spending cuts, it's because of changes in military priorities. As Naval analyst and FP contributor Michael Peck points out:
In 1916, the largest navy in the world belonged to Great Britain (the U.S. devised plans for war with Britain as late as the 1930s), while Germany and France built powerful fleets. Fears of a German invasion of New York were improbable, if not utterly fantastic, but in a pre-nuclear weapon, pre-smart weapon age, the size of a navy really mattered.
There's certainly a legitimate case to be made that the U.S. should reinvest in Naval power as part of a shift in priorities to the Asia-Pacific region. (See Douglas Ollivant for the counterargument.) But the Defense Department and the Romney campaign's framing of this issue in terms of number of boats in the water is probably not the best starting point for the conversation.
It was one of the most heated and perplexing moments in the presidential debate last night. Barack Obama pledged to "close those loopholes that are giving incentives for companies that are shipping jobs overseas" and instead "provide tax breaks for companies that are investing here in the United States." As things stand, he added, "you can actually take a deduction for moving a plant overseas. I think most Americans would say that doesn't make sense. And all that raises revenue."
Romney expressed bewilderment. "You said you get a deduction for taking a plant overseas," he noted. "Look, I've been in business for 25 years. I have no idea what you're talking about. I maybe need to get a new accountant."
So what's going on here? It turns out that both candidates, in a sense, had it right. There's no specific tax break for moving jobs or a plant abroad, but companies can deduct the expenses associated with doing so as part of the cost of doing business.
"To be perfectly blunt [Obama's] proposal is for show only," Eric Toder, co-director of the Washington, D.C.-based Tax Policy Center, told Foreign Policy. While many companies invest overseas, he explained, "there are not a lot of companies that take plants and literally ship them overseas." "Who knows," he added, "maybe [Romney's] businesses never did ship a plant."
For some time now, however, Obama has been running on the promise to end tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas. He made it a central theme of his 2008 campaign, and even raised the issue during a debate while running for the Senate in 2004:
But Obama's talk of "loopholes" and "incentives" for companies to send jobs abroad is pretty misleading. As the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler notes today, it's true that companies can deduct the expenses associated with moving their operations overseas, but they can do so because "ordinary and necessary" business expenses -- including closing a plant in the United States and opening one in another country -- are tax deductible. Or, as Fox News put it, "a company can claim the deduction whether it's moving operations to Bangalore or Boston, to Kuala Lumpur or Kansas City."
In other words, it's not like the U.S. government is encouraging corporations to relocate plants overseas through specific tax credits or sleight of hand in the tax code. Instead, Obama wants to add incentives and disincentives to the tax code by preventing companies from deducting the costs of moving their operations overseas as part of their ordinary business expenses. Kessler also points out that, according to the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, taking such action would only raise $168 million in revenue over a decade -- a paltry sum relative to the country's $1 trillion annual budget deficits.
The Obama administration would go a step further by offering companies a 20-percent tax credit for the costs they incur in moving operations back to the United States, in an effort to incentivize "insourcing." Senate Republicans blocked a Democrat-led bill -- the Bring Jobs Home Act -- that included these very proposals. "Unfortunately, there's a constituency in Congress that supports tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney lamented shortly before the legislation died, in response to a question about why, three-and-a-half years after Obama's election, the president hadn't made good on his campaign promise.
In January, shortly after Obama's State of the Union address, the White House released a fact sheet that offered a clearer explanation of what the president meant by his overseas jobs sound bite:
If a company was closing a plant to move that plant overseas and incurred $1 million in expenses - ranging from the cost of scrapping equipment to shipping physical capital to clean up costs - it could right now deduct those expenses, and get a tax reduction of $350,000 (assuming the firm faces the 35 percent statutory tax rate). The President proposes to eliminate this tax deduction. And, if a corporation moving jobs to the U.S. incurred similar expenses, the President proposes to provide that company with a tax credit of $200,000 to help offset these costs and encourage investment here at home.
That's a point the administration can make without clouding the issue by invoking phantom "loopholes" and "incentives." Or, as Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) put it after waiving a copy of the U.S. tax code on the House floor in July:
"I'll keep this book of tax codes at my desk here. If someone wants to show me the tax code that allows deductions for shipping jobs overseas. I'd like to see it. But it's not in here."
For those who are wondering: As far as I can tell, Orrin Hatch is not Mitt Romney's accountant.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
One of Mitt Romney's biggest laugh lines in last night's debate was a promise to cut funding for PBS, essentially vowing to fire debate moderator Jim Lehrer of the PBS Newshour as well as America's favorite freakishly tall, ambiguously speciesed bird:
I’m sorry, Jim. I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m going to stop other things. I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you too. But I’m not going to -- I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it
PBS and NPR are popular rhetorical targets for conservatives, both for their perceived liberal bias and the fact that Americans think they pay a lot more for them than they actually do. According to a 2011 poll, 40 percent of Americans think the Corporation for Public Broadcasting receives 1-5 percent of the federal budget. 30 percent believe it receives 5 percent or more. The number, at the time, was closer to .00014 percent.
It's worth putting this in international context as well. A 2011 report by Rodney Benson and Matthew Powers of NYU’s Department of Media, Culture and Communication, compared U.S. funding for public broadcasting to 14 other developed countries. This chart shows the results:
Keep in mind that the number for the United States here includes state and local funding. The federal appropriation for the CPB -- which, it bears repeating, does not pay for the majority of local or national public broadcasting -- for fiscal year 2013 is $445 million, less than every country on the list except for Ireland. It's also less than the more than $2 billion the BBC recently cut from its budget -- a reduction considered a severe blow to programming.
The report also found that U.S. per capita spending on public broadcasting is around $4, compared to $30 to $134 for the other countries on the list. And if you think that $4 is still too much for a service few Americans take advantage of, consider that significantly more Americans tune in to NP's Morning Edition and All Things Considered than the nightly newscasts on NBC, CBS, and ABC.
This is not to say that the U.S. should emulate these other countries. American readers of Haruki Murakami's novel 1Q84 were probably somewhat confused by a character who works as an NHK subscription fee collector, going door to door to collect payments for Japan's completely state-funded broadcaster. Annoying as they are, pledge drives are quite a bit less intrusive.
And beloved as the singing baby crocodile Schnappi may be by children throughout Europe, even the most devoted PBS viewers are probably fine with the U.S. not spending $10 billion on public broadcasting like Germany -- Europe's top spender -- does.
But given how the world's largest economy stacks up to its peers when it comes to public broadcasting spending, maybe it's time to give Big Bird a break.
Update: Spaniards woke up today to the news that Mitt Romney had decided to single out their country for fiscal irresponsibility, and many are not happy. María Dolores de Cospedal, the secretary-general of the ruling People's Party, told the radio service RNE that "Spain is not on fire through and through as some on the outside would have us believe," noting that Romney's remarks "upset me deeply" and that Spain "has also been a model for economic recovery." She conceded that "our image has been damaged and regaining confidence is very difficult" but added that Spain "is in the eye of the hurricane" for a reason -- "there are many people who have a lot of interest in the euro not being stable and there are some who believe that the easiest thing to do is to attack Spain." (Cospedal was also responding to a recent New York Times article on widespread poverty in the country.)
Other Spanish leaders have lashed out at Romney as well. José Manuel García-Margallo, the minister of foreign affairs and cooperation, said it was "very unfortunate" that Romney had made "tenuous analogies" without "understanding the reality of countries" like Spain. Alberto Ruiz Gallardón, the justice minister, didn't catch the debate but pledged to "correct misperceptions" about Spain.
Beyond the official responses, the Spanish press is chewing over Romney's comments as well. Headlines include "The Prescription for Spain's Bad Image Is Self-Esteem" and "Romney Didn't Speak the Truth About Spain." Spain is "in bad shape," blogger Martí Saballs admitted at La Expansión, but "to make it an example of a country that the United States shouldn't imitate strikes me as an extraordinary frivolity."
Original post: It may be early morning in Spain right now, but news outlets in the country quickly seized on Mitt Romney's warning during the presidential debate on Wednesday night that if the United States didn't get its fiscal house in order, it could end up like Spain, which is currently grappling with sky high unemployment and steep borrowing costs, and may soon receive a European bailout.
"Spain spends 42 percent of their total economy on government," Romney noted, veering away from the European cautionary tale he most often trots out on the campaign trail: Greece. "We're now spending 42 percent of our economy on government. I don't want to go down the path to Spain." Here's the clip, via Slate:
Within minutes of Romney's remark, Spain's major news outlets lit up with the news. Here's El Pais, with the headline, "Romney: 'I don't want us to go down the path of Spain.'"
And El Mundo, with the banner, "Mitt Romney: 'I don't want to follow the path of Spain.'"
And ABC, with the headline, "Romney: 'Spain spends 42 percent of its economy on government. I don't want to be like Spain.'"
Romney didn't specify his source for the statistics, but he may have gotten his numbers from the Index of Economic Freedom, which the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, publishes each year in partnership with the Wall Street Journal. According to the 2012 Index, America's government expenditure as a percentage of GDP is 42 percent and Spain's is 46 percent (Greece's is 53 percent, which perhaps explains why Romney landed on an ailing European country whose situation was more in line with America's). It's important to keep in mind that government expenditure data in the Index includes federal, state, and local spending.
What are people in Spain making of Romney's remarks? The commentary won't surface until tomorrow, but El Mundo hosted a colorful live blog that included several opinions from its journalists (some of whom are reporting from the States). "Publicizing how well things are going for us," Felipe Sahagún observed drily. "If only for this, it would be better for us to stick with Obama. At least he doesn't stick his finger in our eye."
"Romney has a special obsession with Europe," Eduardo Suárez noted, adding that the GOP candidate has cited Spain before. "He often cites it as an example of everything the United States shouldn't be." Another reporter pointed to IMF statistics on U.S. and Spanish government spending under the heading, "electoral lies."
One commenter on the site had a more pessimistic view. After complaining about the Spanish government's taxes, the reader added, "Well of course you don't want the path of Spain. Who would?"
CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP/Getty Images
In their effort to court undecided voters in industrial swing states like Ohio, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have been going to great lengths to demonstrate their toughness on China, hurling attack ad after attack ad at one another.
Romney has pledged to label China a currency manipulator on his first day in office and promised to balance the budget by asking whether each federal program is so important that it's worth borrowing money from China to finance it. Obama, availing himself of the power that comes with already being in office, announced a World Trade Organization complaint against China during a campaign stop in Ohio. Cracking down on China's unfair trade practices is a loaded issue -- encompassing jobs, the economy, U.S. foreign policy, and American power -- and it may very well come up during tonight's presidential debate.
So who's making the better case? A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, conducted between Sept. 26-30, indicates that the advantage goes to Romney. When asked who would do a better job "dealing with the economic challenges we face from China," 45 percent of registered voters selected Romney while 37 percent selected Obama (the poll also shows Romney slashing Obama's foreign-policy edge by more than half, from 47-32 in July to 46-40). The NBC/WSJ survey hasn't asked the China question before, but a Bloomberg poll of likely voters, conducted between Sept. 21-24, showed Obama and Romney tied at 43 percent when it came to who would do the best job of "dealing with China on trade" (50 percent of respondents in that survey were skeptical of Romney's pledge to designate China as a currency manipulator). If Romney has indeed opened up a lead on Obama on China, that would be a significant development.
Still, there are some caveats to these numbers. Democratic pollster Fred Yang pointed out on MSNBC today that Republicans in past elections have enjoyed even greater advantages on China. And while Romney has narrowed the gap with Obama in swing states such as Florida and Virginia, he's still far behind the president in Ohio -- a state where the Republican candidate's message on China should have particular resonance (indeed, a recent Zogby poll commissioned, fittingly, by Death by China Productions found that likely voters in Ohio trust Romney more than Obama to crack down on unfair Chinese trade practices). If Romney is in fact winning the China argument, it's not yet clear that the achievement will translate into electoral success.
Even so, Obama would probably like to have that eight-point lead on China. After all, all he got for his tough line on Beijing is a lousy (if legally shaky) lawsuit.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Stalled budget negotiations and Benjamin Netanyahu's extension of the timeline for striking Iran's nuclear facilities have the Israeli press speculating that the Israeli prime minister will call early elections in February or March (they're currently scheduled for October 2013). But in a report today, the Israeli financial paper Globes suggested another reason why Netanyahu might want to hold elections as soon as possible:
The likely reelection of US President Barack Obama is also part of Netanyahu's calculations. Netanyahu's aides fear revenge by Obama against Netanyahu for supporting the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, throughout the campaign.
As my colleague Josh Keating pointed out yesterday, the Israeli leader hasn't explicitly endorsed either candidate in the U.S. presidential election. But many political observers in Israel and the United States have pointed out that Netanyahu and Romney are like-minded friends who even have many donors in common, and argued that Netanyahu's actions -- hosting Romney in Israel, demanding that Obama set red lines for Iran's nuclear program, chatting by phone with both Romney and Obama during a recent visit to New York -- amount to an implicit endorsement of the GOP candidate (or, at the very least, an unstated preference).
Globes isn't alone in raising the possibility that Obama, if reelected, could make Netanyahu pay a price for his perceived meddling in the race. As the president has pulled away from Romney in the polls, the idea has gained traction in the Israeli press. Haaretz columnist Anshel Pfeffer, for instance, recently argued that Netanyahu's behavior could torpedo the prime minister's reelection bid:
Surveys show that Israelis are more concerned over losing their strategic alliance with the United States than they fear an Iranian nuclear bomb. Though very few serious observers believe there is much prospect of U.S.-Israeli ties being seriously downgraded during the administration of whichever candidate wins in November, there are certainly grounds to believe that the Obama-Netanyahu relationship will become even more acrimonious, should both leaders be reelected as polls indicate is likely. They have both been so bad at papering over their differences in public that there is little hope for any improvement once Obama enters his second term, unencumbered by electoral considerations....
If ... Obama secures another four years in the Oval Office, then no matter how he treats Netanyahu and Israel over the next few months, Bibi's opponents and media critics will ceaselessly remind voters how the prime minister allowed himself to be openly aligned with the president's rival. Will that harm Netanyahu's reelection bid? It depends on how deep the mistrust between him and Obama will seem and what other issues are on the agenda, but opposition politicians are already routinely blaming him for jeopardizing Israel's most crucial relationship. For now, not one of his challengers is seen as a credible prime minister, and the electoral mathematics still favor a right-wing-religious coalition, but a full-blown crisis with the administration may yet prove the most significant threat to the chances of a third Netanyahu victory. If Obama wins in November, Netanyahu may very well regret his decision four months ago not to hold early elections in 2011.
In another Haaretz op-ed on Friday, Don Futterman, the Israel program director for the Moriah Fund, made a similar point:
Netanyahu and [casino magnate Sheldon Adelson] may have been able to buy Republican support for their pet positions: that Iran must be attacked and settlements allowed to flourish. They forgot to consider the possibility that Obama might be reelected. At this moment, it seems Netanyahu may have bet on the wrong horse, but why was the leader of the Jewish state betting on horses at all?...
The Iranian threat should never have become a partisan issue in U.S. election politics. If only our prime minister could have looked after Israel's interest with dispassionate concern instead of trying to play kingmaker. Due to the damage he has done to Israel's relationship with the U.S. administration and the personal animus he has demonstrated toward one of the most supportive American presidents Israel has ever known, Netanyahu's legacy may prove more apocalyptic than messianic. His failure could be epic and historic.
And here's former Knesset employee Susan Hattis Rolef in the Jerusalem Post a week earlier:
It is not difficult to guess that irrespective of the result of the US presidential election, but certainly in the case of an Obama victory which today seems more than likely, Netanyahu's [appearance on the Sunday talk shows] will further distance liberal American Jewry from Israel, emotionally, culturally and financially.
Israel-US relations are already in need of some serious repair, and let us just hope that we are not in a situation of "all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty Dumpty together again."
In the wake of Netanyahu's visit to the U.N. General Assembly in New York last week, the White House and the prime minister's office have emphasized their common ground when it comes to dealing with Iran, the biggest thorn in the side of U.S.-Israeli relations. But while we may all be focused on Nov. 6, some in Israel are still preoccupied by the question of what happens the day after.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
I think we can add Hugo Chavez to the list of Obama endorsements that Ohioans won't be seeing in the president's campaign ads:
"If I were American, I'd vote for Obama," Chavez said in a televised interview that aired Sunday.
The Venezuelan leader called Obama "a good guy" and said if the U.S. president were a Venezuelan, "I think ... he'd vote for Chavez."
Not surprisingly, Romney supporters are gleefully publicizing the endorsement.
No other leaders have have been quite as blatant in picking a candidate in the U.S. election. After all, they're going to have to deal with whoever gets elected and generally duck the question when asked. (See Hamid Karzai's diplomatic answer to Wolf Blitzer: " It's for the American people to decide their president. I like them both and have worked well with both.") But a number of other leaders have dropped some hints about who they'd rather see in the White House in November.
Probably leaning Obama:
Francois Hollande: The French president was not exactly subtle when asked about the U.S. election in New York last week. "I'm careful to say nothing because you can imagine if a Socialist were to support one of the two candidates that might be to his detriment," he said. He then quipped: : “So I suppose I should endorse Mitt Romney. But I won’t.”
Hollande may be a socialist, but Obama fandom seems to cut accross party lines in France. Nicolas Sarkozy set a precedent for this sort of thing, when he essentially endorsed Obama in 2008. He also said of Obama's mideast peace efforts in March, "President Obama, who is a very great president, won't take the initiative before he's re-elected -- and I hope he will be."
David Cameron: Conservatives on either side of the pond hoping for Thatcher-Reagan II if Romney is elected might be disappointed. From all the signals we've gotten, Cameron seems to be an Obama man. Visiting the United States in March, Cameron praised the president for his “strength, moral authority, and wisdom" as well as his "strong and beautiful words." The British tabloids had a field day over Cameron's "fawning" after taking in a basketball game with the president and U.S. conservatives complained about Camerons"unprecedented" Republican leaders while in Washington. Then came the GOP candidate's visit to London and the series of gaffes that came to be known as "Romneyshambles." Cameron, not surprisingly, differed with Romney's doubts about whether Britain could successfully come together to "celebrate the Olympic moment," saying, "We'll show the world we've not only come together as a United Kingdom but are extremely good at welcoming people from across the world." (London mayor Boris Johnson was a lot more blunt.)
Vladimir Putin: Putin was the only foreign leader mentioned by name in Romney's convention speech, so it makes sense that he takes the U.S. race a bit personally. The Russian president suggested in an interview with the satellite network RT that Obama would probably be easier to work with than the candidate who has described his country as America's "number one gepolitical foe." “Is it possible to find a solution to the problem, if current President Obama is re-elected for a second term? Theoretically, yes,”Putin said. He continued: "My feeling is that he is a very honest man, and that he sincerely wants to make many good changes. But can he do it? Will they let him do it?”
He has also paid a backhanded compliment to Romney: “I’m grateful to him for formulating his stance so clearly because he has once again proven the correctness of our approach to missile defense problems... The most important thing for us is that even if he doesn’t win now, he or a person with similar views may come to power in four years. We must take that into consideration while dealing with security issues for a long perspective.”
Probably leaning Romney:
Benjamin Netanyahu: Romney has made his support for Netanyahu, whom he has known since the 1970s, a centerpiece of his campaign. Anonymous sources close to Netanyahu say would prefer to see Romney in the White House. As Romney notes in his now infamous hidden camera fundraising speech, some of his campaign consultants also worked for Netanyahu and the two share a number of major donors as well. All the same, Netanyahu has denied that his recent comments asserting that Obama has no "moral right" to prevent Israel from attacking Iran were not meant to undermind the adminsitration. "What's guiding me is not the election in the United States but the centrifuges in Iran,"he recently told an Israeli newspaper. This hasn't really satisfied his American critics.
Donald Tusk/Lech Walesa: As recently as 2011, despite past disagreements over issues like the planned missile defense system in Poland, Tusk told Obama “We feel that you are one of us” during a visit to Poland. But this May, Tusk responded with rare vitriol to a reference made by the president to "Polish death camps" -- as opposed to Nazi death camps located in Poland -- during a White House ceremony. Tusk said the remarks smacked of " ignorance, lack of knowledge, bad intentions" and rejected the White House's explanation that the president has simply "misspoke." Tusk met with Romney during the GOP candidate's trip to Poland in July but hasn't said anything that can be construed as an endorsement of either side.
Former Polish President and anticommunist icon Lech Walesa was not so subtle, telling Romney, “I wish you to be successful because this success is needed to the United States, of course, but to Europe and the rest of the world, too." Walesa had refused to meet with Obama in 2011. Romney has made confronting Russia a centerpiece of his foreign policy and has accused Obama of abandoning Poland in the name of the "reset" with the Kremlin. Though feelings toward the U.S. haven't really changed much in Poland in recent years.
Fidel Castro:Back in 2008, Castro called Obama "more intelligent, refined, and even-handed" than John McCain. But this time around, he has argued that a robot would do a better job preventing "a war that would end the life of our species". (Jokes about his personality aside, Castro's no fan of Mitt Romney. He says Republicans have "more nuclear arms on their backs than ideas for peace in their heads.") Really, he just seems excited about the robot idea, writing, "I'm sure 90 percent of voting Americans, especially Hispanics, blacks, and the growing number of impoverished middle class, would vote for the robot."
Am I missing any endorsements or near endorsements? Write them in the comments.
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
Friday ushered in a surreal new chapter in the duel between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney over how to approach relations with Israel and Iran's nuclear program, as both candidates hopped on phone calls with Benjamin Netanyahu a day after the Israeli prime minister delivered a fiery U.N. address on red lines for Iran in New York.
During Obama's conversation with Netanyahu (see photo above), the White House announced, "the two leaders underscored that they are in full agreement on the shared goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon." Romney told reporters that while he and the Israeli leader spoke about red lines in a subsequent chat, they did not delve into the "kind of detail" that "would define precisely where that red line would be."
The bizarre episode raises the question: Is it normal for presidential candidates to insert themselves into global events by dialing up heads of state? In fact, Obama did pretty much the same thing -- multiple times, no less -- as a candidate during the 2008 campaign.
Obama, like Romney, embarked on a foreign trip as a candidate, meeting face-to-face with leaders such as Afghan President Hamid Karzai, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (headline: "Obama Talks Tough About Iran During Visit to Israel"). But he also placed several phone calls.
In January 2008, for example, Obama reached out to the two leaders at the center of a bitterly disputed election in Kenya, his father's homeland. "What I urged was that all the leaders there, regardless of their position on the election, tell their supporters to stand down," Obama explained at the time. The Bush-era State Department, which coordinated the calls with Obama, praised the effort. "Any time you have a person of stature ... who is pushing for a peaceful, political resolution, that's a positive thing," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
Then, after hostilities erupted between Georgia and Russia in August 2008, both Obama and Republican challenger John McCain phoned Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, while condemning Russia for violating Georgia's sovereignty. In fact, the candidates called Saakashvili so frequently -- the Georgian leader said he heard from them "pretty often" -- that it became a bit of a contest; when pressed by Fox News, Saakashvili conceded that McCain had called first but that Obama was "very supportive." In September, the prime minister requested a call with Obama to thank him for mentioning Georgia in his convention speech.
The campaign-trail diplomacy didn't stop at phone calls. McCain sent two of his allies in the Senate -- Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) -- to Georgia at the height of the conflict, while Joe Biden, then a leading contender to be Obama's running mate, made the trip himself.
Perhaps that's the lesson: We'll know this is getting out of hand when Romney dispatches campaign surrogates to Jerusalem.
The White House
The foreign-policy results of the new Bloomberg National Poll haven't gotten much attention yet, but the survey contains some bad news for the Obama campaign. According to the poll, Mitt Romney has a 48-42 advantage over Barack Obama on the question of which candidate would be tougher on terrorism. Romney, in other words, has encroached on one of Obama's signature strengths.
What makes this result so surprising is that the president has consistently trounced Romney when it comes to counterterrorism. A Fox News poll earlier this month found that 49 percent of respondents trusted Obama to do a better job than Romney in protecting the United States from terrorist attacks, compared with 41 percent who put their faith in the Republican candidate. The president had a 51-40 advantage on handling terrorism in an ABC News/Washington Post poll around the same time, and a 50-35 edge on carrying out the war on terror in an Ipsos/Reuters poll in August. The Democrats' rare national-security muscle was on full display at their convention, where speakers boasted about the administration's successful raid against Osama bin Laden and targeted killings of al Qaeda leaders.
The Bloomberg poll contains other grim findings for Obama -- such as declining approval of the president's diplomacy and a neck-and-neck battle between Obama and Romney on flashpoint campaign issues such as energy independence, Chinese trade practices, relations with Israel, and Iran's nuclear program (61 percent of respondents were skeptical about Obama's pledge to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon). There are also bright spots for the president, like healthy skepticism about Romney's promise to designate China a currency manipulator and Obama's continued advantage over Romney on the question of which candidate would be better suited to handle a Mideast crisis.
Significantly, Bloomberg's survey, which was conducted from Sept. 21-24, is one of the first polls to come out since the wave of anti-American protests in the Middle East. The key question: Is Romney's terrorism advantage an anomaly, or a sign that Obama is more vulnerable on national security after the unrest in the Middle East and the administration's shifting account of the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi?
Given that a separate poll this weeks shows Obama besting Romney on national security among likely voters in swing states, it may be too early to answer that question.
David Calvert/Getty Images
In an interview with CNN's Piers Morgan, the 42nd president discusses some other countries where he might be able to run for president -- technically speaking, of course -- and also reveals that he's clearly spent a lot of time thinking about this:
Said Clinton: "There are only two countries I'm eligible to run for the leadership position is if I move to Ireland and buy a house, I can -- I can run for president of Ireland, because of my Irish heritage."
"And because I was born in Arkansas, which is part of the Louisiana Purchase, any person anywhere in the world that was born in a place that ever was part of the French empire, if you move to -- if you live in France for six months and speak French, you can run for president."
"However, I once polled very well in a French presidential race. And I said, you know, this is great, but that's the best I'd ever do because once they heard my broken French with a Southern accent, I would drop into single digits within a week and I'd be toast."
I wrote an explainer at the height of the Obama-Trump birth certificate insanity looking into whether it would be theoretically possible for Obama to run for the president of some other country. For instance, the president could claim Kenyan citizenship through his Kenyan father and then run for the presidency after he establishes residency. But what about the less exotically backgrounded Bill?
FP contributor Alex Massie calls BS on the Ireland claim, noting that Clinton doesn't have any Irish grandparents. According to Irish law, "Unless at least one parent or grandparent was an Irish citizen at the time of your birth, you cannot claim Irish citizenship on the basis of extended previous ancestry." It is possible for the Justice Minister to waive the requirement if "If you are of Irish descent or of Irish associations." So essentially, the current government can decide whether or not to make an exception for Clinton in order to greenlight his presidential ambitions. Popular as he is, this seems like an unlikely scenario.
What about France? Clinton likely got the Louisiana Purchase idea from political scientist Patrick Weil, who wrote an open letter to him in the New York Times in 2001 suggesting it:
Under Section 5 of Article 21-19 of the French civil code, citizens of states or territories over which France has ever exercised sovereignty or extended a mandate or protectorate may apply immediately for naturalization, without the normal five-year residency requirement.
Arkansas, where you were born, was once part of French Louisiana. And as a naturalized French citizen, you would have the same full rights as all other French citizens. That includes running for the presidency.
Unfortunately for Clinton, and his fellow Louisiana territory residents, Section 5 has been been abrogé and doesn't appear in the current version of the code. According to a footnote in a 2004 New York Review of Books article, "After Weil's article made this provision of the French nationality law notorious, the French parliament abolished it in on July 24, 2006."
Of course, it's theoretically possible for Clinton to move to a country that doesn't have a natural-born citizenship requirement for the presidency, become a citizen the old-fashioned way, and then run. But it doesn't look like his birthplace or ancestry are going to help him out here.
In his 60 Minutes interview on Sunday night, Mitt Romney offered an interesting response to Scott Pelley's question about what sacrifices he would ask the American people to make in his effort to balance the budget. He argued that those sacrifices would depend on the extent to which he is willing to go hat in hand to China, the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt.
I'm going to look at every federal program and I'll ask this question, "Is this so -- program so critical it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it?" And if it doesn't pass that test, I'm going to eliminate the program because we just can't afford to keep spending more money than we take in. This is, this is something which is not just bad economics. I think it's immoral.
Romney didn't specify exactly how he'd determine whether a federal program passes the China sniff test, but the line, which the Republican candidate hasn't used much yet on the campaign trail, is attractive for several reasons. For one thing, it draws a straight line between two top issues for Republicans: the swelling national debt and a perceived loss of America's geopolitical power. As Paul Ryan declared during a PowerPoint presentation on the debt over the weekend, "We are now relying on other governments to basically cash-flow our government. And when you rely on other countries to lend you their money to run your country, you lose your sovereignty."
The line also plays into Romney's larger argument that Obama has been weak on China and failed to stop Beijing from "cheating" by manipulating its currency and engaging in unfair trade practices -- an argument the campaign hopes will play well in swing states like Ohio, which depends on the auto industry (during a campaign stop in Ohio last week, Obama announced a WTO complaint against China over its subsidies for exports of cars and auto parts).
In the latest installment of the Obama-Romney ad wars on China, the Romney campaign released an ad today accusing China of "stealing American ideas and technology" and Obama of failing to take action against Beijing (Obama has filed several trade cases against China, though he's never labeled the country a currency manipulator) -- just as Romney and Ryan begin a bus tour in Ohio (the Obama campaign retorted that Romney's 2011 tax returns included Chinese investments).
Given that Romney has repeatedly called the Chinese cheaters and pledged to label Beijing a currency manipulator on his first day in office, I'm getting the sense that federal programs would have to have a whole lot going for them to pass Romney's litmus test for balancing the budget.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
A day after denouncing President Obama for his handling of attacks on U.S. missions in Egypt and Libya, Mitt Romney appears to be changing the subject. During a campaign stop in Virginia on Thursday, the Republican candidate veered away from the controversial critique, focusing on foreign-policy issues such as China instead.
Accusing Beijing of decimating American manufacturing by undervaluing its currency, Romney declared that he'll "call [the Chinese] on the carpet" if they continue to "cheat." Obama "had the chance year after year to label China a currency manipulator, but he hasn't done so," Romney added. "And I will label China the currency manipulator they are on the first day."
The Romney campaign complemented the speech with a new ad accusing Obama of "failing to stop cheating" by ceding manufacturing ground to China (the Obama campaign quickly shot off a press release pointing to manufacturing job growth since 2010 and the administration's seven trade complaints against China). At one point in the spot, Romney passionately tells a small audience on a factory floor that "it's time to stand up to the cheaters."
All of this makes me wonder: How are the Chinese, who are gearing up for their own leadership transition this fall, responding to all this cheating talk?
It turns out they don't care very much. And when they do, they don't see as much of a difference between the two candidates as you might think. After all, as a candidate in 2008 Obama bashed Beijing for manipulating its currency and accused George W. Bush of being a "patsy" in his trade negotiations with China. As Bloomberg's Adam Minter recently put it in an entertaining look at Chinese impressions of the U.S. election, Romney is "boiled cabbage next to Obama's boiled chicken."
China-bashing, many Chinese news outlets argue, has simply become par for the course in U.S. elections. Romney may be trying to "curry favor with hard right-wing elements in the Republican Party" with his proposals on China, a recent op-ed in the state-run China Daily noted, but the Chinese people, "have become inured to such campaign talk from American politicians. Since the end of the Cold War, both Democratic and Republican politicians have cited former US policies toward China in attempts to rake up unsavory parts of each other's pasts." The campaign rhetoric is "just meant to win votes and would prove disastrous if pursued," the writer adds.
An editorial late last month in the state-run Global Times -- entitled, "U.S. election pick barely matters for China" -- is even more dismissive and aggressive:
[Romney] has attracted less attention from the Chinese public than previous candidates. In the recent few days, Chinese media has focused on a fleeing official and the inappropriate behavior of a security supervisor at the site of a traffic accident.
To China, the US matters less than before. Even though the majority of Chinese think the US intends to contain China and are worried about potential confrontation between the two sides, but the worry hasn't generated much apprehension.
Chinese increasingly believe the biggest challenge for the country comes from within. Washington cannot easily threaten us. Any move of the US against China will be responded to accordingly.
So far, I'm not seeing much coverage of Romney's new ad in the Chinese press. Then again, I suppose that's not surprising.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
President Obama hasn't mentioned the unpopular Libyan intervention much on the campaign trail, making only a passing reference to the successful operation in his convention speech last week (Senator John Kerry was the only speaker who addressed the conflict at any length).
Late on Tuesday, however, Vanity Fair released a much-anticipated profile of Obama by journalist Michael Lewis -- one that relies on unprecedented White House access to illuminate the process by which the president decided to intervene in Libya, interwoven with the story of a U.S. airman whose plane crashed in the Libyan desert during the operation. Obama comes across as a decisive, thoughtful, and principled commander-in-chief -- the kind of portrait the Obama campaign would want to see in the press during the final months of the election.
The article, however, is getting drowned out today by criticisms of the president's Libya policy in the wake of an assault on the U.S. consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three staffers. While many Republicans and Democrats are calling for unity in the face of the attack and the simultaneous storming of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, some on the right are criticizing the Obama administration instead.
On Wednesday, Mitt Romney, who has criticized Obama in the past for bungling the intervention and neglecting Libya's political transition, declared that "American leadership is necessary to ensure that events in the region don't spin out of control." On Facebook, Sarah Palin added, "these countries represent [Obama's] much touted 'Arab Spring.' How's that Arab Spring working out for us now?"
In his Vanity Fair profile, Lewis sheds light on Obama's approach to the Arab Spring in a vivid description of a Situation Room discussion in mid-March, as Muammar al-Qaddafi's troops advanced toward Benghazi. Believing that a no-fly zone would prove ineffective, Obama peppered his national security team with questions about what kind of damage Qaddafi could inflict on the civilian population, before upending the meeting's agenda altogether:
The Pentagon then presented the president with two options: establish a no-fly zone or do nothing at all. The idea was that the people in the meeting would debate the merits of each, but Obama surprised the room by rejecting the premise of the meeting. "He instantly went off the road map," recalls one eyewitness. "He asked, ‘Would a no-fly zone do anything to stop the scenario we just heard?'" After it became clear that it would not, Obama said, "I want to hear from some of the other folks in the room."
Obama then proceeded to call on every single person for his views, including the most junior people. "What was a little unusual," Obama admits, "is that I went to people who were not at the table. Because I am trying to get an argument that is not being made." The argument he had wanted to hear was the case for a more nuanced intervention -- and a detailing of the more subtle costs to American interests of allowing the mass slaughter of Libyan civilians. His desire to hear the case raises the obvious question: Why didn't he just make it himself? "It's the Heisenberg principle," he says. "Me asking the question changes the answer. And it also protects my decision-making."
Lewis writes that it was mainly these junior staffers -- some of whom were haunted by America's failure to stop the Rwandan genocide -- who argued for intervention in Libya, adding that Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, who would be tasked with drafting a Libya speech, "said in the meeting that he preferred to explain why the United States had prevented a massacre over why it hadn't."
Connecting Obama's Libya decision to the theory of "just wars" that the president articulated in accepting his Nobel Peace Prize, Lewis argues that Obama ultimately bucked his Cabinet's advice in pushing for a U.N. resolution authorizing "all necessary measures" to protect Libyan civilians -- and that he may have done so in part because the American public did not feel strongly about how the United States should respond to the Libyan crisis:
Once again he polled the people in the room for their views. Of the principals only [U.N. Ambassador] Susan Rice (enthusiastically) and [Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton (who would have settled for a no-fly zone) had the view that any sort of intervention made sense. "How are we going to explain to the American people why we're in Libya," asked [White House Chief of Staff] William Daley, according to one of those present. "And Daley had a point: who gives a shit about Libya?"
From the president's point of view there was a certain benefit in the indifference of the American public to whatever was happening in Libya. It enabled him to do, at least for a moment, pretty much whatever he wanted to do. Libya was the hole in the White House lawn.
Obama made his decision: push for the U.N resolution and effectively invade another Arab country. Of the choice not to intervene he says, "That's not who we are," by which he means that's not who I am. The decision was extraordinarily personal. "No one in the Cabinet was for it," says one witness. "There was no constituency for doing what he did."
In connecting Obama's decision-making process back to the experience of the downed Air Force pilot, Lewis points out that the administration's narrative on Libya would have looked very different had the navigator not been rescued:
Then the story would no longer have been a complex tale ignored by the American public about how the United States had forged a broad international coalition to help people who claimed to share our values rid themselves of a tyrant.
The story would have become a much simpler one, ripe for exploitation by his foes: how a president elected to extract us from a war in one Arab country got Americans killed in another.
Will the narrative on America's involvement in Libya change after this week's tragic events?
Alex Wong/Getty Images
At their convention in Charlotte last week, Democrats seized on Barack Obama's rare advantage over Mitt Romney on national security, portraying the Republican candidate and his running mate as bumbling foreign-policy novices, repeatedly referencing the president's involvement in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, and emphatically staking the Democratic Party's claim to leadership on national security.
"In a world of new threats and new challenges, you can choose leadership that has been tested and proven," Obama declared, while Senator John Kerry (D-MA) praised the president for giving "new life and truth to America's indispensable role in the world" and never asking "other men and women to fight a war without a plan to win the peace." No wonder this week's headlines herald a full-fledged Democratic offensive against the Romney campaign on foreign policy.
But here's a counterfactual: Would Obama be in as strong a position today -- with substantial leads against Romney on counterterrorism, foreign policy, and national security -- if he hadn't ordered the raid that killed bin Laden? The evidence is mixed.
To investigate the question, we need to travel back to the days before the bin Laden operation in May 2011. By April of that year, many of the cornerstones of Obama's foreign policy were in place. He had already ramped up drone strikes against suspected terrorists, ordered a troop surge in Afghanistan, inked a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia, and spearheaded the multilateral military intervention in Libya (Obama wouldn't withdraw the final U.S. troops from Iraq until the end of the year).
And yet, as the operation in Libya got underway, Rasmussen Reports recorded record-low approval for Obama's handling of national security, with only 37 percent of respondents supporting his policies, down from 45 percent a year earlier.
In the weeks after the bin Laden raid, however, Obama's national security ratings rebounded and his overall approval rating soared. "Obama's performance on national security and international affairs and his image as a strong leader appear to be behind his rising approval rating," CNN observed at the time.
But the bin Laden bounce is a bit misleading. While AP-GfK polling suggests that support for Obama's counterterrorism policies benefitted from the raid, with approval ratings peaking at 72 percent in May 2011 and hovering in the low 60s ever since, CBS News polling on support for Obama's handling of foreign policy doesn't indicate a similar trend (the president's approval rating has danced around in the 40s since 2010).
What's more, it's Republicans who seem to appreciate the bin Laden operation the most. When CNN recorded the surge in Obama's approval rating in May 2011, it noted that the al Qaeda leader's death had primarily boosted Obama's support among Republicans and senior citizens. Last December, the most popular answer (27 percent) to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News question about the Obama administration's "most positive accomplishment" was the killing of Osama bin Laden (27 percent). But only 14 percent of Democrats chose that answer compared with nearly half of Republican respondents.
Poll after poll this year suggests that voters care about jobs and the economy -- not foreign policy. But as the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake noted last year, these results can be red herrings:
Remember that presidential elections tend to turn less on the candidates' position on any single issue than the overall feeling that he (or she) engenders in the public.
Put more simply: Intangibles matter. And Obama's polling strength on national security could well help the incumbent win over voters who are on the fence about his overall performance during his first four years in office.
By drawing a sharp contrast with Romney on foreign policy -- arguably the president's greatest strength -- the Obama campaign may be trying to convince swing voters that the president's overall job performance has been strong enough to merit four more years in office. And if Obama weren't in a position to cite his greatest national security success so far, that would be a much harder case to make.
CHRIS KLEPONIS/AFP/Getty Images
In defending Mitt Romney's national security credentials to BuzzFeed on Tuesday, foreign policy advisor Robert O'Brien cited a rather curious data point -- the French Romney picked up while serving as a Mormon missionary in France in the late 1960s:
"The Governor is an extraordinarily well-traveled businessman, he lived overseas as a young man, he speaks French, he understands the world and he's written extensively about foreign policy and national security," he continued. "The idea that he's this naive guy at 65 years old, given his experience heading the Olympic Winter Games and everything else, I just don't think that's going to play."
Take that Mr. President, with your "passable" Bahasa and middling Spanish! Barack Obama, after all, admitted that he lacked foreign language skills on the campaign trail in 2008, remarking that "it's embarrassing when Europeans come over here, they all speak English, they speak French, they speak German. And then we go over to Europe and all we can say is merci beaucoup, right?" Wrong. Not if you're Mitt Romney.
What's particularly striking about O'Brien's comment is that Newt Gingrich, who speaks a little French himself, attacked this very trait in the Republican primary, pointing out that Romney spoke French while promoting the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002. In the campaign ad below, the narrator observes that "just like [former Democratic presidential nominee] John Kerry, he speaks French too."
Now, it seems, the campaign is turning Romney's French skills into an asset-- a testament to the candidate's wordliness. Over the weekend, Romney's running mate Paul Ryan also defended his record on foreign policy -- in a line that sounded eerily similar to Dan Quayle's assertion during the 1988 vice-presidential debate that he had "as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency." Here's what Ryan had to say:
I have more foreign policy experience coming into this job than President Obama did coming into his....
I've been in Congress for 14 years. He was in the Senate for far, far less time that that. I voted -- you know, Norah, I voted to send men and women to war. I've been to Iraq and Afghanistan. I've met with our troops to get their perspectives. I've been to the funerals. I've talked to the widows. I've talked to the wives, the moms and dads. That's something. That matters.
I take this very seriously. I've done doing this for 14 years.
So far, the Obama campaign hasn't borrowed a page from Lloyd Bentsen, Quayle's challenger in 1988, who famously told the Republican senator, "I served with Jack Kennedy, I knew Jack Kennedy, Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy."
At the Democratic convention in Charlotte on Thursday evening, Vice President Joe Biden recycled a slogan he's often repeated on the campaign trail. "Osama bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive," he reminded a roaring crowd.
The line is more than just a crowd-pleaser. As Democratic pollster Jeremy Rosner notes, the fact that half of Biden's distilled pitch relates to foreign policy speaks to the rare advantage the Democratic Party has on national security in 2012, thanks to accomplishments such as ending the war in Iraq and killing Osama bin Laden and other terrorist leaders. An Ipsos/Reuters poll last month found that 51 percent of registered voters believe Barack Obama is stronger on foreign policy than Mitt Romney, while 35 percent believe the Republican candidate has the edge. The president also has a 47-38 advantage on national security and a 50-35 advantage on the war on terror.
"This is not so entrenched in the DNA of the modern Democratic Party," Rosner tells Foreign Policy. He points out that when his firm, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, asked respondents at the end of 2003 which party would do a better job on national security, 54 percent selected the GOP, while 25 percent chose the Democrats (in the 2004 election, George W. Bush racked up double-digit leads over John Kerry, a Vietnam veteran, on Iraq and terrorism). That 30-point gap narrowed at times during the 2008 election, Rosner adds, and now the balance has shifted in the other direction.
Rosner says the last time a Democratic presidential candidate enjoyed such a foreign-policy advantage was 1964, when Lyndon Johnson argued that he was far more capable than Republican challenger Barry Goldwater of navigating the Cold War and averting a nuclear crisis. On the campaign trail, Goldwater had gotten himself into trouble for saying that America's intercontinental missiles were "not dependable" (Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara claimed the comment was "damaging to the national security") and that NATO should amass a stockpile of "small conventional nuclear weapons" ("How 'conventional' was the 'small' weapon over Hiroshima?" retorted Deputy Secretary of Defense Cyrus Vance).
The low point for Goldwater was the Johnson campaign's famous "Daisy" ad, in which images of a little girl picking petals gave way to a mushroom cloud, as Johnson warned of the deadly stakes of nuclear war and a sober announcer encouraged Americans to vote for the president. In his convention speech, Johnson made sure to trumpet his foreign-policy credentials:
I report tonight as President of the United States and as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces on the strength of your country, and I tell you that it is greater than any adversary. I assure you that it is greater than the combined might of all the nations, in all the wars, in all the history of this planet. And I report our superiority is growing....
There is no place in today's world for weakness. But there is also no place in today's world for recklessness. We cannot act rashly with the nuclear weapons that could destroy us all.
Just four years later, the Democratic advantage on national security had subsided as the Vietnam War soured. But the Democrats sure were brimming with confidence (and wisecracks) again on the final night of this year's convention. Just look at some of the rhetoric from Thursday's speeches. Here's Obama:
So now we have a choice. My opponent and his running mate are new to foreign policy.
But from all that we've seen and heard, they want to take us back to an era of blustering and blundering that cost America so dearly.
After all, you don't call Russia our number one enemy -- not al-Qaeda, Russia -- unless you're still stuck in a Cold War mind warp.
You might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can't visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally.
Bravery resides in the heart of Barack Obama, and time and time again I witnessed him summon it. This man has courage in his soul, compassion in his heart, and a spine of steel.
Kerry, meanwhile, chastised Romney for not mentioning the U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan in his convention speech, and called the GOP candidate and his running mate, Paul Ryan, "the most inexperienced foreign-policy twosome to run for president and vice president in decades." And that wasn't all:
Mr. Romney -- here's a little advice: Before you debate Barack Obama on foreign policy, you better finish the debate with yourself!
"President Mitt Romney" -- three hypothetical words that mystified and alienated our allies this summer. For Mitt Romney, an overseas trip is what you call it when you trip all over yourself overseas. It wasn't a goodwill mission -- it was a blooper reel.
Expect to hear much more of this rhetoric as we enter the final months of the campaign. But if 1964 has taught us anything, it's that a national-security advantage, once secured, can prove fleeting.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
During national security night at the Democratic convention on Thursday evening, we heard a lot about how Barack Obama has navigated international affairs. But what do those actions look like in practice? Here's a quick rundown of some of the numbers underlying his foreign policy over the past four years:
Reported drone strikes* in Pakistan: 282
Estimated militant casualities in Pakistani drone strikes (range): 1,349 - 2,330
Estimated civilian** casualties in Pakistani drone strikes (range): 37 - 52
Numbers of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay in 2009: 242
Number of prisoners at Guantánamo in 2012: 168
Troops withdrawn from Iraq: 142,000
U.S. casualties in Iraq: 264
Size of Afghan troop surge: 33,000
U.S. casualties in Afghanistan: 1,484
Number of nuclear warheads U.S. can deploy in 7 years under New START: 1,550
Free trade agreements: 3
Countries visited by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: 108
Confidence in Obama in Europe (2009 - 2012): 86% - 80%
Confidence in Obama in Muslim countries (2009 - 2012): 33% - 24%
Confidence in Obama in Russia (2009 - 2012): 37% - 36%
Confidence in Obama in China (2009 - 2012): 62% - 38%
* Drone strikes are tallied starting from Obama's inauguration on Jan. 20, 2009.
** These estimates do not include victims who were not identified in media reports as either militants or civilians.
Pete Souza/White House Photo via Getty Images
On Wednesday evening, former President Bill Clinton will issue a full-throated endorsement of Barack Obama at the Democratic convention in Charlotte. But as the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza recently pointed out, the frayed relationship between the two Democratic leaders -- tested by the bitter 2007-2008 primary contest between Obama and Hillary Clinton -- has never fully mended.
Before Hillary Clinton dropped out of the Democratic primary, the former president did have the occasional good thing to say about Obama when it came to foreign policy. In July 2007, for example, he refused to be drawn into a dispute between Obama and his wife over whether the United States should meet with the leaders of hostile nations without preconditions. All the Democratic candidates, he noted, had "a vigorous agreement on the big question, which is, 'Should we have more diplomacy?' The answer is yes."
But Obama and Clinton clashed over two of the defining issues of the campaign: the Iraq war and Obama's inexperience.
The spat over the war in Iraq began in November 2007, when Clinton told a crowd in Iowa that he had "opposed Iraq from the beginning," even though he was on record supporting the war in 2003. When asked about the comments, Obama quipped, "If he did [oppose it], I don't think most of us heard about it."
Then, during a talk at Dartmouth College in January 2008, Clinton mocked the Obama campaign for celebrating the candidate's opposition to the Iraq war back in 2002 (that same year, Hillary Clinton voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq).
"It is wrong that Senator Obama got to go through 15 debates trumpeting his superior judgment ... and never got asked one time, not once, well, how could you say that when you said in 2004 you didn't know how you would have voted on the resolution, you said in 2004 there was no difference between you and George Bush on the war ... and there's no difference in your voting record and Hillary's ever since?" Clinton asked. "Give me a break. This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen."
Obama had indeed expressed support for the ongoing war effort during the 2004 presidential election, but he had also reiterated his opposition to the original invasion. Obama criticized Clinton for repeating "this notion that somehow I didn't know where I stood in 2004 about the war. He keeps on giving half the quote. I was always against the war."
Clinton also attacked Obama's lack of experience in interviews with Al Hunt and Charlie Rose in the final months of 2007, arguing that Obama was ill-equipped to handle foreign-policy issues like terrorism and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. When Rose noted that experienced officials had orchestrated the war in Iraq, Clinton responded:
I remember the first time Senator Obama said that, said, you know, [former Vice President Dick] Cheney and [former Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld had a lot of experience. And that has great superficial appeal. But let me make the argument in another context. That's like saying that because 100 percent of the malpractices case, medical malpractice, are committed by doctors, the next time I need surgery, I'll get a chef or a plumber to do it.
Here's the full video (the discussion of Obama begins at 24:00, and the quote above comes at 35:00):
With the debate over the Iraq war, the hand-wringing over Obama's lack of experience, and the rivalry between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama all things of the past, we'll hear Bill Clinton deliver a very different assessment of Barack Obama this evening. The question now turns to just how effectively he'll make the case for granting the president four more years in office.
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Republicans may be rallying around Mitt Romney at the GOP convention in Tampa, but over in Russia the GOP presidential candidate is getting a far chillier reception.
Romney has been tough on Moscow during the campaign, calling the New START nuclear arms reduction deal Obama's "worst foreign-policy mistake," labeling Russia America's "number one geopolitical foe," and characterizing Russian President Vladimir Putin as a man bent on rebuilding the "Soviet empire." His advisors have echoed these sentiments, as has the Republican platform, which cites "Russian activism" as one of the "gravest threats to our national security" and alludes to a "hot mic" moment between Obama and former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev as evidence that the president wants to "appease Russia" on missile defense. It's remarkably aggressive rhetoric -- albeit from a party whose most revered figure famously referred to Russia as an "evil empire."
The Russian press was already up in arms about Romney's trip to Poland earlier this month (money quote from the state-funded RT: "the Mormon from Michigan has been time-warped back to the Soviet era, behind an Iron Curtain and inside of a 1950s black-and-white television set"). But the outrage has resurfaced in recent days, as the GOP released its platform and opened its convention.
In an article entitled "Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan promise Russia Republican hell," for example, Pravda, which has been known to engage in colorful outbursts against Romney, declares that the GOP ticket supports the "radicalization of the country's foreign policies" -- particularly those concerning Russia. "According to the Republican Party," the newspaper scoffs, the "Russian administration is authoritarian and does not respect human rights.... They refer to Russia as a traditional rival of the United States along with North Korea, Iran and China.... To crown it all, Mitt Romney expressed his willingness to be the godfather of the Russian opposition and organize the training for opposition activists at American educational centers."
Pravda isn't alone. At the state-owned news agency RIA-Novosti, journalist Fyodor Lukyanov observes that "no matter how much you may dislike Russia and its authorities, the time when it was America's enemy number one is long past." In a blistering column for the state-run radio station Voice of Russia, presenter John Robles warns that Romney and his "cold war thinking" will signal the death knell of Obama's "reset" with Russia, and he doesn't stop there:
To say that Romney and his Republican brethren are a danger to world peace would be an understatement. Their "ultra-conservative" views and stances on a number of issues will bring about another era of neo-conservative subjugation for the American people and the world and their backward thinking and confrontational posturing will destroy much of the delicate compromise that has kept the world stable for the last four years....
To listen to Romney and his Republican like and read how they plan to "curb Moscow", "confront Russia", surround Russia with missiles and the like is to get the impression that he is talking about some small third world nation they can just obliterate at any moment and not the largest country on the planet and a formidable nuclear power.
Another Voice of Russia article -- entitled "Republicans choose presidential candidate and external enemies" -- includes an interview with an expert identified as Valey Korovin, the director of the Center for Political Expertise. "It is a fact that Russia and the US are geopolitical opponents," Korovin is quoted as saying. "This logic is based on the confrontation of two kinds of civilizations, and the Republicans openly speak about it. The Democrats think the same but use more roundabout expressions and adhere to the use of soft, smart force. As for Romney, he is only a presidential candidate, so he does not care about beating around the bush and bluntly calls a spade a spade."
The intense focus on Romney's posture toward Russia isn't limited to government-controlled news outlets, either. In a report today on the GOP convention, for instance, the privately owned daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta leads with, "Russia is once again among America's enemies." The business daily Vedomosti highlights a recent Citi report suggesting that a Romney victory in November could batter the Russian stock market and explores what a GOP win would signify more generally for the "reset" and U.S.-Russian relations.
Of course, we don't know whether a President Romney would actually follow through on his Russia rhetoric. As Peter Baker points out in the New York Times today, "the pragmatic dealmaker in Mr. Romney may find that even if he does not want to sign a nuclear arms treaty with Moscow as Mr. Obama did, it is useful to be able to move supplies through Russian territory to Afghanistan."
For now, at least, Romney may want to soak up the moment in Tampa -- and avoid picking up any Russian newspapers.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
The New York Times has a great interactive feature up today on the words and phrases that have been used most at the Republican convention in Tampa and how they've been used, based on transcripts of speeches through Wednesday night from the Federal News Service.
Beyond the obvious mentions of Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and Barack Obama -- plus boilerplate convention terms like "leadership" and "success" -- what jumps out at you is the preponderance of economy-centric terms like "work" (200 mentions), "business" (198 mentions), and "jobs" (175 mentions). Foreign-policy words -- "war" (21 mentions), "immigration" (21 mentions) -- are few and far between.
The results, of course, track with the GOP's strategy to defeat Obama and with the dominant issues in the election. But the Times graphic also has a search function, and it's fascinating to see just how often certain foreign-policy topics have been raised so far. Here are some examples:
Example: "We deserve a president who will strengthen our military, not destabilize them." -- Nikki Haley, governor from South Carolina
Example: "Folks, we are as beholden to China for bonds as we are to the Middle East for oil." -- Rob Portman, senator from Ohio
Example: "[The Obama administration] wants the kind of government-imposed equality that in a single generation transformed Western Europe from a place where for centuries -- for centuries high achievement and discovery and innovation were celebrated and prized to a place where they have elections about whether people should have to work, where they make promises they can't keep and write checks they can't cash." -- Mitch McConnell, senator from Kentucky
Example: "When they tell you America is this unequal place where the powerful trample on the powerless, does that sound like the country your children or your spouse risked their lives for in Iraq or Afghanistan?" -- Artur Davis, former congressman from Alabama
Example: "[T]he president missed an historic opportunity to throw America's full moral support behind an Iranian revolution that shared one of our highest interests, ridding Iran of a brutal dictatorship that terrorized the Middle East and threatens the world." -- John McCain, senator from Arizona
Example: "By committing to withdraw from Afghanistan before peace can be achieved and sustained, the president has discouraged our friends and emboldened our enemies, which is why our commanders did not recommend these decisions and why they have said it puts our mission at much greater risk." -- John McCain, senator from Arizona
Example: "Yet the promise of the Arab Spring is engulfed in uncertainty. Internal strife and hostile neighbors are challenging the young, fragile democracy of Iraq." -- Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of state
Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda, Pakistan, or terrorism
Climate change or global warming
Romney campaign staffers are currently dropping hints that tonight's speakers will focus on the candidate's personal story and vision for the country, as will Romney himself. In other words, don't bet on a sudden uptick in foreign-policy lingo on the last night of the convention.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
ABC news reports on one hell of a bad optics moment in Florida -- a party for top Romney fundraisers held on board a 150-foot yacht flying a Cayman Islands flag:
The event, attended by no more than 50 people, along with Romney relatives, including older brother Scott, appeared on no public calendars. ABC News obtained a schedule of the Romney campaign's "Victory Council" and waited dockside to speak with members.
"It was a really nice event. These are good supporters," said billionaire Wilbur Ross, an energy industry executive.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell was scheduled to speak.
The Cracker Bay is owned by Gary Morse, developer of the Villages retirement community. Companies controlled by Morse gave nearly $1 million to the pro-Romney Restore Our Future superPAC.
Romney has, of course, attracted some unwanted attention for his holdings in investment funds based in the Caymans. I wrote in January about the advantages of setting up a corporation in the Caymans, but it turns out the British protectorate a pretty good place to register your boat as well. A 2009 article in the Cayman Financial Review explained:
Although it is generally recommended to use a Cayman Islands vehicle for ownership purposes, it is, in fact, possible for any corporate body to own a Cayman Islands registered yacht or ship either by appointing a representative person or registering as a foreign company under Part IX of the Cayman Islands Companies Law. This allows owners the flexibility to use a foreign corporate vehicle where there are taxation benefits or other reasons for doing so. Using a corporate body to own a vessel has the important benefit of limiting the liability of the owner if a collision or other event incurring liability should occur. However, in practice, usually a new Cayman Islands company limited by shares is incorporated to own each vessel as this is generally simpler administratively and less likely to result in delay.
The Cayman Islands is renowned as a leading offshore jurisdiction with a tax neutral environment. It has a solid political, legal and fiscal environment with a stable parliamentary democracy since 1831. There are no income, capital gains or other taxes imposed by the Cayman Islands on vessel owning companies. With the Privy Council in England being the ultimate court of appeal, the CISR operates within a stable British based legal system which is a compelling reason to choose the CISR for the registration of vessels and any associated loan financing and security.
While there are no restrictions on the nationality of the owner or crew, ships flying the Union Jack-ed flag of the Caymans are entitled to the protection of the British Navy. According to the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce, "About 20% of the world's yachts over 50m were registered in the Cayman Islands by 1999."
Republican convention organizers may not have been able to accomplish much business on Monday, but they did make one dramatic statement: activating two prominently displayed clocks that will measure the national debt and how much that debt has accumulated during the four-day event. The clocks, party chairman Reince Priebus explained, will draw attention to the "unprecedented fiscal recklessness of the Obama administration."
The original National Debt Clock, which real estate developer Seymour Durst installed in Manhattan in 1989 to highlight the $2.7 trillion national debt that had piled up under Ronald Reagan, has spawned numerous imitations, including a makeshift clock the Romney campaign constructed last year out of green styrofoam, two flat-screen televisions, and two computers. (The National Debt Clock itself has grown more complex over time; whereas Durst used to collect federal data, calculate the debt level himself, and send the figure to the board by modem, the clock now relies on a computer algorithm that needs to be "trued up" with official statistics once a week.)
The United States, it turns out, isn't the only country to engage in these brooding public displays of indebtedness. In Britain, for instance, the TaxPayers' Alliance trotted out a truck-mounted UK Debt Clock at a rally in London last year to support public-spending cuts. The DebtBombshell website, set up by a "single concerned citizen of no political affiliation," displays the United Kingdom's mounting debt atop a frightening black bomb, partially cloaked in the British flag. In Germany, the taxpayer watchdog group Bund der Steuerzähler strategically installed a whirring debt clock near government buildings in Berlin (there's also an app for that).
The Taiwanese Ministry of Finance, meanwhile, unveiled a National Debt Clock in 2010 to deter wasteful government spending and followed up this year with a Local Government Debt Clock. While the opposition Democratic Progressive Party initially derided the idea, arguing that the clock underestimated the national debt, it has since pointed to the tally as evidence of the country's deteriorating finances. The Swedish National Debt Office has a similar debt counter on its website.
But the mother of all debt meters is the Economist Intelligence Unit's Global Debt Clock, which was released in 2009, with a color-coded map to visualize the rising tide of global public debt. Fittingly, the United States -- the country that introduced the national debt clock to the world -- appears in dark red.
We've already taken a look at the 10 most divisive foreign-policy issues in the 2012 Republican platform, which will be publicly released shortly at the GOP convention in Tampa.
But there's one passage that has flown under the radar so far. Take a close look at the draft platform that Politico discovered on the Republican National Committee's website on Friday, and you'll see that the Republican party arguably lavishes more praise on India than on any country mentioned in the document except Israel and Taiwan. The plan reads:
We welcome a stronger relationship with the world's largest democracy, India, both economic and cultural, as well as in terms of national security. We hereby affirm and declare that India is our geopolitical ally and a strategic trading partner. We encourage India to permit greater foreign investment and trade. We urge protection for adherents of all India's religions. Both as Republicans and as Americans, we note with pride the contributions to this country that are being made by our fellow citizens of Indian ancestry.
The passage particularly stands out when compared with the more businesslike language employed in the GOP's 2008 platform (the 2008 Democratic platform, for its part, praised India as a "natural strategic all[y]"):
We welcome America's new relationship with India, including the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Accord. Our common security concerns and shared commitment to political freedom and representative government can be the foundation for an enduring partnership.
Why the change in wording? According to the Indian news portal Rediff, Gopal T.K. Krishna, an Indian-American convention delegate from the battleground state of Iowa, worked with GOP staffer Neil Bradley to craft the "unprecedented" platform language.
Krishna initially sent Bradley a 282-word proposal that included an affirmation of the "special relationship" between the two countries, a call for the "free movement of intellectuals" between India and the United States, a reflection on the recent shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, a pledge to help India establish nuclear power plants, and an endorsement of bilateral trade, including the import of "beef, pork, corn, soybeans and wheat" from the States (rather detailed language for a statement of party principles). Bradley, Rediff explains, got back to him with a counteroffer:
Bradley then got back to Krishna saying, "I wanted to raise three potential issues. Immigration is being handled by another subcmte so I worry about including immigration specific language here. The specificity of the trade language could also give rise to each of our country specific sections getting caught up in discussions about emphasising some exports over others."
"Finally, I worry about addressing the Wisconsin shooting here and the possibility that we inadvertently do not address the other recent shootings elsewhere," he said. "I took the liberty of addressing these items while attempting to incorporate your points into style being used for the larger draft. Do you think this might work?"
Krishna then submitted three amendments to this draft which included the all-important language that "we hereby affirm and declare that India is our geopolitical ally and a strategic trading partner."
Not only does the passage highlight the give-and-take behind the compromise language we'll see in the final platform this week, but it also highlights the growing importance of Indian-Americans as a political bloc. A record number of Indian-Americans competed for U.S. House seats in 2010, and Indian-American leaders such as South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and California Attorney General Kamala Harris will speak at the Republican and Democratic conventions, respectively. As the Times of India explains, Indian-Americans, who overwhelmingly support Barack Obama, wield more political influence than their numbers might suggest:
Assuming a higher turnout than the usual 40% or so for the general population, only around 500,000 Indian-Americans are expected to vote nationwide in the November election, and in no state or district are they in sufficiently high numbers to influence the outcome.
But what they lack in numbers they contribute in some measure in money and activism. No other ethnic group outside white, African-Americans, and Latinos - including Chinese-American and Filipino-Americans who are numerically larger groups than Indians - have as many political heavyweights.
The Rediff article touches on this very point:
Krishna had informed Bradley that "if the whole platform contains only bland language, it would be disappointing to myself and others like me, who are looking for courageous commitments, faithful friendships and specific statements from the campaign," and added, 'We hope our trips to Tampa will not turn out to be a total waste."
Krishna may have already suffered a setback now that Bobby Jindal, Louisiana's Indian-American governor, has announced that he won't be speaking at the convention as planned so that he can focus on preparing for Tropical Storm Isaac. But if the language Krishna crafted makes it into the final platform, flying to Tampa will have been well worth the effort.
Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
Mitt Romney has already gotten in a spot of trouble in London for suggesting that Britain may not be quite ready to host the Olympic Games. Romney has walked back his comments, but it's not the first time the candidate has said some not-so-flattering things about the Sceptered Isle. In his book, No Apology, he writes:
England [sic] is just a small island. Its roads and houses are small. With few exceptions, it doesn't make things that people in the rest of the world want to buy. And if it hadn't been separated from the continent by water, it almost certainly would have been lost to Hitler's ambitions. Yet only two lifetimes ago, Britain ruled the largest and wealthiest empire in the history of humankind. Britain controlled a quarter of the earth's land and a quarter of the earth's population.
Its roads and houses are small? The trees probably aren't the right height either.
Oli Scarff/Getty Images
The kerfuffle of the day is President Barack Obama making a reference to "Polish death camps" while posthumously awarding Polish resistance hero Jan Karski a Presidential Medal of Freedom last night. The White House says the president misspoke and was "referring to Nazi death camps operated in Poland," rather than inferring that the camps were operated by Poles, but that hasn't satisfied Prime Minister Donald Tusk who says he is looking for a “stronger, more pointed reaction” that could eliminate the phrasing “once and for all.” Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski went further, calling the remark a matter of "ignorance and incompetence."
There's been a concerted effort by the Polish government in recent years to combat the use of the phrase, which has succeeded in pushing a number of publications including the AP and the New York Times to update their style-guides. The Polish embassy, in the wake of the John Demjanjuk trial, posted a guide on its website urging readers to write web comments and letters to the editor when they see the phrase being used. The page also objects to the phrases "Sobibor camp, located in Poland," asking that "German-occupied Poland" be specified, and "Polish concentration camp survivor" since it "conveys that someone survived a Polish concentration camp, which, of course, is impossible since Polish concentration camps did not exist."
I understand why the phrase rankles, and as the Economist's Edward Lucas points out, it's not the first example of the Obama administration's clumsy handling of relations with Poland. But I also think that given the context in which Obama's remark was made -- honoring Karski for exposing the Nazi mass killing of Jews to the world -- no reasonable listener would assume that Obama was accusing Poles of running the camps, just as no one assumes the invasion of Normandy was targeted at Normans or that the North African campaign was waged by North Africans.
The "Polish death camps" controversy may be so controversial because it taps into a larger debate over actions perpetrated by some Poles against Jews during and immediately after the Holocaust. This debate kicked into high gear in 2000 with the publication of Polish-born Princeton historian Jan Gross's book Neighbors, which details a brutal pogrom carried out by the Polish residents of the town of Jedwabne against its Jewish residents during the Nazi occuption. The numbers, specifics, and methodology in Gross's work are controversial, but an official investigation confirmed its basic premise and President Alexander Kwasniewski made a formal apology at Jedwabne in 2001. Gross's follow-up Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland after Auschwitz, created yet another firestorm in 2006.
But of course, that clearly wasn't a debate Obama had any intention of entering into by giving an award to a man who risked his life to expose Nazi atrocities. In the wake of the Neighbors affair, public intellectual and former dissident Adam Michnik wrote a piece about the "schizophrenia" he felt: "I am a Pole, and my shame about the Jedwabne's murder is a Polish shame. At the same time, I know that if I had been there in Jedwabne, I would have been killed as a Jew."
For these people who lost their lives saving Jews, I feel responsible, too. I feel guilty when I read so often in Polish and foreign newspapers about the murderers who killed Jews, and note the deep silence about those who rescued Jews. Do the murderers deserve more recognition than the righteous?
Last night's award for Karski was an attempt to provide that kind of recognition. And that the remarks that accompanied it are being portrayed as an accusation against the country because of a poor choice of words may be the most unfortunate thing about this episode.
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