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Gameday with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy

No. 13 USC rebounded from the drubbing Stanford gave it last week by grinding out a 27-9 victory over Cal on Saturday. It wasn't flashy -- quarterback Matt Barkley did an awful lot of handing off -- but Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy, in New York for the U.N. General Assembly meeting, was probably relieved. "Go Trojans!" he said in a pre-trip interview with the New York Times. He did not offer any commentary on Barkley's tanking Heisman campaign.

Morsy, who completed his Ph.D. in materials science at USC in the early 1980s and whose two sons are U.S. citizens, has a complicated relationship with the United States. He told the Times that he "learned a lot" during his time in California, but then quickly clarified that he meant "scientifically." California's laid-back attitude about cohabitation, gang problems, and preponderance of "naked restaurants" all made him uneasy. "I don't admire that," he told the Times. "But that is the society. They are living their way." The future Muslim Brotherhood official apparently never really got into the swing of SoCal life.

But if he is still lukewarm on American culture, Morsy seems to have at least moderated his most outrageously anti-American positions since becoming president. Whereas for most of the 2000s he was all too happy to peddle 9/11 conspiracy theories -- "When you come and tell me that the plane hit the tower like a knife in butter, then you are insulting us...Something must have happened from the inside. It's impossible," he told the Brookings Institution's Shadi Hamid in 2010 -- Egypt's first democratically elected president at least steers clear of the topic now.

Morsy rankled American officials by reaching out to Iran and by failing to denounce (immediately) the attack by demonstrators on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, but on the whole, his approach has been what you would expect from the leader of a deeply conservative country that is understandably wary of the United States. (Egyptians have no illusions about who propped up Mubarak for all those years.) As Morsy said in the Times interview: "Successive American administrations essentially purchased with American taxpayer money the dislike, if not the hatred, of the peoples of the region." But if Morsy has been resolute about demonstrating his independence from the United States, he has also indicated that he wants to maintain a constructive relationship with Washington, going as far as saying that the two countries have the potential to be "real friends." 

Since the embassy storming, however, Obama has been remarkably cool toward his Egyptian counterpart. On Sept. 13, Obama told the Spanish-language network Telemundo that he did not consider Egypt an ally -- a position the White House later clarified -- and he reportedly declined a request to meet with Morsy at the White House this week. It's not clear, however, what Obama expects of Morsy. On the one hand, he has repeatedly supported the right of Egyptians to "determine their own destiny." On the other, he appears nonplussed by Morsy's need to respond to domestic political forces.

Steven Cook, a fellow at CFR, has a good read on this cognitive dissonance:

Americans consistently fail to recognize that Arabs have their own politics and have the ability to calculate their own interests independently of what Washington demands.  As a result, whenever a crisis erupts that presents Egyptian leaders with a choice of kowtowing to Washington or protecting their political position at home, domestic politics will win virtually every time.

Obama may not be able to fully appreciate the drama of college football, having attended only universities with second rate football programs, but maybe he and Morsy ought to watch the USC game next week and talk this one out. 

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Foreign-policy enters the ad wars: The top 7 campaign spots this month

Foreign policy assumed a more prominent role in the election in September, fueled by the emphasis on national security at the Democratic convention, the attacks on U.S. missions in Egypt and Libya, and the tensions between Israel and the United States over Iran's nuclear program. And the campaigns and their support groups have taken notice, injecting international affairs -- or, more accurately, a selective and often misleading reading of international affairs -- into the political ads now blanketing America's airwaves.

In early September, for example, the Koch brothers-supported Americans for Prosperity released an ad starring a Canadian woman named Shona Holmes, who told the story of how she'd sought treatment for a life-threatening brain condition in the United States to avoid long waits under Canada's government-run health care system. The message: Oust Obama and repeal health-care reform so that the United States doesn't become Canada. Holmes even held a press conference in Charlotte during the Democratic convention.

CBS criticized the ad when it was released, noting that the "U.S. law is insurance-based and runs through the private market, while Canada's is a public system largely run and administered by the government." Bloomberg, meanwhile, pointed out that back in 2009, when Holmes appeared in another Americans for Prosperity ad campaign, a Canadian neurosurgeon had accused Holmes of exaggerating the gravity of her condition (back in Canada, Holmes confronted death threats and a Facebook campaign to deport her).

When the Democrats caused an uproar at the convention by not affirming Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in their platform -- and then hastily added the language during a messy floor vote -- the right-wing Emergency Committee for Israel, which had run ads slamming Obama's position on Jerusalem before, pounced. The spot below includes footage of the embarrassing vote on the Jerusalem amendment (with the voice votes of delegates who supported the amendment conveniently edited out), before a narrator asks, "Is this still your Democratic Party? Or Obama's?"

So far, the Romney campaign hasn't released an ad attacking Obama over the U.S. mission attacks, but it did release a spot shortly after the incidents denouncing the president for failing seven times to stop China's "cheating" (code for labeling China a currency manipulator) and losing half a million manufacturing jobs -- all while China secured a competitive advantage in manufacturing.

PolitiFact pointed out that the United States has actually created half a million manufacturing jobs since 2010, though that hasn't been enough to replace the decline that occurred during Obama's first months in office. And it noted that while Obama hasn't labeled China a currency manipulator, it has filed seven complaints over China's trade practices with the World Trade Organization. The Washington Post added that the bar graphs the ad uses to illustrate China's new manufacturing edge are "totally out of proportion."

The Obama campaign quickly responded with an ad accusing Romney of investing in companies that shipped jobs overseas and investing part of his personal fortune in China. "Romney's never stood up to China," the narrator says. "All he's done is send them our jobs." PolitiFact confirmed that Romney did have some Chinese investments (indeed, BuzzFeed reported today that Romney's blind trust sold shares in a Chinese video company in June), but the Washington Post added that "there is no evidence that Romney, through Bain investments in which he had an active role, was responsible for shipping American jobs to China."

This week, the conservative group Let Freedom Ring released an ad criticizing Obama for supporting a bill as a senator to restrict U.S. military aid to countries that use child soldiers, only to waive the restrictions as president. "Why aren't you standing up for these children?" the narrator asks.

The statistics, quotes, and assertions in the ad generally check out. In October 2010, Obama granted waivers to Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, and Yemen because, as the Christian Science Monitor put it at the time, these countries were considered "key national security interests." Obama took a similar action the following year. 

Let Freedom Ring released another ad this week denouncing Obama for inviting Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood to the White House and sending Cairo $1.5 billion in foreign aid, when the Brotherhood wants to "conquer" Israel, "undermine" the United States, and renew ties with Iran. The ad doesn't mention the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, but Let Freedom Ring President Colin Hanna made sure the subtext was clear. "After our embassies were stormed, President Obama's administration offered apologies while the Muslim Brotherhood stood by as we were attacked," he told US News & World Report on Thursday.

The ad is highly misleading. It begins by showing a fiery speaker pledging to establish a capital in Jerusalem at what the narrator describes as a "Muslim Brotherhood rally for their new Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy." But the spot doesn't mention that the speaker is the Egyptian cleric Safwat Higazi, not Morsy. To support the claim that the new Egyptian leader wants to revive relations with Tehran, the ad cites a Reuters report on an interview with an Iranian news agency that Morsy denies giving. The narrator makes the contentious claim that Iran is "building nuclear weapons" and cites a line from a 1991 memeorandum for the Brotherhood's North American wing to prove that the group's "top leaders" are interested in "taking over America." 

Most recently, the group Secure America Now released an ad featuring Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent warnings about the progress Iran has made on its nuclear program and the need for the international community to move beyond diplomacy and sanctions to stop it. "The world needs American strength," the ad declares. "Not apologies."

What the ad fails to mention is that Netanyahu was not involved in making the spot and that the Israeli prime minister has avoided expressing support for either candidate in the U.S. election. On Friday, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Netanyahu had passed along a message to Obama that he is not trying to interfere in the race. That won't stop groups like Secure America Now from invoking his words to prove their point, of course.

Let Freedom Ring/YouTube