For all the Jeeps in China
In the last full week of campaigning before the election, son of Michigan Mitt Romney drew the wrath of an unlikely constituency: car company CEOs. On the campaign trail last week, Romney told an Ohio audience, "Jeep, now owned by the Italians, is thinking of moving all production to China." The claim appeared to be based on a misreading of a Bloomberg story which reported that Chrysler would begin producing Jeeps in China for the local market to escape tariffs, but was not shifting production from the United States. Nonetheless, the Romney campaign doubled down on the attack with a new commercial claiming that, "[Barack] Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China."
A Chrysler spokesman described the claim as "a leap that would be difficult even for professional circus acrobats" and the company's CEO Sergio Marchionne, one of the Italians in question, denied in a letter to employees that any production would be moved to China. General Motors also denied the ad's claims that it plans to cut jobs in the United States.
Marchionne wasn't the only Italian fed up with Romney's rhetoric this week. The La Repubblica newspaper ran an irritated editorial on Thursday after the Republican candidate mentioned the country along with Greece and Spain as a cautionary tale for the U.S. economy.
Global warming back on the agenda
The issue of climate change has been conspicuously absent in this election. It was not mentioned once in any of the three presidential debates, even as both candidates touted their support for the coal industry. But the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy this week has put the issue back on the agenda, with political leaders including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo suggesting a link between the storm and human-caused global warming.
New York City's independent mayor, Michael Bloomberg, made a surprise endorsement of Obama this week, citing the president's steps on reducing carbon emissions as the main reason. His endorsement, published on Bloomberg.com, also blasted Romney for abandoning the emissions-cutting policies he supported as governor of Massachusetts.
Nonetheless, while both campaigns have been scrambling to respond to the storm, which dominated headlines for most of the week, neither candidate has gone as far as to put the damage in the context of climate change.
The Benghazi drip continues
The Central Intelligence Agency this week took steps to defend its response to Sept. 11 attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. According to an account provided to the media by senior intelligence officials, CIA operatives rushed to the compound within 25 minutes of the attack and helped organize the evacuation of the survivors. The officials insisted they had encountered no resistance from Washington, though the information doesn't address the shifting accounts provided by the administration in the wake of the attack.
A story published on Foreign Policy this week also reported that documents recently found at the Benghazi site show that the team at the consulate was concerned that they were under surveillance on the day of the attack and weren't satisfied with the level of security provided by the Libyan government.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) and National Security Subcommittee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) have written a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demanding an explanation for the documents.
Playing the Castro card
The two candidates are running neck-and-neck in Florida heading into the last week of the campaign, and the Romney campaign has evidently decided to make a last-minute effort to lock down Cuban-American voters in the state with a Spanish-language ad noting the "endorsements" Obama has received from Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela, noting also that the Environmental Protection Agency sent out an Hispanic Heritage Month email containing a picture with a mural of Che Guevara. The ad failed to note that Fidel Castro would prefer a robot to either candidate.
The latest from FP:
Frank Januzzi wonders why Chinese human rights were never discussed in the campaign.
Rosa Brooks says the Republican military voter is a myth.
Nick Schifrin on why both campaigns are afraid to talk about the eurocrisis.
David Rothkopf on why Sandy could be a political gamechanger.
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When Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said he'd vote for Barack Obama if he could, you knew it was only a matter of time until the president's opponents used the unwelcome endorsement against him. First there was the ad released by Gary Bauer's Campaign for American Values PAC on the "dictator vote" that Obama had secured from Chavez, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Now, as the Miami Herald reports, the Romney campaign itself has released a Spanish-language ad on Spanish-language TV in Florida that shows Chavez and Raul Castro's niece Mariela expressing support for Obama, and even tries to tie the president to Che Guevara by noting that the Environmental Protection Agency sent out an Hispanic Heritage Month email containing a picture with a mural of the Marxist revolutionary in the background. The Obama campaign has responded by emphasizing the administration's efforts to expand trade with Latin America and criticizing Romney for "giving Chavez the attention he thrives on and that he doesn't deserve."
Romney approved the message, but he isn't promoting the ad on his YouTube channel and the Miami Herald says the campaign has refused repeated requests to furnish the ad to the paper. Why? Perhaps because the spot stoops pretty low in sending out subliminal messages about Obama being a closet socialist. Poor email judgment on the part of the EPA does not make Obama a Marxist revolutionary, and superimposing Obama's face on a famous Che poster -- and then showing the poster again, this time with Che's face -- probably won't convince voters otherwise.
The ad also doesn't mention that Fidel Castro has said a robot would be a better president than Obama, or that Chavez once called the president a "clown" after Obama criticized Venezuela's ties to Cuba and Iran. During the 2008 election, Obama's aides had to tamp down controversy after a flag with an image of Che Guevara was spotted at a volunteer office unaffiliated with the campaign. Are we really doing this again?
With the outcome of the U.S. election so uncertain, foreign heads of state have generally refrained from expressing support for either presidential candidate. But as my colleague Josh Keating has noted, leaders like France's Francois Hollande, Russia's Vladimir Putin, and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez have suggested that they're partial to Barack Obama. Now, it seems, we can add Ecuador's Rafael Correa to the list.
During an interview with a Chilean radio station on Friday, Correa noted that he didn't want to "interfere in the internal matters of other countries." But what he said afterward sounded a whole lot like an endorsement of Obama.
"I wish the best of luck to President Obama," the leftist leader declared, according to the news agency EFE. "I am personally fond of President Obama, I think he is a great person." Republican administrations, he added, "have always had a much more unfamiliar, a much more simplistic and primitive foreign policy toward Latin America."
In the presidential debate on foreign policy this week, Mitt Romney criticized Obama for pledging in 2008 to sit down with Latin American leaders like Chavez, who is an ally of Correa's. But the GOP candidate also called for more trade with countries in the region.
Correa's comments might not sit well with conservatives like evangelical leader and former presidential candidate Gary Bauer, whose Campaign for American Values PAC released an ad this week proclaiming that Obama had secured the "dictator vote" from Chavez, Putin, and Fidel Castro:
Obama actually has a complicated relationship with Correa. The U.S. president phoned the Ecuadorean leader in 2009 to mend strained relations between the two countries, but Correa, a U.S.-trained economist, has since expelled the U.S. ambassador to Ecuador over a WikiLeaks cable and offered asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
However Correa feels about Obama's policies, he appears to think Romney's would be worse.
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Judging from the social media reaction, this was probably the most memorable line of Monday night's debate:
You — you mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets — (laughter) — because the nature of our military’s changed.
This got us wondering, does the military still use bayonets?
Sort of. The Army eliminated bayonet charges from basic training in 2010. The last U.S. bayonet battle was in 1951, when Capt. Lewis Milett led a charge against a fortified position on a hill in Soam-Ni, Korea, earning the medal of honor in the process. In 2004, a group of British troops running low on ammunition, launched a bayonet charge against a group of Mahdi Army militiamen. According to the after-action report, the charge "achieved tactical success primarily because of psychological and cultural factors. ... this case, the value of surprise, countering enemy expectations, and strict troop discipline were three deciding characteristics of the bayonet charge."
While no longer all that useful on the battlefield, military historian Richard Kohn told the Christian Science Monitor in 2010 that the U.S. Army kept bayonet training for as long as it did as a way "to develop in soldiers aggressiveness, courage, and preparation for close combat” and “basically to try to mitigate or eradicate the reluctance of human beings to kill each other.”
While Army recruits no longer charge dummies with bayonets fixed to their rifles, they do still receive training on how to use a knife or bayonet as a handheld secondary weapon in close combat. And as the Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran notes, U.S. marines still train with bayonets and many are issued them as standard equipment.
As for horses, the military does still have some -- both for ceremonial purposes and for training Special Forces troops. In 2001, U.S. Special Forces famously joined with Northern Alliance fighters in a horseback assault on the Taliban at Mazar-e-Sharif. Mules have also played an important role in transporting supplies over Afghanistan's rough terrain.
So the military does indeed* have fewer horses and bayonets these days, but they haven't completely gone the way of the dreadnought.
*Update: The Wall Street Journal's Julian Barnes points out that there were only about 200,000 Army troops in 1916, make it unlikely that there were more than the 419,155 that the Army still has in inventory. It's a veritable golden age of the bayonet we're living in.
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On Friday, FP reached out to readers, contributors, and outside experts to brainstorm questions for Bob Schieffer as he prepared to moderate the foreign-policy debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. We came up with 55 -- just enough for Schieffer to ask in the fastest and most substantive lightning round in debate history. So how many of our questions -- broadly defined -- did Schieffer end up asking last night?
By my count, seven out of 55:
Not bad! Sadly, however, Schieffer decided to pass on Joseph Nye's question about how Romney could champion American soft power while attacking Big Bird. Too bad there are no more debates.
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In one of the most interesting exchanges of Tuesday night's presidential debate, a town hall participant asked Mitt Romney what distinguished him from George W. Bush. The GOP candidate returned to his five-point plan for the economy, noting that, unlike the previous Republican president, he would balance the budget, champion small business, expand trade with Latin America, crack down aggressively on Chinese trade practices, and secure energy independence for North America:
We can now, by virtue of new technology actually get all the energy we need in North America without having to go to the the Arabs or the Venezuelans or anyone else. That wasn't true in [Bush's] time, that's why my policy starts with a very robust policy to get all that energy in North America -- become energy secure.
Never mind that, as Gregg Carlstom pointed out, the criticisms of Bush didn't really revolve around his failure to strike Latin American free trade agreements or get tough on Beijing. When it came to energy policy, Romney expanded on his plan elsewhere in the debate, promising to increase manufacturing jobs and achieve energy independence "within eight years" by approving the Keystone XL Pipeline, increasing offshore drilling, granting more licenses and permits for drilling on federal lands and in federals waters, and embracing a mix of energy sources including oil, coal, nuclear, natural gas, and renewables.
The issue is, Bush echoed Romney's overarching theme -- reducing America's dependence on OPEC by a date certain through technology and a variety of promising energy sources -- in his 2006 State of the Union address, which came two years before Bush lifted an executive ban on offshore oil drilling:
Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy. And here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world. The best way to break this addiction is through technology. Since 2001, we have spent nearly $10 billion to develop cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable alternative energy sources. And we are on the threshold of incredible advances.
So tonight I announce the Advanced Energy Initiative-a 22-percent increase in clean-energy research at the Department of Energy-to push for breakthroughs in two vital areas. To change how we power our homes and offices, we will invest more in zero-emission coal-fired plants, revolutionary solar and wind technologies, and clean, safe nuclear energy.
We must also change how we power our automobiles. We will increase our research in better batteries for hybrid and electric cars and in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen. We'll also fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn but from wood chips and stalks or switchgrass. Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within 6 years.
Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025. By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy, and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past.
Romney's plan, which promises North American energy independence in less than a decade and builds on research such as Citi's Energy 2020 report, is certainly more ambitious than Bush's. But is the Republican candidate really advocating a clean break with Bush on energy policy? Or did he simply dodge a tough question by pivoting back to his five-point plan?
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With the U.S. presidential election now closer than ever, the press is brimming with speculation about whether Barack Obama, after turning in a lackluster performance in the first debate, can reverse Mitt Romney's momentum during his second outing tonight. And not just the U.S. media. News outlets from India to Israel are busy dissecting Obama's setback, Romney's comeback, and what the new state of play in the race means for their countries. Here's a snapshot of some of the most colorful coverage in recent days:
The British press has at times been rather brutal in assessing the shifting dynamics in the presidential race (sample Daily Mail headline this week: "Preparing for a new job already? Obama delivers pizzas to campaign workers as he gets ready for make-or-break TV debate at golf resort"). But commentators have also speculated about what a Romney win would mean for Britain. Over at the Telegraph, Tim Stanley argues that David Cameron and his Conservative Party have expressed their preference for Obama too openly. "By airing these views in public the Tories have gambled too much on Obama winning the election," he maintains. "And if he doesn't, then they'll have a President on their hands who they have routinely insulted. That can't be good for the Atlantic alliance." (Stanley, for the record, thinks tonight's debate will end in a draw or Romney win.)
Meanwhile, Sir Christopher Meyer, a former British ambassador to the United States, writes in the London Evening Standard that an Obama victory would be best for Britain:
Romney could turn out to be an excellent foreign policy president, yet right now, his foreign policy team is split between neo-con hawks and those of a more pragmatic, "realist" world view, similar to our own. We don't know which faction will come out on top. In the circumstances, we're better off with the devil we know - and that's Obama.
The state-run news agency Xinhua has a warning today for the presidential candidates: "[I]t would be both politically shortsighted and detrimental to China-US relations if they turned the town-hall-style meeting into a China-bashing competition" (the news outlet appears to be confusing tonight's debate with the third and final debate on foreign policy, which will touch on topics such as "the rise of China and tomorrow's world"). Sure, both candidates' tough talk on China may be nothing more than campaign bluster, Xinhua observes. But "these chameleonic politicians should not always expect that the wounds they have inflicted to the China-US ties would heal automatically" once they assume office.
In an article on the possibility that India could be dealing with several new world leaders in a matter of months, the Times of India marvels that "from being a candidate who could barely control his own Republican Party, Mitt Romney has surged forward to be a surprisingly competent debater and a more than credible opponent." Still, the paper adds, the outcome of the U.S. election may not have a major impact on bilateral relations. "The Indo-US relationship has now become institutionalized and isn't actually dependent on a president," the article notes.
In a debate preview at the Hindustan Times, the U.S.-based journalist Rashmee Roshan Lall argues that Romney is unlikely to endear himself to India or the world during Tuesday night's event. True, she notes, the "New Delhi punditocracy has always thought Republican presidents suit India much better than Democratic ones." But Romney doesn't mention India on the campaign trail and wants to "reinstate the US as globocop, albeit with a makeover that borrows heavily from some of the darker manifestations of Lord Voldemort." She concludes with a question: "Is it better to be steamrollered or simply ignored or might the best option for India and everyone else be four more years of Obama?"
As the U.S. race has tightened -- "The presidential race has begun anew," one Israel Hayom headline proclaims -- the editorial boards at Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post have published explanations for why they'll be remaining neutral during the election. Haaretz notes, in rather vivid language, that "Romney would stick with Israel's prime minister and they would become flesh of one flesh" but adds that the substantive differences between the candidates are minor. Haaretz columnist Chemi Shalev, meanwhile, muses about the various leadership permutations that could result from elections in Israel and the United States.
As for the upcoming debate, Israel Hayom's Abraham Ben-Avi thinks it is "Obama's last window of opportunity to rehabilitate his status as a leader" while Haaretz's Adar Primor argues that the world will still favor Obama over Romney even if the candidates sharpen the distinctions between them on foreign policy tonight. "Those [around the world] who have shaken off their Obama fixation have done so largely because in certain areas of policy he is seen as having adopted the Republican agenda," Primor writes.
Russia's RT didn't buy the widespread verdict that Romney trounced Obama in the first debate, noting that the "tepid" forum had shown the candidates to be "two sides of the same coin." But Romney's post-debate bounce has spurred the Russian press to give the GOP candidate a closer look. News outlets covered Romney's Russia comments during his recent foreign-policy address in Virginia but cautioned against reading too much into the aggressive rhetoric (the state-run Voice of Russia did note that "a serious politician should avoid making that kind of remarks with respect to another leading country"). One Russian lawmaker, meanwhile, accused Romney of embracing George W. Bush's failed policies and presiding over the "last convulsion of the American-style world."
In the most creative commentary, the Voice of Russia compares the debates to chess matches and quotes the chess player Vladislav Tkachev:
"Very often the real moves, such as the candidate's plan of actions and package of reforms, remain in the background and the psychological factor comes to the fore. Suffice it to look at the footage of the confrontation between Karpov and Kasparov to see that the duel of the eyes, a springy step and an overall aggressive look were of paramount importance. It is common knowledge how difficult it is to give the right answer when exposed to the rival's glare. The response of the audience can also either pep one up or completely demoralize. Barack Obama with downcast eyes did not look his best this time, side by side with his opponent who radiated confidence."
However, there are more debates ahead and the results could change. After all, Obama is leading in public opinion polls. The main thing for him now is to get rid of the image of a serious, thoughtful and humane but not very determined leader because this is the wrong style for the time of change. However, chess practice shows that the style of playing games cannot change overnight.
The German press has adopted the Mitt-mentum narrative -- as U.S.-based journalist Gregor Peter Schmitz wrote in Der Spiegel, Joe Biden's vice presidential debate performance "almost single-handedly revived the Obama campaign, which was in danger of being put on life support after the president's disastrous debate performance in Denver." But news outlets have also pointed out that the race would look very different if it were held in Germany (or many other European countries, for that matter), where more than eight in ten people would support the Democrats. "Obama has assured victory -- among Germans," a headline in Die Welt declares (an article in Berliner Morgenpost suggests that Obama's overwhelming popularity in the country helps explain why Romney didn't visit Germany during his overseas trip this summer).
The Pakistani press has covered the narrowing race. "Even the New York Times, which favours Mr Obama, concedes that Mr Romney has continued to surge since the debate," an article in Dawn observes. But in an op-ed for the same newspaper, Muhammad Ali Siddiqi argues that the weeks since the first debate have shown Obama to be the true victor. "Mr Obama was consistent, without flamboyance, and stood his ground" while "Mr Romney played to the gallery," Siddiqi notes. He adds that "Mr Romney would like to conduct his foreign policy in Cold War fashion" but admits that, contrary to the impression in Pakistan, foreign policy has "taken a back seat in the campaign."
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It might be time for Romney staffers to get on a conference call and coordinate the campaign's position on the Arab Spring.
When moderator Martha Raddatz asked Paul Ryan during the vice-presidential debate on Thursday night if it was ever appropriate for the United States to apologize to other countries, the Republican congressman criticized the Obama administration for its delay in calling for then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down:
What we should not be apologizing for are standing up for our values. What we should not be doing is saying to the Egyptian people, while Mubarak is cracking down on them, that he's a good guy and, in the next week, say he ought to go.
The problem with that response is that it seems to contradict statements running mate Mitt Romney made ahead of a visit to Israel this summer. In an interview with Israel Hayom, the GOP presidential candidate declared that the Arab Spring "is not appropriately named" because of Islamist victories in the region and suggested that Mubarak could have been persuaded to reform, had President Obama not bungled the effort:
President [George W.] Bush urged [deposed Egyptian President] Hosni Mubarak to move toward a more democratic posture, but President Obama abandoned the freedom agenda and we are seeing today a whirlwind of tumult in the Middle East in part because these nations did not embrace the reforms that could have changed the course of their history, in a more peaceful manner.
Romney surrogate John Bolton made Romney's point more explicitly during a Fox News interview with Greta Van Susteren shortly after the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya last month:
VAN SUSTEREN: But why is that the catalyst? I mean, like, the Arab spring that everyone started in Tunisia -- I mean, what -- was there anything that we could have done to sort of change the course of history?
BOLTON: Well, I think what we saw there was the risk to Mubarak. And instead of supporting a loyal ally who had upheld the Camp David accord, after vacillating three or four times in the course of a month, we threw Mubarak over the edge. And he had said for years, If I go, the Muslim Brotherhood's taking over.
Oh, no, said the Obama administration. Oh no, said many people in America. The Google guy is going to emerge in Egypt. He's going to be the new leader. People who tweet will be the new leaders. Do you see them anywhere today? They are off the stage.
Romney, who has also implied that the Obama administration is to blame for the Muslim Brotherhood coming to power in Egypt, didn't always hold these views about the Arab Spring. In early February 2011, only days before the White House called for Mubarak's resignation, the former Massachusetts governor sounded a bit more like Paul Ryan on Thursday night. It was time, he explained, for Mubarak to "step out of the way or lead the transition," and for the United States to "make it very clear to the people of Egypt that we stand with the voices of democracy and freedom." While Mubarak needed to "move on," he added, Obama should not explicitly call for the Egyptian leader's resignation because of the friendship Mubarak had long shown to the United States (during the same period, Ryan stoked controversy by comparing public workers protests in Wisconsin to the demonstrations in Cairo).
More than a year-and-a-half later, the candidates appear to still be ironing out their positions.
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Plenty of folks have already pored over Republican nominee Mitt Romney's major address on foreign policy today, pointing out their disagreement and factual gripes, but here's one you probably won't hear too much about: his suggestion that he'd have better luck than his predecessors in persuading European countries to cough up more dough for their militaries.
Here's what Romney said:
I will call on our NATO allies to keep the greatest military alliance in history strong by honoring their commitment to each devote 2 percent of their GDP to security spending. Today, only 3 of the 28 NATO nations meet this benchmark.
If you believe that, then I have a bridge in Bruges to sell you!
Of course, Romney's got a point here -- the Kantian Europeans have been free-riding on American military strength for decades. But the problem is getting urgent now, with contractors now warning that critical supply chains are at risk of collapse.
And as then Defense Secretary Bob Gates all but screamed from the rooftops in a much-discussed 2011 speech, the Libyan war exposed just how little European countries are able to contribute to the common defense these days. As Gates put it, “Frankly, many of those allies sitting on the sidelines do so not because they do not want to participate, but simply because they can’t .... The military capabilities simply aren’t there."
Ouch! But seriously: Does anyone think Romney can pull this off? American presidents have been begging Europe to bolster its defenses for years, going back to Dwight Eisenhower, whose secretary of state threatened in 1953 to carry out an "agonizing reappraisal" of U.S. commitments if the Europeans didn't get their acts together.
In the middle of a never-ending economic crisis -- at a time when the likes of Britain, Greece, Italy, and Spain are implementing what you might call European-style austerity programs -- is Europe really going to cough up a few more percentage points of GDP on Mitt's say so?
Perhaps the best we can hope for in the short term is that European countries get smarter about collaborating and promoting "selective excellence" as each country specializes in what it does best. But until Europeans' economic situation turns around -- and their perception of threats changes -- no amount of American hectoring is going to make an impact.
Mitt Romney stunned Barack Obama in their debate last week, in part by ditching the persona of a movement conservative -- vowing not to reduce taxes for the rich, to protect education funding, highlighting his willingness to work across the aisle, and so on. It was a deft move, one that clearly has caught off balance an Obama campaign that was counting on running against the unpopular agenda of Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan. As New York Times columnist David Brooks put it, "Moderate Mitt" -- the successful businessman and technocratic governor of Massachusetts -- has returned.
On Monday, Romney is due to give a speech on foreign policy at the Virginia Military Institute. Can he do the same?
I have my doubts. For one thing, making a pivot to the center on foreign policy would entail embracing Obama's position even tighter than Romney already has. If you strip aside the bluster, Romney's foreign policy looks much like Obama's. Why give a big speech if you're just going to explain that you more or less agree with the other guy? Nuance doesn't sell in an election year.
Second, the Obama administration's stumbles on Benghazi offer a pretty tempting target, and it's clear that Romney will try to hit the president hard on Libya. Never mind that Romney's been all over the yard on the Libyan war, or that the kinds of austerity budgets he and his running mate favor imply deep cuts in diplomatic security -- the death of an ambassador is evidently too good an opportunity to pass up. Mitt Romney has probably never thought about Libya a day in his life -- but he'll be all over it tomorrow.
Finally, what issues could he reasonably pivot on? Would he say that he'd try to work with Russia on smoothing the U.S. path out of Afghanistan? That he'd take military force off the table in dealing with Iran and vow not to entangle the United States in Syria's civil war? That he'd push hard for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and seek to de-escalate tensions with China?
It's hard to imagine any of those things happening -- which is why I expect Romney's big speech will be more of the same: America good, strength good, military very good, Obama very bad.
This week brought two related pieces of news. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov declared that the U.S.-Russian "reset" cannot "last forever" and suggested that the two sides "update the software" to avoid a "program failure." And U.N. General Assembly President Vuk Jeremic reported that the international body will hold a debate in mid-November on whether to upgrade the Palestinians' U.N. status to an "observer state."
What's the connection between the two developments? Both leaders suggested that action would be deferred on these issues for the same reason: the U.S. presidential election. "It is evident that some important things will have to be postponed until after the election marathon in the U.S., Lavrov observed. "The electoral rhetoric beyond the ocean will soon subside to give way to meticulous day-to-day work." Jeremic was more cryptic. "There are electoral and political calendars in many parts of the world," he pointed out in explaining why the United Nations was scheduling the debate when it was.
Even the new leader of Georgia appears to have gotten the message. On Wednesday, Bidzina Ivanishvili announced that his first foreign visit will be to the United States -- but not right away. "Although I have already been invited," he added, "I have asked to postpone the visit until after the [U.S.] presidential election."
To varying degrees, presidential elections have always thrown sand in the gears of U.S. foreign policy (the most famous example is Iran releasing U.S. hostages shortly after Ronald Reagan's election). And we've known for awhile now that some of the most critical global issues facing the United States would be in a holding pattern as the race heated up. There was President Obama telling then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in March that he would have "more flexibility" on missile defense after the election. And Congress leaving town in August without acting on a slew of agenda items -- from looming defense cuts (so-called sequestration) to Russia-related bills on trade and human rights.
But in recent weeks we've gotten one reminder after another of the magnitude of the deferred decisions that will greet the next president of the United States. In an interview with the Washington Post's David Ignatius in late September, for example, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suggested that Iran would only be able to strike a deal with world powers on its nuclear program after the U.S. race. "Experience has shown that important and key decisions are not made in the U.S. leading up to national elections," he argued. "I do believe that some conversations and key issues must be talked about again once we come out of the other end of the political election atmosphere in the United States."
During a U.N. General Assembly speech several days later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to back away from the possibility of striking Iran's nuclear facilities in the lead-up to the U.S. election, asserting that Iran's nuclear development wouldn't cross his "red line" until the spring or summer. Netanyahu, however, has denied that the U.S. contest influences his decision-making. "What's guiding me is not the election in the United States but the centrifuges in Iran," he recently told an Israeli newspaper, adding that the latter don't stop spinning just because America is choosing a new leader.
Earlier in September, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested that the 2012 campaign might explain why the United States hasn't supported more aggressive action in Syria such as implementing a no-fly zone or arming the Syrian opposition. "Maybe it's because of the elections -- maybe it's because of the pre-election situation in the States," he told CNN's Christiane Amanpour. "Might be the root cause of this lacking of initiative. Nobody has spoken to us about their reasons, and they are not obliged to state anything."
Abdulbaset Sieda, the leader of the opposition Syrian National Council, has gone further -- accusing the United States of forsaking the Syrian rebels because of domestic politics. "We would like to say to President Obama that waiting for election day to make the right decision on Syria is unacceptable for the Syrians," he declared in July. "We cannot understand that a superpower ignores the killing of tens of thousands of Syrian civilians because of an election campaign that a president may win or lose."
There's also been speculation that the Obama administration is lobbying eurozone leaders to keep Greece in the monetary union until after November, in an effort to avoid shocks to world markets. Last month, Reuters reported that an EU-IMF report on Greece's precarious debt situation might be delayed because of the U.S. campaign. "The Obama administration doesn't want anything on a macroeconomic scale that is going to rock the global economy before November 6," an unnamed EU official informed the news agency. But a Greek official later denied the report, and a U.S. official said the communications with EU leaders were intended not to secure Obama's reelection but rather to protect America's fragile economic recovery.
So there you have it: critical global issues such as the Syrian crisis, U.S.-Russian reset, U.N. debate on Palestine, and Iranian-Israeli nuclear standoff all in limbo as Americans head to the polls. That's a pretty daunting set of challenges for the next president. And we haven't even mentioned the fiscal cliff.
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This year's presidential election has featured a long-running feud about which countries represent America's most dangerous foes (Iran? Russia? China?) and most treasured allies (Great Britain? Israel?) -- and how to characterize nations that occupy the murky middle ground between these two extremes.
On Thursday, the nonpartisan Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) released a poll that infuses some data into the debate, and the findings are particularly relevant in light of Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu's U.N. speech yesterday on red lines for Iran's nuclear program.
We know from several recent surveys that many Americans believe Iran poses a grave danger to the United States (a CNN/ORC poll in April, for example, found that concern about Iran today is more widespread than concern about the Soviet Union in 1985). But most of these surveys have asked respondents to assess the severity of the Iranian threat (in the case of the CNN/ORC poll, alongside the threats posed by North Korea, Russia, and Syria).
FPI took a different approach, asking participants an open-ended question: "If you had to single out one country, which country do you think presents the most danger to American national security interests today?" The results are unequivocal. Forty-five percent of respondents selected Iran. China, the distant runner-up, clocked in at 8 percent, with Afghanistan right behind at 6 percent (Russia, which Mitt Romney once called "America's number one geopolitical foe," mustered a mere 1 percent). More than 60 percent of respondents supported preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons even if that meant using U.S. military force -- a finding that tracks with previous surveys. When it comes to America's geopolitical enemies, Iran and its nuclear program are clearly top of mind.
Even with these results, however, it's unclear how seriously Americans take threats from other nations these days. When FPI asked participants what represented the "largest threat to American national security interests today," for example, only 3.5 percent chose Iran -- well behind "terrorists" (17 percent), "Barack Obama/admin" (8 percent), and several other answers. Yes, you read that right: more respondents selected Obama than Iran.
The survey contains lots of other interesting findings. In another open-ended question about "America's best ally," 54 percent of respondents mentioned Great Britain and 16 percent cited Israel. Those who feel the country is headed in the wrong direction tended to have an unfavorable view of China, suggesting, in part, that concern about American decline goes hand-in-hand with wariness about China (it may also simply mean that those who are worried about China also oppose Obama). And nearly half of respondents view Greece favorably, even though Romney has used the country as a punching bag on the campaign trail (typical sound bite: "I think you're going to see America on the road to Greece unless we change course"). The poll is worth checking out in full here.
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One quote in particular stands out in today's New York Times article on the contrast of President Obama appearing on The View while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with world leaders in town for the U.N. General Assembly. Obama isn't conducting bilaterals with any foreign leaders, even though he held 13 during last year's session and Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush met with foreign leaders at the U.N. General Assembly while facing reelection (George H.W. Bush, like Obama, outsourced the meetings to Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger). Here's the nugget from the Times:
Mr. Obama was scheduled to attend a reception for world leaders at the United Nations on Monday night. But a campaign adviser acknowledged privately that in this election year, campaigning trumped meetings with world leaders. "Look, if he met with one leader, he would have to meet with 10," the aide said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Not to nit-pick, but doesn't meeting with world leaders fall squarely within the president's job description?
Obama's aides have been more articulate in public about why the president isn't holding bilaterals, but this anonymous quote doesn't do much to discredit the charge that Obama is making an election-year calculation to avoid exposing himself politically -- and multiplying that exposure by ten.
As my colleague Josh Rogin reports, Mitt Romney changed his tune about what he considers a "red line" for Iran's nuclear program in a conference call with American rabbis on Thursday, arguing that "it is unacceptable for Iran to have the capability of building a nuclear weapon." That echoed foreign-policy advisor Dan Senor's warning on CBS this morning about "Iran developing a nuclear weapons capability."
Tellingly, however, Romney's campaign website, while not mentioning red lines specifically, still states that "Mitt Romney believes that it is unacceptable for Iran to possess a nuclear weapon" -- the red line the Republican candidate articulated in an interview with ABC just last week (and the red line the Obama administration has staked out, without calling it a red line). There's no mention of nuclear weapons capability.
The campaign, in other words, appears to be in the process of shifting gears, having made a calculation that it needs to do a better job of differentiating Romney's policy on Iran's nuclear program -- which the candidate has cast as the most important foreign-policy issue in the campaign -- from Obama's. This week's move: lowering the bar for a preemptive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities to Iran's capacity to build and deliver a bomb.
If the campaign is interested in a sharp contrast, however, it has a ways to go. In Thursday's conference call, Romney said he didn't want to get into "great detail" about where precisely he would draw red lines when it came to the development of Iran's nuclear program (to Romney's credit, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dodged this question too). In his CBS appearance, Senor sidestepped questions about the first thing a President Romney would do about Iran before finally saying the candidate would grant fewer waivers to financial institutions around the world on sanctions.
"We do not advocate military action against Iran, it should be the option of last resort," Senor said, before adding that "what the administration has done is broadcast to the mullahs in Tehran that the military option is the absolute one thing America doesn't want anybody to do." Given that Obama has said he will also take no options -- including military force -- off the table, it's still unclear how Obama and Romney materially differ on this issue.
When Romney has been pressed for specifics on Iran in recent interviews with NBC and ABC and in Thursday's conference call, he's repeatedly referenced a speech he gave in Israel in 2007, in which he called for economic sanctions ("at least as severe as the sanctions we imposed on Apartheid South Africa"), diplomatic isolation (including an indictment of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for genocide), more cooperation from Arab states, a threat of military force against Iran, and a NATO-led effort to support moderates in the Muslim world. But as the 2012 election enters its final weeks, Romney will likely be pressured to do more than refer people interested in details to a talk he gave more than five years ago.
When Charlie Rose asked Senor on CBS this morning what the "single biggest difference" between Obama and Romney was on foreign policy, Senor responded, "The biggest crisis facing the United States from a security standpoint is Iran developing a nuclear weapons capability." Note that he sidestepped the question about differences. The Romney campaign, it seems, is still ironing those out.
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As I write, Al Jazeera is reporting that Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, was killed amid an attack on the American consulate in Benghazi along with three others. Video and screen captures, supposedly of his body, are circulating on Twitter. Libya's nascent government has roundly condemned the assault, and the Libyan army engaged in fierce clashes with an Islamist militia late into the night. According to Al Jazeera, the bodies were flown out of the country. (The State Department last night confirmed a death in Benghazi, but did not mention Stevens.)
This is, obviously, a terrible tragedy and a shocking turn of events on a day when Americans mourned those killed 11 years ago on Sept. 11, 2001. Stevens was by all accounts a popular diplomat, having established the U.S. presence in Benghazi during the war and been an avid supporter of the opposition. Here's a video introducing him to Libyans.
What makes the deaths all the more tragic is that they will inevitably become politicized. On Tuesday, conservative websites were highly critical of a statement by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo that came ahead of a protest where demonstrators breached the embassy's walls in a moment reminiscent of 1979 in Iran. Liz Cheney and the Republican-controlled House Foreign Affairs Committee joined in, accusing the administration of issuing an "apology" for a bizarre and mysterious film attacking the Prophet Mohammed that served as a pretext for the protests. And the Romney campaign issued its own statement. Wednesday will likely bring more finger-pointing.
For me, the embassy assaults are a sobering reminder not only of the deep anger and dysfunction that plagues the broader Middle East, but of the enormous difficulty the United States has in dealing with this part of the world. The level of distrust and fury toward America is not the sort of thing you heal with a speech or two. And to make matters worse, there will always be groups that exploit things that have no connection whatsoever to U.S. government policy, like this anti-Islamic film.
The Obama administration must tread delicately during this heated political season. This crude film -- which "portrays the Prophet Muhammad as a womanizer, pedophile and fraud," as the Wall Street Journal put it -- may have been obscure before, but it's not anymore. Afghan President Karzai has already issued a statement condemning the movie -- but not the embassy attacks. Radical Islamist groups and countries like Iran will be looking to exploit the situation, whether in Afghanistan or elsewhere. I suspect this won't be the last time somebody tries to breach the walls of a U.S. facility abroad this year. And there will inevitably be questions about the intelligence warnings and the lack of security in Benghazi and Cairo, to say nothing of the broader concerns raised about America's relationship with these new "democracies." But the White House needs to be smart and above all careful -- it can't let its response be dictated by the exigencies of the election back home.
Sectarian tensions are once again rising perilously in Iraq after a court in Baghdad sentenced Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi to death in absentia -- on the same day that insurgents launched a wave of attacks across the country that killed nearly 100 people. But, judging from this year's campaign rhetoric, you probably won't hear Mitt Romney criticizing Barack Obama for the precarious situation in Iraq following the U.S. troop withdrawal.
According to a University of California, Santa Barbara archive of formal campaign speeches by both candidates, Romney has used the word "Iraq" seven times on the trail (usually in the context of military service) while Obama has referenced the country 76 times (often as part of a stump-speech line about keeping his promise to end the war). The same pattern held true at the conventions: Republicans mentioned Iraq seven times, while the Democrats did so 34 times. Romney didn't talk about Iraq in his convention speech and made only a passing reference to it in his biggest foreign-policy address of the campaign in South Carolina.
Romney might argue, as he has in defending his failure to mention the Afghan war in Tampa, that it's his policies that matter, not how many times he mentions particular words in speeches. But he's been equally evasive when outlining how he would have managed the Iraq war. When Obama announced in October 2011 that all U.S. troops would leave Iraq by the end of the year, Romney lashed out at the president for not securing an "orderly transition in Iraq" and publicizing the recommendations of military commanders (the 2012 GOP platform doesn't mention these criticisms).
In a Fox News interview two months later, Romney's position on Iraq grew murkier. He noted that U.S. troops were "fortunately" withdrawing from Iraq before adding that he would have left a residual force in the country. He followed those comments up by refusing to answer whether he would send U.S. troops back to Iraq as president:
Why is Romney so hesitant to talk about Iraq? The bottom line is that the unpopular war, which is fading fast from voters' minds, is a political loser for the GOP candidate. A Washington Post-ABC News poll in November 2011 revealed that nearly eight in ten Americans approved of Obama's decision to withdraw combat troops from Iraq (including 58 percent of Republicans and 81 percent of independent voters). A CNN/ORC International poll a month later found that more than half of Americans felt sending troops to Iraq in the first place was a mistake and that 57 percent believed the Bush administration misled the American public about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. Fifty-four percent of respondents in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Telemundo survey this summer claimed that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had contributed most to the federal budget deficit -- a flashpoint in the campaign.
Every time Romney mentions Iraq, moreover, he exposes himself to charges that he is aligned with George W. Bush and the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party -- an association that might just stick given the debate over whether, when it comes to foreign policy, Romney is a neoconservative, realist, or another breed altogether. This is precisely the attack that the Obama campaign leveled in June by linking Romney to Bush's former U.N. ambassador John Bolton and his "reckless neoconservative thinking." And it's what Obama himself implied in his convention speech by arguing that Romney and running mate Paul Ryan "want to take us back to an era of blustering and blundering that cost America so dearly."
Obama has already taken Romney's words on Iraq out of context to support this back-to-Bush argument, asserting that the Republican candidate said ending the war in Iraq would be "tragic" (Romney argued that the pace of the withdrawal was tragic). The Romney campaign isn't about to give the president any more ammunition.
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So far, Pakistan hasn't been mentioned once at the Republican or Democratic conventions. But what was lost in all the talk last week about Mitt Romney not mentioning Afghanistan in Tampa was the fact that, only days earlier, a campaign advisor had made an interesting case for why the Republican presidential candidate would improve U.S.-Pakistani relations.
After expressing concern about extremism in Pakistan and the security of the country's nuclear weapons, Mitchell Reiss, a former head of policy planning at the State Department, told foreign journalists that a Romney administration would treat Pakistan with a "little bit more respect," according to a Press Trust of India report. In return, Reiss explained, the United States would expect "more cooperation" from Islamabad on Afghanistan.
That posture is a departure from the aggressive rhetoric we heard from some Republican candidates in the primary, when Pakistan was mentioned more than 80 times during a pair of debates in South Carolina and Washington, D.C. Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, you may recall, called for the United States to zero out foreign aid to Pakistan and predicate future assistance on Pakistani cooperation. "[Y]ou tell the Pakistanis, 'help us or get out of the way, but don't complain if we kill people you're not willing to go after on your territory where you have been protecting them,'" Gingrich asserted.
At the time, Romney staked out a middle ground on Pakistan. Expressing support for drone strikes (he said the Pakistanis were "comfortable" with the practice), Romney noted that Pakistan was "close to being a failed state" and had several competing power centers. "We have to work with our friends in that country to get them to do some of the things we can't do ourselves," he explained.
This year's Republican platform reflects that sentiment. Sure, the document urges the Pakistani government to "sever any connection between its security and intelligence forces and the insurgents." And it appears to denounce the sentencing of a Pakistani doctor for helping the United States track down Osama bin Laden, declaring that "no Pakistani citizen should be punished for helping the United States against the terrorists." But, crucially, the manifesto adds:
The working relationship between our two countries is a necessary, though sometimes difficult, benefit to both, and we look toward the renewal of historic ties that have frayed under the weight of international conflict.
Meanwhile, the Democrats, who called for a "new partnership" with Islamabad in their 2008 platform, focus on Obama's commitment to hunting down terrorists in Pakistan in this year's edition. The document does state that Islamabad can "be a partner" in establishing peace in South Asia and that the United States will "respect Pakistan's sovereignty and democratic institutions." But there's no mention of restoring U.S.-Pakistani relations, which have deteriorated over the past four years because of the bin Laden raid, the Obama's administration's embrace of airstrikes against militants, and, most recently, the U.S. debate about whether to designate the Pakistan-based Haqqani network a terrorist organization.
Why is the GOP advocating a reset, if you will, of U.S.-Pakistani relations? For one thing, the stance plays into Romney's larger argument that the Obama administration has alienated America's allies and emboldened its enemies. The Romney campaign can also fend off charges that the governor hasn't distinguished his Afghan policy from Obama's by pointing to Pakistan. As Romney's campaign website explains:
We will only persuade Afghanistan and Pakistan to be resolute if they are convinced that the United States will itself be resolute. Only an America that appears fully committed to success will eliminate the incentives for them to hedge their bets by aligning with opposing forces.
As for whether the GOP position is a popular one, that's more difficult to discern. Americans overwhelmingly support drone strikes against terrorists, but they're not sure how to feel about Pakistan. Few view the country as a grave threat to the United States, but a Rasmussen poll last year found that 62 percent of likely voters see Pakistan as something in between an ally and an enemy. Sixty-five percent, meanwhile, support cutting off all military and financial aid to Islamabad.
Given those numbers, perhaps treating Pakistan with just a "little bit more respect" is about all the Republicans can get away with.
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Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades got a lot of reporters scratching their heads last week when he suggested that James K. Polk could be a historical model for Mitt Romney's presidency in an interview with the Huffington Post:
[W]hen I asked [Matt] Rhoades in July how Romney would govern if elected, and what Romney might do with the budget and entitlement reform plans Ryan had already outlined, Rhoades' eyes lit up. He gave me a name: James Polk.
Don't Yawn. There's a history lesson in that name. Rhoades and the rest of the members of Romney's inner circle think a Romney presidency could look much like the White House tenure of the 11th U.S. president.
Polk, who served from 1845 to 1849, presided over the expansion of the U.S. into a coast-to-coast nation, annexing Texas and winning the Mexican-American war for territories that also included New Mexico and California. He reduced trade barriers and strengthened the Treasury system.
And he was a one-term president.
Polk is an allegory for Rhoades: He did great things, and then exited the scene, and few remember him. That, Rhoades suggested, could be Romney's legacy as well.
Citing Polk as a model for your presidency feels a bit like a hipster's record recommendation. ("Oh, you're into Andrew Jackson? He's okay, I guess, but you should really check out Polk.") But it's interesting to consider exactly what a Polkian presidency would look like.
It's certainly true that given the extroadinary political changes that took place under his presidency, the 11th president doesn't get nearly enough attention. (Nor, for that matter, do any of the presidents between Jackson and Lincoln.) It's certainly I'm no Polk scholar but having recently read journalist and historian Robert W. Merry's very good A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War, and the Conquest of the American Continent , I had a few quick thoughts on the pros and cons of the Polk model:
An exceptional exceptionalist: You want to talk about national greatness conservatism? In just four years, Polk -- Andrew Jackson's protege -- expanded the size of the United States by a third, incorporating Texas, the Northwest, and and Southwest. Polk envisioned the United States as a continental power with Pacific ports giving it access to emerging Asian markets. And in just four years he made it happen. The Monroe doctrine could just as easily be called the Polk doctrine, as the Tennessean repeatedly took action to prevent European influence in the Western Hemisphere.
Getting it done: Polk came into office in 1844 with four main goals. On the international front, he wanted to reach a favorable agreement with Britain on the Oregon territory, which was then in an ambiguous state of joint governance between the two countries. He also wanted to acquire California from Mexico. On the domestic side, he wanted to reduce tariffs and create and independent treasury. (Yes, he was a free-market guy as well.) All these goals were accomplished. Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. put Polk in the same category as much better known figures including Thomas Jefferson, Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan, as presidents who were "able to impose their own priorities on the country."
Leading from the front: By 1844 it was fairly obviously that Oregon would fall into U.S. hands eventually. Americans were migrating west at a rapid rate and vastly outnumbered the British in the territory. Many argued at the time that the U.S. should simply let the demographics run their course, but as Merry writes, "Patience was not a trait to be found in the personality of James Polk... he wasn't about to leave to successors the accomplishment he could himself obtain." In his inaugural address, Polk asserted America's "clear and unquestionable" title to Oregon and took a hard line in territorial negotiations that brought the two countries to the brink of their third war in less than 70 years. In the end, Britain would back down and the U.S. acquired the territory that would become the states of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.
Left on top: A compromise candidate after a contentious Democratic primary, Polk pledged to only stay in office for one term and stuck to it, despite allies urging him to run again. As Ross Douthat writes, "he's a fascinating figure precisely because seems to have chosen retirement less out of necessity than out of a genuine belief that his service to the republic was complete." His health may also have played a role: He died just three months after leaving office.
More war-war than jaw-jaw: Polk's confrontational approach to the Oregon question looks shrewd in retrospect, but the course of U.S. history might have turned out quite differently if the U.S. had found itself fighting simultaneous wars with Mexico and Britain. In the case of Mexico, Polk seemed to recognize that a war would be the only way to accomplish his territorial aims and set out to create the conditions for one, most notably by ordering Gen. Zachary Taylor to march troops into disputed territory between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande in January 1846, setting in motion a series of events that would eventually lead to war. Polk may not have been the most aggressive hawk of his era -- there were members of his cabinet that favored the outright conquest of Mexico -- but the Mexican war was about as close as the U.S. ever got to an outright war of conquest, not a practice that even the most aggresive hawks usually endorse.
Bad manager: The Polk administration was a mess. His ostensible allies in the Democratic congressional delegation were divided over the war -- and increasingly over slavery -- his own secretary of State consistently undermined him, and his generals and diplomats were often outright insubordinate. The Polk cabinet leaked like a sieve, with confidential information frequently appearing the press, generally traced back to Secretary of State James Buchanan, who violated a pledge to Polk not to campaign for president while still secretary. Despite Buchanan's behind the scenes machinations and frequent failures to carry out Polk's orders, the president repeatedly backed off from threats to fire him. Mitt Romney may "like being able to fire people," but Merry writes that Polk "lacked the fortitude for the face-to-face encounter that must attend a dismissal.
Civil military relations weren't that great either. Polk's senior generals, Winfield "Old Fuss and Feathers" Scott and Zachary Taylor frequently clashed with the president, disobeying orders and engaging in unauthorized freelance diplomacy with the Mexicans, and Taylor actually left the battlefield to campaign for -- and win -- the presidency on a Whig ticket. The Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo that ended the Mexican war was negotiated by an envoy who Polk had fired weeks earlier. Polk's bizarrely effective brand of organized chaos would seem an odd model for Romney, a candidate who has sold himself as businesslike and managerial.
Missed the big picture: Polk was mostly uninterested in the question of increasingly controversial question of slavery throughout his presidency, focusing instead on the goal of territorial expansion that he believed would bring Americans together in the goal of national greatness. He reacted with annoyance when an antislavery congressional Democrat introduced the Wilmot Proviso, which would have banned slavery in the territories won from Mexico, and seemed flummoxed that North-South disputes were inserting themselves into the war debate. By the end of his presidency, abolitionist Democrats had split off to form the Free Soil party -- later absorbed into the Republicans -- and the fault lines had developed for the conflict that would literally tear the country apart 13 years later. It's not clear that Polk could have done anything to prevent this, but his lack of interest in the issue seems remarkably shortsighted in retrospect.
(Also, if Romney adopts Polk as a model, the GOP may have to drop the "party of Lincoln" line before Honest Abe turns over in his grave. In the view of Lincoln, then a freshman Whig legislator who idolized Polk's longtime rival Henry Clay, the president had deliberately instigated the war with Mexico and "talked like an insane man" with a "mind taxed beyond its power.")
Other than a vague free-market hawkishness, it's hard to divine what a Polkian approach to contemporary issues such as Iran's nuclear program or healthcare costs might entail. But give some credit to Rhoades, a discussion of the merits of the Polk presidency is more interesting than hearing about Reagan for the 47,000th time.
Ahead of San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro's keynote address at the Democratic convention in Charlotte on Tuesday night, there was a lot of talk about what his big moment and the prominence of Latino speakers at last week's Republican convention say about the growing importance of Latinos -- who represented 9 percent of the electorate in 2008 -- in this year's contest.
Barack Obama won two-thirds of the Latino vote in the last presidential election, reversing the inroads George W. Bush had made with the community. And the president enjoys similar support now, though Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney received a modest bump among Latinos after the GOP convention.
But what issues determine that support? We often hear about the tough GOP stance on illegal immigration driving Latinos away from the party, but Latinos, like all demographic groups, aren't single-issue voters. In an impreMedia/Latino Decision poll this week, for example, 58 percent of respondents listed creating more jobs and fixing the economy as one of the most important issues facing the Latino community. Forty-two percent of respondents, meanwhile, cited immigration reform and the DREAM Act -- legislation that would provide legal status for children of illegal immigrants who want to enroll in college or the military -- as an important issue (respondents could select up to two issues). Nineteen percent chose education reform and schools, and 18 percent health care.
In June, a USA Today/Gallup asked Latino respondents a slightly different question: What issue is most important to you? An equal percentage (20 percent) mentioned health care, unemployment, and immigration policies, while 17 percent selected economic growth and 11 percent chose the gap between the rich and the poor (the percentage of respondents who cited immigration policies dropped to 12 percent when only registered Latino voters were considered). The poll also found that Romney fared best among those Latinos who cited issues such as the budget deficit and economic growth as their top concerns, and that immigrants and first-generation Hispanic-Americans cared more about immigration than those whose families have lived in the United States for more time.
Latino voters, in other words, are paying a great deal of attention to the issue that is top of mind for all voters this year: the economy. And it was precisely that issue that Castro, the grandson of a Mexican immigrant and son of a civil rights activist, focused on in his keynote address tonight. Castro praised Obama's economic vision and argued that the policies that Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan advocate would "dismantle" the middle class. "We all understand that freedom isn't free," he explained. "What Romney and Ryan don't understand is that neither is opportunity. We have to invest in it."
Castro devoted only four lines to immigration:
[B]ecause he knows that we don't have an ounce of talent to waste, the president took action to lift the shadow of deportation from a generation of young, law-abiding immigrants called dreamers.
I believe in you. Barack Obama believes in you. Now it's time for Congress to enshrine in law their right to pursue their dreams in the only place they've ever called home: America.
After the brief aside, he returned to talking about job growth and the future of the middle class.
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In a fiery keynote address at the Republican National Convention in Tampa on Tuesday evening, New Jersey's Republican Governor Chris Christie drew a distinction between being loved and being respected, and said party leaders needed to choose "respect over love."
Briefly touching on foreign policy, he suggested that "American greatness" could be assured by Americans making the sacrifices necessary to get the country's fiscal house in order and revive the flagging economy. The United States could usher in a new "American Century," he argued, by first serving as a model to the world:
I don't know about you, but I don't want my children and grandchildren to have to read in a history book what it was like to live in an American Century.
I don't want their only inheritance to be an enormous government that has overtaxed, overspent, and over-borrowed a great people into second-class citizenship.
I want them to live in a second American Century.
A second American Century of strong economic growth where those who are willing to work hard will have good paying jobs to support their families and reach their dreams.
A second American Century where real American exceptionalism is not a political punch line, but is evident to everyone in the world just by watching the way our government conducts its business every day, and the way Americans live their lives.
A second American Century where our military is strong, our values are sure, our work ethic is unmatched and our Constitution remains a model for anyone in the world struggling for liberty.
Let us choose a path that will be remembered for generations to come. Standing strong for freedom will make the next century as great an American century as the last one.
Mitt Romney and the Republican Party have embraced this theme of a new "American century" during the campaign -- in speeches, on Romney's campaign website, and in the GOP platform released on Tuesday, which noted that "while the twentieth century was undeniably an American century," the "twenty-first century will be one of American greatness as well."
The term "American century" originated with an essay that Time publisher Henry Luce wrote for Life magazine back in 1941. But Luce invoked the phrase to urge the United States to shed its isolationism and enter World War II, while acting as the "powerhouse" of American ideals. As he wrote:
The fundamental trouble with America has been, and is, that whereas their nation became in the 20th Century the most powerful and the most vital nation in the world, nevertheless Americans were unable to accomodate themselves spiritually and practically to that fact. Hence they have failed to play their part as a world power.... And the cure is this: to accept wholeheartedly our duty and our opportunity as the most powerful and vital nation in the world and in consequence to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit.
Luce, in other words, was arguing that the United States needed to recognize its internal strength and project that power in the world. On Tuesday evening, Christie appeared to veer in the other direction. Sustained American leadership in the world, he maintained, begins with rebuilding the country's shaky foundations at home.
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Back in May, when the latest round of controversy over the Law of the Sea treaty was raging in Congress, I took a look at seven other seemingly harmless international agreements on which the U.S. was conspicuous by its absence, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The "Sovereign American Leadership in International Organizations" section of the draft GOP platform released by Politico today, not only explicitly rejects these treaties, but veers pretty close to black helicopter territory:
Under our Constitution, treaties become the law of the land. So it is all the more important that the Congress -- the senate through its ratifying power and the House through its appropriating power -- shall reject agreements whose long-range impact on the American family is ominous or unclear. These include the U.N. Convention on Women's Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty as well as the various declarations from the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development. Because of our concern for American sovereignty, domestic management of our fisheries, and our country's long-term energy needs, we have deep reservations about the regulatory, legal, and tax regimes inherent in the Law of the Sea Treaty and congratulate Senate Republicans for blocking its ratification. We strongly reject the U.N. Agenda 21 as erosive of American sovereignty, and we oppose any form of U.N. Global Tax.
Assuming Romney follows through on opposition to Law of the Sea if elected, that would be a shift from the Bush administration, which supported it, and also put him at odds with U.S. military commanders. The reference to the ominous "long-range impact on the American family" could be a dog-whistle to homseschooling groups, some of whom fear that these treaties would empower international bureaucrats to interfere with the raising of their children. And despite some debate at the U.N. over the possibility of a global carbon tax, the body does not have the authority to impose such a tax on its members.
Then there's Agenda 21. For those not familiar with this sinister plot, it's a non-binding U.N. agreement passed in 1992, and signed by President George H.W. Bush, that commits signatories to the goal of sustainable development through responsible land use and energy conservation. It doesn't actually legally compel its signatories to do anything, though the fact that various local green initiatives have been promoted as being in accordance with the agenda is evidence enough of a conspiracy for some.
The Times reported in February that Tea Party activists were increasingly referring to Agenda 21 in local debates on issues ranging from bike lanes to smart meters on home appliances:
Tom DeWeese, the founder of the American Policy Center, a Warrenton, Va.-based foundation that advocates limited government, says he has been a leader in the opposition to Agenda 21 since 1992. Until a few years ago, he had few followers beyond a handful of farmers and ranchers in rural areas. Now, he is a regular speaker at Tea Party events.
Membership is rising, Mr. DeWeese said, because what he sees as tangible Agenda 21-inspired controls on water and energy use are intruding into everyday life. “People may be acting out at some of these meetings, and I do not condone that. But their elected representatives are not listening and they are frustrated.”
Fox News has also helped spread the message. In June, after President Obama signed an executive order creating a White House Rural Council to “enhance federal engagement with rural communities,” Fox programs linked the order to Agenda 21. A Fox commentator, Eric Bolling, said the council sounded “eerily similar to a U.N. plan called Agenda 21, where a centralized planning agency would be responsible for oversight into all areas of our lives. A one world order.”
The movement has been particularly effective in Tea Party strongholds like Virginia, Florida and Texas, but the police have been called in to contain protests in states including Maryland and California, where opponents are fighting laws passed in recent years to encourage development around public transportation hubs and dense areas in an effort to save money and preserve rural communities.
Agenda 21 has been a favorite hobbyhorse of Glenn Beck, who argues that it is a covert means of achieving "centralized control over all of human life on planet Earth" as well as Alex Jones' all-purpose conspiracy theory clearinghouse Infowars, which calls it a "globalist death plan for humanity."
The once fringe movement has been going mainstream this year. The RNC adopted a resolution condemning Agenda 21 in January and Newt Gingrich made frequent reference to it in his presidential campaign, calling it "part of a general problem of the United Nations and other international bureaucracies that are seeking to create an extra-constitutional control over us." He promised to block the initiative as one of his first executive orders if elected. Given how vague that actual text of Agenda 21 is when you read it, it's hard to imagine that anyone would notice if he did.
Of course, those of us downplaying the nefarious globalist agenda behind bike lanes and high-speed rail projects could just be naive. Good thing brave public servants like Judge Tom Head are getting ready.
With the Republican National Convention set to begin (at least a day late), we'll be ramping up our coverage of the 2012 presidential race from now through November, delving deeper into what the candidates think about the world and what the world thinks about them. Follow our Election 2012 page or our @FPelection2012 Twitter account for daily news and analysis on the intersection of politics and international affairs by Foreign Policy's staff writers, bloggers, and contributors. You can also sign up for our weekly election newsletter here.
For those of you who'd like some background reading heading into the convention, check out our overviews of Barack Obama's and Mitt Romney's foreign-policy positions, and the FP 50 -- our new list of the 50 Republicans who have the greatest influence on the GOP's foreign policy (we'll tackle the Democrats ahead of their convention, which begins Sept. 4).
With the conventions nearly here and the debates not far away, the campaign is about to shake off its summer doldrums. We're excited to accompany you down the home stretch.
In an article today, I note that Mitt Romney's trip to Europe and Israel is being treated as entirely normal thing for him to do, while only four years ago, Barack Obama's mid-campaign overseas tour was considered a bizarre and unprecedented stunt.
Prior to 2008, the main example I could find of a candidate heading abroad as part of a presidential campaign was George McGovern's 1971 diplomatic mission to Vietnam, which served mainly to give him a platform to blast the Nixon administration's handling of the war.
However, according to this blog post by Eric Ham of the XII Project, there may be another precedent:
Presidential candidates traveling abroad while also campaigning for the presidency is not a new phenomenon. In fact, these excursions, date back to as far as 1947 when Republican presidential frontrunner, Harold Stassen, took a two-month 18-country tour around Europe in the spring of that year.
Stassen, a former governor of Minnesota, is best known for having unsuccessfully run for president nine times between 1948 and 1992. The 1948 primary, which he lost narrowly to Thomas Dewey who eventually lost to Harry Truman, was the closest he ever came to the Oval Office.
There's doesn't seem to be much information online about Stassen's trip or his itinerary, except for this transcript of an April 9, 1947 conversation with Joseph Stalin. Sample:
Stassen: Generalissimo Stalin, on this European trip I am particularly interested in studying conditions of an economic nature. In this regard, of course, the relations of the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. are very important. I realize that we have two economic systems that are very different. The U.S.S.R. with the Communist Party and with its planned economy and socialized collective state, and the United States of America with its free economy and regulated private capitalism are very different. I would be interested to know if you think these two economic systems can exist together in the same modern world in harmony with each other?
Stalin: Of course they can. The difference between them is not important so far as co-operation is concerned. The systems in Germany and the United States are the same but war broke out between them. The U.S. and U.S.S.R. systems are different but we didn’t wage war against each other and the U.S.S.R. does not propose to. If during the war they could co-operate, why can’t they today in peace, given the wish to co-operate? Of course, if there is no desire to co-operate, even with the same economic system they may fall out as was the case with Germany.
So much for that idea.
The once proud Communist Party propaganda arm-turned-supermarket tabloid/LOL-aggregator unloads on the GOP frontrunner:
Electing Mitt Romney as the next President of the United States of America would be like appointing a serial paedophile as a kindergarten teacher, a rapist as a janitor at a girls' dormitory or a psychopath with a fixation on knives as a kitchen hand. His comments on Russia are a puerile attempt at making the grand stage and boy, did he blow it...
Romney's "number one geopolitical foe" remark seems to be bringing out the best in Russian official bombast:
...Public Chamber Foreign Affairs working group head Alexander Sokolov [compared] him to one of the “Marlboro men, those so-called cool guys, for whom only America’s interests exist and all other countries are potential enemies – or at best, rivals.”
Even the normally staid Dmitry Medvedev said Romney's remark "smacks of Hollywood" and advised him to "check his watch": “It’s 2012, not the middle of the 1970s,”
Romney reiterated his attacks on the president's open-mic incident in a piece for FP yesterday, in which he said, "It is not an accident that Mr. Medvedev is now busy attacking me. The Russians clearly prefer to do business with the current incumbent of the White House."
Obama's foreign-policy advisors responded here.
The French president, facing his own reelection battle, dropped a subtle endorsement into a discussion of U.S. role in the Mideast peace process:
"There is also a presidential election in the United States. President Obama, who is a very great president, won't take the initiative before he's re-elected -- and I hope he will be -- but there's a place for France and a place for Europe."
The sentiment isn't much of a surprise. Back in 2008, Sarkozy issued a near endorsement of candidate Obama when the two met at the Elysée Palace, saying “Of course it’s not up to the French to choose the next president of the United States of America" but “Barack Obama’s adventure is an adventure that rings true in the hearts and minds of the French people."
Obama and Sarkozy haven't always seen eye-to-eye, particularly on economic issues, but given the level of anti-European rhetoric deployed during the U.S. primary, the Republican candidates can hardly expect the support of the French president. And in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Sarkozy's statement makes it into Romney or Gringrich's stump speeches.
I do think that, given the not-so-subtle way that Angela Merkel and David Cameron are supporting Sarkozy's reelection and Sarkozy's fairly unabashed support for Obama, it might be time to rethink the rules of when it's permissible for a leader to comment on another country's election. At least, if they are going to endorse, they should drop the unconvincing "it's not our place to weigh in" shtick that always seems to precede these statements.
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
Romney pulls away
Mitt Romney decisively won Florida's primacy on Tuesday with 46 percent of the vote. Newt Gingrich came in second with a disappointing 32 percent. Trailing far behind were Rick Santorum with 13 percent and Ron Paul with 7 percent. But Gingrich in a concession speech that often felt more like a victory speech, vowed to continue fighting in what he described as a "two-person race" between himself and the "Massachusetts moderate." Santorum and Paul are also staying in the hunt.
Several of the foreign-policy issues that had been billed as potential game changers this season appeared not to be major factors in Florida. Candidates have been highly vocal on Israel in hopes of peeling Jewish votes away from President Barack Obama, who has publicly clashed with the Israeli government on several occasions. But if a significant number of Jews are changing their voter registration to Republican, they've been quiet so far. Poll analyst Nate Silver of the New York Times noted that only 1 percent of the voters in this year's Florida primary identified as Jewish, down from 3 percent in 2008.
Despite the heavy emphasis on immigration reform in campaign rhetoric, very few Florida voters called undocumented immigrants their top concern. Romney, who has been somewhat more hawkish than other candidates on the topic of immigration, took a majority of the Latino vote -- as well as nearly six of ten Cuban-American voters.
But things haven't been going quite so well for Romney since his sweeping victory in Florida. He has been heavily criticized for remarks on Wednesday morning that he is "not concerned about the very poor" in a CNN interview. The candidate says he misspoke, but a highly publicized endorsement from Donald Trump on Thursday may not have been the best way to combat the perception that he's out of touch with economically struggling Americans.
Politics of the pullout
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta surprised many by saying that the United States hopes to end its combat mission in Afghanistan by mid-2013, up to 18 months sooner than expected. The Romney campaign was quick to pounce, with the candidate calling the administration's plans "naïve" and "misguided."
"Why in the world do you go to the people that you're fighting with and tell them the date you're pulling out your troops?" Romney said at a campaign stop in Las Vegas. "It makes absolutely no sense." Perhaps banking on low public support for continuing the war, Obama's press secretary Jay Carney countered Romney's criticism, saying troops "will not stay in Afghanistan any longer than is necessary to accomplish that mission."
The GOP front-runner has consistently criticized the administration's withdrawal plans, though earlier this year Romney himself announced his intention to "bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can."
The Iran factor
This week saw another round of speculation in Washington over whether Israel will attack Iran's nuclear facilities. According to the Washington Post's David Ignatius, Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood Israel will attack Iran this spring or summer, before Iran enters a "zone of immunity" to commence building a nuclear weapon.
Iran is likely to continue to dominate the campaign agenda with Gingrich warning recently that "If Iranians get nuclear weapons, they don't have to fire a missile. They can just drive a boat into Jacksonville. Drive a boat into New York harbor." Gingrich has said he would launch a U.S. strike on Iran "only as a last recourse, and only as a step towards replacing the regime."
Romney has also argued that "If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And if you elect Mitt Romney, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon."
Gates says to tone it down
Robert Gates, who served as secretary of defense to both George W. Bush and Obama, addressed the GOP field in an interview with CNN on Thursday, warning against overheated campaign rhetoric calling Obama weak-willed on Iran. "You know sometimes things get pretty heated in campaigns, but I think the reality is there is an acknowledgment on people's part around the world that this president is willing to use military force when our needs require it," he said.
Gates addressed both sides of the debate over Iran, saying, "Those who say we shouldn't attack, I think, underestimate the consequences of Iran having a nuclear weapon.... And those who say we should, underestimate the consequences of going to war."
What to watch for
Nevada voters will caucus on Saturday with Romney heavily favored to win. Maine will hold its caucuses throughout the week starting on Saturday. Colorado and Minnesota will both hold caucuses on Tuesday. The caucus format could provide an opening for Paul and Santorum, who both tend to inspire more enthusiasm in their (admittedly smaller) base of supporters than the two frontrunners. Paul has been campaigning heavily in Maine since last week.
The latest from FP
Scott Clement looks at why Obama shouldn't expect voters to flock to the polls to reward him for killing Osama bin Laden.
Michael Cohen says the decision to leave Afghanistan early will prove to be smart politics for the president.
Michael Shifter lays out the Latin America debate the candidates should have had in Florida, instead of just bashing Fidel Castro.
Robert Satloff channels his inner William Safire and explains why presidents should stop describing U.S. support for Israel as "ironclad."
Joseph Sarkisian asks whether a vote for Romney is a vote for war with Iran.
Peter Feaver argues that it's time for the GOP candidates to stop attacking each other and offer a sharp critique of Obama's foreign policy.
Josh Rogin reports on Romney's pledge to defend South Sudan.
Joshua Keating wonders whether Gingrich's campaign rhetoric will inspire a new generation to read the works of Saul Alinsky.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Rick Perry's presidential campaign, which is ending today, will almost certainly be remembered best years from now for the infamous "oops" moment, but he had some notable foreign-policy highlights as well. Here's a look back at the governor's greatest hits:
There’s not a person that’s been born yet that knows everything that’s going on, but you better have the ability to identify really good people. That’s how I’ve run Texas. For ten years. I’ve had very, very wise… They may not be the smartest ones. President Obama has got some really smart people around him; I just don’t know how wise they are.
“The way that we were able to stop the drug cartels in Colombia was with a coordinated effort,” Perry said. “It may require our military in Mexico working in concert with them to kill these drug cartels and to keep them off of our border and to destroy their networks. I don’t know all the scenarios that are out there but I think it is very important that we work with them, to keep that country from failing.”
“Well, obviously, before you ever get to that point, you have to build a relationship in that region. And that’s one of the things that this administration has not done. Just yesterday we found out through Admiral Mullen that Haqqani has been involved with — and that’s the terrorist group directly associated with the Pakistani country — so to have a relationship with India, to make sure that India knows that they are an ally of the United States.”
“For instance, when we had the opportunity to sell India the upgraded F-16’s, we chose not to do that. [This was factually wrong. It was India that rejected the U.S. fighters.]We did the same with Taiwan. The point is, our allies need to understand clearly that we are their friends, we will be standing by there with them. Today, we don’t have those allies in that region that can assist us if that situation that you talked about were to become a reality.”
“Listen, there are some people who made the statement that the 21st century is going to be the century of China and that, you know, we've had our time in the sunshine. I don't believe that. I don't believe that at all. As a matter of fact, you think back to the 1980s, and we faced a similar type of a situation with Russia. And Ronald Reagan said that Russia would end up on the ash heap of history, and he was right. I happen to think that the communist Chinese government will end up on the ash heap of history if they do not change their virtues. It is important for a country to have virtues, virtues of honesty. And this whole issue of allowing cybersecurity to go on, we need to use all of our resources. The private sector working along with our government to really-- standing up to cyber-command in 2010 was a good start on that. But fighting this cyberwar I would suggest is one of the great issues that will face the next president of the united states and we must win.”
“Listen, I think we’re havin’ an interesting conversation here, but the deeper one that the speaker makes a reference to is the whole issue of foreign aid…. The foreign aid budget in my administration for every country is gonna start at zero dollars. Zero dollars. And then we’ll have a conversation. Then we’ll have a conversation in this country about whether or not a penny of our taxpayer dollar needs to go into those countries.
Listen, as — you know, I volunteered to wear the uniform of our country. And what bothers me more than anything, is this administration and this administration’s disdain all too often for our men and women in uniform. Whether it was what they’ve said about the Marines — now these young men made a mistake. They obviously made a — a mistake.
BAIER: You’re talking about urinating on the corpses?
PERRY: They — they made a — a mistake that the military needs to deal with. And they need to be punished. But the fact of the matter — the fact of the matter is this, when the Secretary of Defense calls that a despicable act, when he calls that utterly despicable. Let me tell you what’s utterly despicable, cutting Danny Pearl’s head off and showing the video of it.
PERRY: Hanging our contractors from bridges. That’s utterly despicable. For our president for the Secretary of State, for the Department of Defense secretary to make those kinds of statements about those young Marines — yes, they need to be punished, but when you see this president with that type of disdain for our country, taking a trillion dollars out of our defense budget, 100,000 of our military off of our front lines, and a reduction of forces, I lived through a reduction of force once and I saw the result of it in the sands of Iran in 1979. Never again.
PERRY: And you go to zero with foreign aid for all of those countries. And it doesn’t make any difference who they are. You go to zero with that foreign aid and then you have the conversation about, do they have America’s best interest in mind? And when you have countries like Turkey that are moving far away from the country that I lived in back in the 1970?s as a pilot in the United States Air Force that was our ally, that worked with us, but today we don’t see that.
All in all, given the high expectations and money spent, the Perry campaign was pretty disappointing. (Although you have to be somewhat impressed with a politician who can earn condmenation from officials of two foreign governments without even winning his party's nomination.)
To give credit where it's due, aside from the non-starter idea of sending U.S. troops into Mexican territory, Perry had much more realistic and humane rhetoric on border security and immigration than many of his counterparts. It's unfortunate that in the current political climate, that was considered a liability.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
This new ad from the Gingrich campaign is making the rounds:
If you don't feel like watching, it compares Romney to previous Massachusetts wusses Michael Dukakis and John Kerry and ends with the narrator snarking, "Just like John Kerry, he speaks French too," before showing a clip from the now infamous Olympic committee video.
BOOM! Mr. "We look to the cities and small towns of America, not the capitals of Europe" just got served a dose of his own xenophobic pandering.
But wait, does Gingrich really want to go down this route? He has his own dark Francophone past, as the AFP's Stephane Jourdain reported last month:
And Gingrich, former speaker of the House of Representatives, spent several years in Orleans as a youth when his father was posted there as a soldier, during a period when France still hosted US military bases.…
From 1956 to 1958, Gingrich lived in Orleans between the ages of 14 to 16.
He tells how he had a revelation when visiting the ossuary memorial at the World War I battlefield of Verdun with his father in 1958.
"As a young man, I planned on becoming a zoo director or a vertebrate paleontologist," Gingrich writes in a book. "Yet during one special weekend as a teenager, I learned a powerful lesson that sparked my dream of entering public office and becoming a leader of our nation."
In his biography "The gentleman of Georgia," he recalls, "That last day was probably the most stunning event of my life. It was a sense of coming face to face with an unavoidable reality."
In the book, author Mel Steely tells how Gingrich lived for several months in a hotel while he attended an American high school. Later he and his family went to live in a chateau in the Loire valley.
Newt "had enough French to survive" when he would go off exploring the city on his own, the author said.
Oh, I'd say that's not giving him enough credit. Newt not only had enough French to "survive" when venturing into town for a baguette -- he had a strong enough command of the language to write a doctoral thesis on Belgian colonial policies in the Congo that cites multiple French-language original sources.
So either Gingrich never actually read Pierre Wigny's seminal 1955 work "Dix Anées historiques et perspectives d'avenir au Congo," as he claims in a footnote on page 250, or the Belgian senate's 1947 "Rapport de la Mission Sénatoriale au Congo Belge," as he claims on page 245, or his French is a hell of a lot better than Romney's (and probably Kerry's). J'accuse!
Back in June, shortly after Mitt Romney's entry into the race, I wrote a short piece noting the anti-European rhetoric in Mitt Romney's announcement of his candidacy, and predicting that Republicans would try to pain the president as a Brussels bureaucrat. After all, the "European" charge is a one-stop-shop shorthand for socialist economic policies, timidity in foreign affairs, and suggesting that there's something not-quite-American about the president without getting into dangerous racial territory.
Judging by last night's New Hampshire victory speech, Romney is doubling down on this line of attack:
“President Obama wants to ‘fundamentally transform’ America. We want to restore America to the founding principles that made this country great.
“He wants to turn America into a European-style entitlement society. We want to ensure that we remain a free and prosperous land of opportunity.
“This president takes his inspiration from the capitals of Europe; we look to the cities and small towns of America.
“I want you to remember when our White House reflected the best of who we are, not the worst of what Europe has become.
On MSNBC this morning, Chris Matthews thought this was an effective tactic, saying something to the effect of, "A lot of Americans have done their European vacations. They thought the French were rude to them and Venice smells." (This isn't an exact quote. The clip isn't posted yet.)
But I'm still not quite convinced that Americans are that hostile to Europe. Granted, this hasn't been a great year for the European economic model, but it hasn't exactly been a great one for the American economic model either. As Andrew Sullivan notes, Americans probably wouldn't mind Germany's unemployment rate.
Americans may not want to live in Europe, but they don't really hate it. A 2009 Pew Research Center poll found that 77 percent of Americans have favorable views of Britain, 66 percent for Germany and 62 percent for France. (The French number nearly doubled since 2003 when tensions were high over the Iraq War.)
Granted these numbers are from before the worst of the financial crisis (Although another poll released this year found that 55 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the E.U.) but I'm still not sure that U.S. hostility toward Europe -- particularly in the general electorate -- is as palpable as Romney seems to think it is.
Also, does Romney really want to come into office having spent his entire campaign bashing longtime U.S. allies?
First Fidel Castro came out against fracking. Now, only days later, he's come out against Barack Obama. In his latest "reflection" in state-run media on Monday, the former Cuban leader declared that a "robot" would do a better job governing the United States and preventing "a war that would end the life of our species" than President Obama, "for whom, in his desperate quest for reelection, the dreams of [Martin] Luther King are more light years away than earth is from the nearest habitable planet."
It's biting stuff from a man who in 2008 described Obama as "more intelligent, refined, and even-handed" than his Republican challenger John McCain, whom Castro labeled "old, belligerent, uncultivated, unintelligent, and in poor health" (the Comandante, no spring chicken, doesn't mince words, does he?). In 2009, Castro expressed faith in Obama's "honesty" about wanting to reach out to Cuban leaders and surprise that Obama's popularity was declining, blaming the phenomenon on "traditional racism" in America (during the 2008 campaign, he argued that millions of white Americans "cannot reconcile themselves to the idea that a black person ... could occupy the White House, which is called just that: white"). A year later, Castro praised Obama's health care reform, though he tweaked the U.S. leader on climate change and immigration reform.
In fact, Castro has been growing disillusioned with Obama for some time. In September, Castro condemned the NATO intervention in Libya, declaring that Obama, the "yankee president," had served up "gibberish" during an address at the U.N. General Assembly and committed "monstrous crimes" in Libya. A few days later, Castro scoffed at Obama's suggestion that the United States would consider softening its stance toward Cuba if the Cuban government made a serious effort to "provide liberty for its people," and called Obama "stupid" in reference to the case of five Cuban agents imprisoned in the United States for spying.
But, lest recent headlines like "CANDIDATE-BOT 3000 Model 'Mitt Romney' Being Glitchy Today" and "I Think Mitt Romney Is a Shape-Shifting Robot" confuse you, Castro does not appear to be endorsing the Republican frontrunner. In his op-ed, Castro added that the Republicans were worse still -- carrying "more nuclear arms on their backs than ideas for peace in their heads."
And as pundits lavish their attention today on the latest polling out of New Hampshire, Castro likes the robot's chances. "I'm sure 90 percent of voting Americans, especially Hispanics, blacks, and the growing number of impoverished middle class, would vote for the robot," he declared. Anyone want to go out on a limb and predict a robot write-in victory in the Granite State?
Adalberto Roque/AFP/Getty Images