Tag Archives: 2012 Presidential Elections

Terrorism is Terrorism? How Communication Exacerbates the Definitional Problem

Why is terrorism so difficult to define? {Department of War Studies, King’s College London}

[dhr]

riot balaclava terrorist[dhr]

A definition of terrorism is arguably one of the woolliest concepts of modern discourse. Its manifestations arrive from a complex mosaic of compounding issues that affect any real brevity in assessing it. Since 9/11 it has been promoted to the forefront of most political agendas and yet no definitional consensus has followed. In the second presidential debate for example, Mitt Romney lambasted President Obama for not calling the attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi a terrorist incident, of which Obama took 14 days to finally call it such. The interim Libyan leader in comparison described it as an act of criminal violence. Politicians and subsequently media organisations have been careless, imprecise and sloppy in labelling incidents as acts of terrorism. This essay will therefore, scale back from the larger definitional debate and acknowledges that issues will be omitted. However, by arguing that terrorism is wrapped up in political motivations and rhetoric in tandem with the rise of modern communication, ultimately has a greater impact in understanding why terrorism is so difficult to define.

A Definitional Overview

To argue with clarity, the first logical step is to assess why terrorism is so important to define. Since 9/11 the word ‘terrorism’ has increasingly become intertwined in today’s society, and is synonymous in creating powerful images of violence, self-sacrifice and catastrophe. However, are we any closer in understanding what constitutes it? There are many academics and professionals who not only struggle to grapple with a definition, but utterly refute any notion of needing one. Walter Laqueur, perhaps the most prominent in this category, argues that a definition “does not exist nor will it be found in the foreseeable future.” Additionally, Jeremy Waldon and George Fletcher, in separate works, acknowledge that there are too many questions and not enough answers. Both seem to deviate from any real conclusion and believe the best possible course in understanding terrorism – is to know it when you see it.

The British Ambassador to the United Nations also shares this argument. In a post 9/11 speech he shunned the attempts of a definition by stating, “let us be focused about this: terrorism is terrorism… What looks, smells and kills like terrorism is terrorism.” However, if terrorism is taken as a transnational issue and not a single state-centric paradigm, to simply say every terrorist attack has characteristics that are obvious in all instances and consistently the same, is not only trite, but affects any sort of successful counter-terrorism strategy. Therefore, if terrorism is a global affair encompassing many different countries, a definition is vitally important to understand and ultimately combat it.

It is fair to argue that a definition is imperative in combating terrorism. However, coming to that conclusion is not an easy feat. Alex Schmid has become a cornerstone in the definitional debate and arguably places significance on “anxiety-inspired methods” which are implied on victims “generally chosen… (targets of opportunity).” He interestingly includes state-actors within his definition, which further adds weight to the necessity for a classification, because it can separate who or what are committing the acts. In a direct response to Schmid, Weinberg et al conclusively found no room in their definition for psychological effects and place politics as the primary reason behind terrorist strategy. Bruce Hoffman also asserts the importance of politics and views it as the key tool in understanding terrorists modus operandi. However, viewing a terrorist group in the sole constraints of politics reveals only a partial picture, as ignoring religious or ideological motivations limits the scope of analysis. John Horgan moves away from the idea of politics by putting explicit importance on the psychological use of ‘terror’, which in his words “removes part of the mystery” in understanding terrorism.

The use of terror is vitally important in assessing an attack because, as John Mueller identifies, it breaks down the moral criminal code that almost all populations abide by. Thus, understanding the potential method and targets not only helps polarise state and non-state actors but also allows a better degree of understanding of what the potential aims of a group are. There is arguably not one definition to use and it is fair to say that the scattered academic radar adds more uncertainty to how terrorism is defined. Nevertheless, if a definition is used, it does enable a set of parameters to be implemented allowing terrorist activity to be assessed.

The Misuse of ‘Terrorism’

The understandable academic ambiguity around the manifestations of terrorism is one that will continue, however, it is arguably not the basis of why terrorism is so hard to define. The way the word is used in its entirety by political apparatuses and influential individuals has a far larger footprint in misguiding the real meaning and use of terrorism. Ian Lustick’s thought provoking book ‘Trapped in a War on Terror’ portrays this argument and crucially identifies how terrorism became the Bush administrations political foundation. Patriotic fist pumping speeches that hark back to old veteran sentiments helped legitimatise policy-making decisions and misalign people’s perceptions of what terrorism actually is. There is perhaps little to dispute with this argument especially when assessing Bush’s clay footed notion of fighting a ‘War on Terror.’

Other hazy statements seem to be in abundance when terrorism is assessed and the idea of an attack to have a ‘look and feel of terrorism’ seems to be the optimum phrase when there is no uniformity concerning a violent attack. The blurry platitudes imposed by state echelons is unrelenting and is further compounded by the systematic use of “apocalyptic alarmism” whereby a top down smothering of scare tactics is employed – specifically in the United States. Homeland Security for example, not only portrays the threat of terrorists having the capability of CBRN weapons but also the ability to use those weapons “from home and abroad.” The imprecise and often inaccurate statements seem to have other motives. Fred Kaplan, in The Guardian, believes “policies will gain maximum support if they are linked to the war on terrorism.” Therefore, if terrorism is bound up in political drives for public support it begs a very serious question whether it is possible to separate truth from fiction and thus provide an accurate definition.

Communications Unique Role

Government’s apparent manipulation of the subject nature of terrorism is compounded by mushrooming nature of globalisation and the subsequent rise of modern technology, which in Manuel Castells words has created a “new communication space” where “power is decided.” The expansion of ideas to previously untouched parts of the world and the connection of disparate communities to their home nation has created a complex dichotomy that Sir Richards labels as a “global network of grievances.” The rapid expansion in technology, and the explosion of social media sites has arguably transformed opinions and debates into a virtual, informational space. This, allows people to move “rapidly and seamlessly” within a virtual world. David Betz has aptly labelled this as Web 2.0, in which all vectors of society can interact simultaneously, and subsequently, the public are no longer passive spectators but an active cog in the informational world.

Modern technology has therefore now provided an unprecedented platform to move messages horizontally across an archipelago of national and international borders. If the message is incorrect or misleading it can have exponential consequences by smattering the population with distorted information. In that respect, a political message is increasingly becoming a media message and has the ability to influence all spheres of society instantaneously. However, on the other hand, the role of modern technology also means people can circumvent not only traditional state controls but also contrived information. This is evident with General Sir David Richards’ summary of technology where he argues modern communications “are way beyond the state’s ability to control without threatening all the other functions of that state.” However, this works on both feet and allows governments to wield a certain degree of autonomy in the use of modern media processes. Therefore, as David Kilcullen argues, the ends and means of developing sources of information have a paucity that makes it very hard to distinguish origins or accuracy.

A government message is thus now instantly input into the media and the subsequent outlets play a significant role in shaping how it is defined. If terrorism is put through these many different communication filters, the outcome is a kaleidoscopic mesh of compounding definitions. They are connected to public opinion, leader personality and the usual platitudes around foreign policy. John Horgan therefore argues, to assess terrorism in its definitional entirety; a movement away from the media process is vital. However, with governments increasingly using the term in its haziest context and media being completely associated with political issues, this arguably is not possible and subsequently affects coming to terms with a definition of terrorism.

Conclusion

To conclude, this essay has focused on a very selective variety of sources and is not by any means conclusive in bringing the definitional debate to a finish line. It has specifically focused on the US government’s role due to its unique place in combating terror and an investigation into other nations could lead to a very different argument. However, misinformation imposed by any government can arguably filter down into everyday life and is further exacerbated by the role of modern communications. This ultimately gives a larger footprint and further muddies the water in trying to come to terms with an accurate definition of terrorism.

[hr]

Photo Credit: bixentro

US Presidential Election Roundup 3/11 – 10/11

US President Barack Obama was re-elected for a second term in office on Tuesday after a close race against Governor Mitt Romney.

Polls in the final days before Election Day suggested ties in the crucial states of Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Colorado with both President Obama and Mitt Romney making final appeals to voters on Monday. President Obama spoke to 20,000 supporters in Iowa, saying, ‘This is where our movement for change began. Right here’, while Mitt Romney rallied with 12,000 voters in New Hampshire, saying that, ‘This is a special moment for Ann and for me because this is where our campaign began. You got this campaign started a year and a half ago at the Scammon Farm.’

Talking to reporters Romney revealed that he had not written a concession speech, saying, ‘I just finished writing a victory speech. It’s about 1,118 words. And, uh, I’m sure it will change before I’m finished, because I haven’t passed it around to my family and friends and advisers to get their reaction, but I’ve only written one speech at this point.’

As exit poll results emerged, both Obama and Romney remained tied for some time in Florida and Virginia, while Obama was said to have a 3% lead in Ohio.

NBC became the first network to call the election for President Obama, with Rachel Maddow confirming that, ‘We have just learned that in the state of Ohio, NBC News has projected that President Obama has won the state of Ohio. President Obama has been re-elected for a second term.’

Despite campaign staff preparing to challenge the result in states they deemed too close to call Romney eventually decided to concede, thanking his wife Ann, his running mate Paul Ryan and his campaign staff in a short concession speech in Boston and stating that, ‘The nation, as you know, is at a critical point. At a time like this we can’t risk partisan bickering and political posturing. Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people’s work, and we citizens also have to rise to occasion.’ He added that, ‘I so wish that I had been able to fulfil your hopes to lead the country in a different direction, but the nation chose another leader, and so Ann and I join with you to earnestly pray for him and for this great nation.’

Advisers later describes the atmosphere in the Romney campaign as the result became clearer,  while Conservative commentators such as Bill O’Reilly were quick to analyse the Republican failure as it emerged. On Fox News, O’Reilly commented that, ‘The white establishment is now the minority,’ adding that, ‘And the voters, many of them, feel that the economic system is stacked against them and they want stuff. You are going to see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama. Overwhelming black vote for President Obama. And women will probably break President Obama’s way. People feel that they are entitled to things and which candidate, between the two, is going to give them things?

President Obama delivered his victory remarks in Chicago, saying, ‘I want to thank every American who participated in this election, whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time. By the way, we have to fix that. Whether you pounded the pavement or picked up the phone, whether you held an Obama sign or a Romney sign, you made your voice heard and you made a difference.’ The President also thanked Vice-President Joe Biden, and also said that, ‘I wouldn’t be the man I am today without the woman who agreed to marry me 20 years ago. Let me say this publicly: Michelle, I have never loved you more. I have never been prouder to watch the rest of America fall in love with you, too, as our nation’s first lady.’ The President went on to praise his campaign staff, stating, ‘To the best campaign team and volunteers in the history of politics. The best. The best ever. Some of you were new this time around, and some of you have been at my side since the very beginning. But all of you are family. No matter what you do or where you go from here, you will carry the memory of the history we made together and you will have the lifelong appreciation of a grateful President.’

Meanwhile, in the Congressional elections, Republicans retained control of the House of Representatives, while the Democrats increased their majority in the Senate. In addition, equal marriage propositions were successful in Washington state, Maine and Maryland, leading to speculation as to the implications for the Supreme Court, while recreation marijuana was legalised in Washington state and Colorado.

Following the presidential election results, footage emerged of the newly re-elected President Obama wiping tears from his face as he thanked his campaign staff. The media also picked up on the accidentally published Mitt Romney ‘Victory’ splash page and transition website.

Since the results, ABC News has drawn up a list of economic issues that President Obama will have to deal with in his second term, including the situation in Europe, payroll taxes and unemployment benefits, while Global Post has reported the international reactions to his re-election. The National Journal has scrutinised the accuracy of polling during this year’s election cycle  while the New York Times has investigated shifts in voting patterns, and the Washington Post has looked at what exit polls reflect about the concerns of voters. In addition, the Huffington Post has speculated about the President’s plans for the Supreme Court, suggesting that his re-election may allow him ‘to deepen his liberal imprint’ on the Court’. Meanwhile, the New York Times has also explored Mitt Romney’s post-election plans.

This week, The Risky Shift’s Anastasia Kyriacou wrote a piece questioning the power of the US presidency, David Schaefer explored the ambiguity of recent polling data, and Peter Kelly has analysed the difficulties President Obama may face in his second term.

US Presidential Election Roundup 28/10 – 3/11

This week’s roundup of the US presidential elections…

[dhr]

Obama leads in Virginia [Washington Post] A new poll has given President Obama a small lead over Mitt Romney in the state of Virginia.

[hr]

New York Times endorses Obama [New York Times] The New York Times has published an endorsement of President Obama for re-election.

[hr]

Obama campaign halts amid storm [The Hill] The Obama campaign has cancelled events in order to respond to Hurricane Sandy.

[hr]

Romney focuses on storm relief [USA Today] The Romney campaign has focused on storm relief in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

[hr]

Sandy political implications considered [Politico] Politico explores the potential effects of Hurricane Sandy on the presidential election.

[hr]

Susan Eisenhower endorses Obama [MSNBC] Susan Eisenhower, the granddaughter of President Eisenhower, has endorsed President Obama for re-election.

[hr]

Early voting continues despite storm [Washington Post] Hurricane Sandy has not affected early voting in Ohio, the Washington Post reports.

[hr]

Republicans optimistic about Iowa [CBS News] Romney campaign staff have expressed optimism over Mitt Romney’s chances of winning the state of Iowa.

[hr]

Obama ahead in Pennsylvania [Talking Points Memo] A new poll places President Obama ahead of Mitt Romney by 4 points in the state of Pennsylvania.

[hr]

Obama campaign optimistic [The Hill] Jim Messina, campaign manager to the Obama campaign, has appeared in a new ad arguing that President Obama is in the ‘dominant position’ in the presidential race.

[hr]

Super-PAC targets new states [The Hill] A pro-Romney super-PAC has focused ad campaigns in Minnesota and New Mexico.

[hr]

Obama surveys Sandy damage [MSNBC] President Obama has visited New Jersey to survey the damage done to the area by Hurricane Sandy.

[hr]

Ohio swings to ‘tossup’ [Washington Post] The Washington Post reports that Ohio has moved from leaning towards President Obama to being a ‘tossup’ according to its ratings.

[hr]

New ads attack Obama [CNN] Groups opposed to President Obama have released new ads in Michigan and Pennsylvania.

[hr]

Economist endorses Obama [The Economist] The Economist has published an endorsement of President Obama for re-election.

[hr]

Romney focuses on CEO endorsements [Wall Street Journal] Mitt Romney has sought to demonstrate the support expressed for his campaign among business executives.

[hr]

Romney ad focuses on Obama endorsements [CNN] A new ad from the Romney campaign has attempted to associate President Obama with Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro.

[hr]

Obama to conclude campaign in Iowa [CNN] The Obama campaign has said that the President will conclude campaigning at a rally in Des Moines, Iowa on Monday.

[hr]

Romney leads in Ohio poll [The Hill] A poll commissioned by the Republican group Citizens United has Romney up by three points in Ohio.

[hr]

Obama business proposal criticised [CBS News] Mitt Romney has criticised President Obama’s proposal to introduced a Secretary of Business to the government.

[hr]

Romney criticised over auto bailout [Huffington Post] A number of groups will file an ethics complaint against Mitt Romney over his alleged failure to state auto bailout profits, the Huffington Post reports.

[hr]

‘I can smell success right now’ [CNN] Republican Vice-President candidate Paul Ryan has said that he believes the Republican ticket can win Wisconsin and Iowa.

[hr]

‘Closing arguments’ [Washington Post] President Obama and Mitt Romney have spoken at rallies, offering their closing arguments to Americans in Ohio and Wisconsin.

[hr]

Compiled by Patrick McGhee

US Presidential Election Roundup 21/10 – 27/10

This week’s roundup of the US presidential elections…

[dhr]

Romney ad focuses on executive role [CNN] A new ad from the Romney campaign has focused on the executive roles of Mitt Romney and President Obama.

[hr]

Super PAC breaks fund record [Huffington Post] A super PAC that supports Mitt Romney raised nearly $15 million in September, meaning that it has now raised over $100 million overall during the election.

[hr]

Romney insists on TV show reference [Huffington Post] Mitt Romney has continued to make reference to the US television programme Friday Night Lights after being asked by the show’s creator to stop.

[hr]

‘Romnesia’ causes campaign criticism [The Hill] Members of both the Romney and the Obama campaign have spoken about President Obama’s suggestion that his opponent’s policy shifts are symptoms of ‘Romnesia’.

[hr]

Ryan campaigns in Iowa [ABC News] Paul Ryan has spoken at a campaign event in Iowa on the Republican ticket’s chance of victory.

[hr]

Poll suggests tie [NBC] A new poll suggests that the presidential election is tied at 47%.

[hr]

Obama campaign targets environmental issues [The Hill] An email sent to environmentalists has sought to demonstrate President Obama’s stance on green issues.

[hr]

Ohio polls suggest close result [CNN] A new series of polls suggests a close race in the battleground state of Ohio.

[hr]

Campaign finances compared [Huffington Post] The Huffington Post contrasts the way in which each campaign has handled its campaign finances.

[hr]

Third presidential debate takes place [New York Times] The third presidential debate took place this week with a focus on foreign policy issues.

[hr]

Polls suggest Obama debate win [National Journal] Poll results following the third presidential debate favoured President Obama.

[hr]

Debate viewing figures released [The Hill] Nielsen Ratings reports that the third presidential debate was watched by around 59.2 million people, fewer than the previous debates.

[hr]

Obama comments on close race [NBC] President Obama has said that he is not surprised at the closeness of the presidential race.

[hr]

Campaigns tied among women [The Hill] Mitt Romney has a national lead and is tied with President Obama among women, a new poll suggests.

[hr]

Ryan reveals Halloween plans [CNN] Republican candidate for Vice-President has shared his plans for Halloween.

[hr]

Cheny and George HW Bush campaign for Romney [CNN] CNN reports that former Vice-President Cheney and Former President George HW Bush will attend Romney campaign fundraisers.

[hr]

Romney speaks on ‘change’ [The Hill] Mitt Romney has said that if elected, he and Paul Ryan will ‘bring big changes’ and described President Obama’s approach as ‘status-quo’.

[hr]

Campaigns confident in early voting [NBC] Both campaigns have expressed confidence over the impact of early voting in Ohio.

[hr]

Obama campaign comments on interview [Yahoo News] The Obama campaign has sought to explain remarks apparently made by the President in a soon-to-be published Rolling Stone interview in which he suggests Mitt Romney is ‘a bullshitter’.

[hr]

Ann Romney discusses food shopping [ABC News] Ann Romney has appeared on the Rachel Ray Show, where she discussed groceries.

[hr]

Obama votes early [The Guardian] President Obama has become the first president to cast his vote early, in an effort to encourage others to do so.

[hr]

Washington Post endorses Obama [Washington Post] The Washington Post has publically endorsed President Obama.

[hr]

Powell criticised for Obama support [Huffington Post] Senator John McCain has criticised Colin Powell for declaring his support for President Obama.

[hr]

Obama leads in Iowa and Wisconsin [Public Policy Polling] New polls suggest President Obama leads in Iowa and Wisconsin.

[hr]

Poll suggests close race in Nevada and Colorado [The Hill] A poll has found that President Obama has a three-point lead in Nevada and is tied with Mitt Romney in Colorado.

[hr]

Obama campaign reports finances [CNN] The Obama campaign has revealed that it raised around $90.5 million in the first part of October.

[hr]

Obama discusses Trump [Huffington Post] President Obama has joked about Donald Trump on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.

[hr]

Obama leads early voting [Reuters] Reuters report on the percentage of votes cast early, as polls suggest President Obama leads early voting.

[hr]

Compiled by Patrick McGhee.

US Presidential Election Roundup 7/10 – 13/10

This week’s roundup of the US presidential election…

[dhr]

Obama campaign reveals fundraising figure [The Guardian] The Obama campaign has tweeted that it raised $181m in September.

[hr]

Obama campaign enjoys Latino support [Politico] The Obama campaign has strong support from Latino voters.

[hr]

Obama campaign clarifies following debate [Huffington Post] The Obama campaign has clarified the President’s debate remark about Mitt Romney’s social security stance.

[hr]

Campaigns spar over tax proposals [CBS News] The Romney campaign has released a new ad in response to criticisms from President Obama over the Republican nominee’s tax proposals.

[hr]

Romney expresses foreign policy views [The Guardian] Mitt Romney has spoken about arming the Syrian rebels and has criticised President Obama’s approach to the conflict.

[hr]

‘Chest-pounding rhetoric’ [Washington Post] The Obama campaign has criticised Mitt Romney’s recent foreign policy speech.

[hr]

Romney shifts staff focus to Ohio [CBS News] Staff members have been moved to Ohio from Pennsylvania to focus on early voting.

[hr]

Obama ad addresses Big Bird issue [Politico] A spokesperson for the Obama campaign has spoken about a recent ad criticising Mitt Romney for his comments about Big Bird from Sesame Street.

[hr]

Romney criticised by DNC chair [The Hill] DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz has attacked Mitt Romney over his healthcare stance.

[hr]

Ann Romney comments on debate [Washington Post] Ann Romney has been interviewed about her husband’s debate performance.

[hr]

Ohio early voting enters last day [New York Times] President Obama has campaigned in Ohio on the last day of early voting in the state.

[hr]

Romney discusses debate performance [CNN] Mitt Romney has spoken about debating and the influence of his father.

[hr]

Romney clarifies abortion position [Huffington Post] After suggesting that he does not propose limiting abortion, Mitt Romney has said that he would remove funding to Planned Parenthood.

[hr]

Obama comments on debate performance [ABC] President Obama has said that he ‘had a bad night’ at the first presidential debate.

[hr]

Romney faces complaint over Navy SEAL [Huffington Post] Mitt Romney has been asked not to mention a meeting he had with a former Navy SEAL killed during violence in Libya in September.

[hr]

Romney comments on Libya attacks [Talking Points Memo] Mitt Romney has responded to accusations from the Obama campaign that he has politicised the killing of the US ambassador in Libya.

[hr]

Romney comments on health insurance [Huffington Post] Commenting on healthcare, Mitt Romney has said that, ‘We don’t have people that become ill, who die in their apartment because they don’t have insurance.’

[hr]

Poll suggests partisanship [Politico] A new poll has suggested that Barack Obama is among the most polarising Presidents in recent times.

[hr]

Biden and Ryan debate [The Hill] The Vice-Presidential debate took place this week between Vice-President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan.

[hr]

VP debate viewing figures revealed [Politico] Nielsen has said that around 51.4 million people watched the Vice-Presidential debate.

[hr]

Gunshot at Obama campaign office [Reuters] A single shot has been fired at the Obama campaign’s Denver offices.

[hr]

Poll favours Biden after debate [Reuters] A new poll has suggested a win for Vice-President Joe Biden following the Vice-Presidential debate.

[hr]

Compiled by Patrick McGhee

US Presidential Election Roundup 30/9 – 06/10

This week’s roundup of the US presidential elections…

[dhr]

VP candidates campaign [Reuters] Vice-President Joe Biden and Republican challenger Paul Ryan have campaigned in battleground states while President Obama and Mitt Romney prepare for the first presidential debate.

[hr]

Impact of debating discussed [CNN] A political communication specialist has discussed the impact of presidential election debates on voters.

[hr]

Sponsor disassociates from debate [Politico] Philips Electronics has become the third sponsor of the presidential debates to withdraw its support.

[hr]

Romney criticises Obama foreign policy [Huffington Post] Mitt Romney has criticised the foreign policies of the Obama administration.

[hr]

Poll predicts close call [Washington Post] A poll by the Washington Post and ABC News has found that President Obama and Mitt Romney are tied across numerous political issues.

[hr]

Ryan comments on Medicare plans [The Hill] Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan has commented on the impact of Medicare plans in swing-states.

[hr]

Ryan criticises Afghanistan policy [Washington Post] Paul Ryan has accused President Obama of making decisions on Afghanistan based on election politics.

[hr]

Biden comment used by Romney [New York Times] The Romney campaign has used a comment by Vice-President Joe Biden on the middle class to criticise President Obama’s first term.

[hr]

First debate takes place [New York Times] The New York Times provides a full transcript of the first presidential debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney.

[hr]

Obama campaigns after debate [BBC News] President Obama has criticised Mitt Romney after the first presidential debate.

[hr]

Romney job proposals ad airs [CNN] The Romney campaign has aired a new ad focusing on the Republican ticket’s plans for job creation.

[hr]

Health care ad attacks Romney [The Hill] The Democratic National Committee has released an online ad in which it accuses Mitt Romney’s health care proposals of neglecting those with pre-existing conditions.

[hr]

‘Elmo, you better make a run for it’ [Huffington Post] President Obama has joked about Mitt Romney’s statements on cutting funding for PBS.

[hr]

Lehrer faces criticism [CNN] The chair of the first presidential debate Jim Lehrer has been criticised for his handling of the event.

[hr]

Romney responds to jobs report [ABC News] Mitt Romney has questioned a new jobs report that suggests a decrease in the unemployment rate.

[hr]

Compiled by Patrick McGhee

US Presidential Election Roundup: 22/7 – 28/7

Right up until the 3rd November 2012, theriskyshift.com will be posting a weekly roundup of the happenings in the US presidential election campaigns of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

[dhr]

Romney focuses on economy after shooting [Reuters] Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney spoke about the economy in the wake of the shooting in Colorado, saying that his remarks would ‘not be as partisan as normal.’

[hr]

Axelrod resumes negative tweeting [Politico] David Axelrod, an adviser to the Obama campaign, tweeted the first negative attack against Mitt Romney since the shooting in Colorado last week.

[hr]

Campaigns on the offensive over foreign policy [Washington Post] President Obama has questioned his rival’s foreign policy experience, while Mitt Romney has hit back over negative campaigning.

[hr]

Government supported ‘These Hands’ business [ABC] A business featured in a new Romney campaign ad that attacks President Obama over the role of the government in business has been found to have received millions of dollars in government support.

[hr]

Blame attributed in economy poll [The Hill] A poll this week has surveyed likely voters about what they think is responsible for the state of the US economy.

[hr]

Obama campaign defends lack of presidential Israel visits [Huffington Post] The Obama campaign has hit back at Mitt Romney’s campaign for criticising the President’s lack of visits to Israel in his first term.

[hr]

Romney sceptical over gun control [Reuters] Mitt Romney has expressed doubt over whether more stringent gun laws would ‘make a difference’ to US gun crime.

[hr]

Obama responds to business attacks [ABC] The Obama campaign has spoken out against Republican attacks over remarks made by the President about the role of government in supporting businesses.

[hr]

Attacks on Romney impact polls [Reuters] A Reuters poll suggests that over a third of registered voters now have a ‘less favorable impression’ of Mitt Romney in light of recent criticisms he has faced over his taxes and business affairs.

[hr]

Obama administration leaks criticised [New York Times] Mitt Romney has said that the leaking of security information by the White House constitutes a ‘national security crisis’.

[hr]

Romney advisers claims ‘Anglo-Saxon’ advantage [Telegraph] Advisers to the Romney campaign have suggested that their candidate would benefit the relationship between the US and Britain more than President Obama because of the Republican contender’s greater appreciation of ‘shared history’.

[hr]

Speculation over third party candidate [Fox News] The former governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson could influence the outcome of the presidential election.

[hr]

Romney adviser calls for entitlement cuts [National Journal] An adviser to the Romney campaign has said that budget cuts should focus on entitlement programmes father than defence spending.

[hr]

Debate dates revealed [MediaBistro] The details of the presidential debates have been announced by the Commission on Presidential Debates.

[hr]

Biden addresses fire-fighters in Philadelphia [CNN] Vice-President Joe Biden has spoken about Mitt Romney’s economic policies at the 51st convention of the International Association of Fire Fighters.

[hr]

Romney campaign distances itself from ‘heritage’ comments [ABC] The Romney campaign has attempted to distance itself from comments made by anonymous advisers about the Republican candidate’s ‘Anglo-Saxon heritage’.

[hr]

Obama calls for bi-partisan ‘consensus’ on guns [Guardian] President Obama has said that he will ‘continue to work with members of both parties and with religious groups and with civic organisations to arrive at a consensus around violence reduction.’

[hr]

Democrats take advantage of ‘Romneyshambles’ [Telegraph] The Democratic National Committee (DNC) have produced a video that draws attention Mitt Romney’s criticisms of London 2012.

[hr]

Romney to court Jewish voters [Wall Street Journal] Mitt Romney will make an attempt to appeal to Jewish voters in a trip to Israel.

[hr]

Compiled by Patrick McGhee.

US Presidential Election Roundup: 8/7 – 14/7

Right up until the 3rd November 2012, theriskyshift.com will be posting a weekly roundup of the happenings in the US presidential election campaigns of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

[dhr]

Republicans launch ‘Super Saturday’ [Reuters] Volunteers for the Republicans have campaigned and canvassed in 12 battleground states in an attempt to generate enthusiasm after a poll for CNN found self-identifying Democrats to be more enthusiastic than Republicans last week.

[hr]

Romney faces finance questions [Politico] Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has faced further questions from Democrats and the Obama campaign over his tax affairs.

[hr]

Obama administration would veto wealthy tax cuts [Reuters] A spokesperson for the Obama administration has said that the President ‘would not support’ and ‘would not sign’ legislation that would cut the taxes of wealthier Americans.

[hr]

NAACP convention boos Romney [Guardian] Mitt Romney has been booed during an address to the NAACP as he criticised President Obama’s healthcare reforms.

[hr]

Biden addresses NAACP [Huffington Post] One day after Mitt Romney’s speech, Vice President Joe Biden addressed the convention, saying that ‘this election will come down to character, conviction and vision. And it will not surprise you – I don’t think it’s even a close call.’

[hr]

Romney accuses Obama of naivety over Chavez remarks [Telegraph] Mitt Romney has called President Obama ‘out of touch’ after he commented in a television interview that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’ actions have ‘not had a serious national security impact on us.’

[hr]

Romney Bain Capital scrutiny intensifies [Guardian] Staff working on the Obama campaign have suggested that Mitt Romney may have lied about his involvement with Bain Capital after a report claims that he was in charge of the company years after he claims to have left it in 1999.

[hr]

Obama discusses ‘the mistake of my first term’ [CBS] In an interview for CBS News to be aired on Sunday, President Obama has said that his biggest mistake in office so far has been to put policy ahead of telling ‘a story to the American people.’

[hr]

Obama leads economy poll [Bloomberg] A Pew Research Center poll measuring public opinion on which candidate would be better at handling the US economy has found that current President Barack Obama leads by 7% among registered voters.

[hr]

Romney VP pick speculated [Wall Street Journal] Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been one of the figures rumoured to be under consideration to become Mitt Romney’s running mate on the Republican presidential election ticket.

[hr]

Obama campaign staffer dies [Chicago Sun-Times] Alex Okrent, a 29-year-old man, has died after collapsing at Barack Obama’s Chicago campaign headquarters.

[hr]

Compiled by Patrick McGhee.

Obamacare & New Democrat Political Dilemmas

If the mainstay of the debate surrounding the forthcoming American presidential elections centres on Obamacare, the  President will not be staying in the White House for a second term.

[dhr]

Romney Obamacare

[dhr]

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n what seemed to add insult to injury the Democrats trounced the Republicans, 18-5, in the 75th annual Congressional Baseball game in Washington last night. Chants of ‘We won healthcare!’ from the Democratic staffers and supporters at Nationals Park echoed through the stadium, referencing the largely favorable Supreme Court ruling on the Obamacare law earlier that day. For a moment, the energy felt like the massive electoral victories of 2006 or 2008. While supporters of the law and President should indeed celebrate the Court’s ruling, they should also be cautious and consider some unintended political consequences that could arise:

  • The win could be an energizing factor for the Republican base in November. Democrats will have to carefully balance how they frame the victory while on the campaign trail. The country is sharply divided over the ruling as shown in a recent Gallup poll and many independents could be pushed away if the law is a central talking point. Republicans can easily be critical of the law and demand a repeal. Democrats need to avoid making November an effective referendum on the law.
  • Governor Romney will attempt to make the election a referendum on Obamacare. In his response to the ruling the presumptive Republican nominee said ‘What the court did not do on its last day in session, I will do on my first day if elected president of the United States. And that is I will act to repeal Obamacare.’  The Romney narrative is that ‘Obamacare’ is a tax hiking, deficit increasing, job killing, personally invasive law. This rhetoric doesn’t need to be true in order for it to be effective. If every Obama campaign stop is a retort to Romney’s claims and the defense of a law that the President expended substantial political capital to pass two years ago, it will eat up valuable time and resources that could be spent talking about other issues (job creation, counter-terrorism success, and Wall Street reform to name a few).
  • Key Senate races have become a lot more interesting. While the House can pass a repeal now it will most certainly stop in the Senate. The Republicans will frame the Senate (and the Presidency) as operating against the will of the people (true or not) and claim that controlling the upper house as central to removing the law. With vulnerable open seats in ND, WI, and VA and Senators Tester (MT), McCaskill (MO), and Nelson (FL) on the chopping block there is a substantial risk of the body turning red. While the Republicans will not gain a supermajority in the Senate (enough to overcome a filibuster), forcing a potential Senate Democratic minority to resort to a procedural road block to defend the law will push tensions to an all time high and will be extremely unpopular politically. The worst-case scenario for supporters of the law is moderate Democrats voting for repeal out of political fear.

Democrats should indeed be happy with the Court’s ruling however one must ask the question whether a negative decision on Obamacare would have made things easier in November. Democrats in sensitive districts will need to defend the law while simultaneously downplaying their support for it. The President is unable to downplay his support for the law but will need to balance his response to Romney’s attacks with the discussion of policy successes in other realms.  If the debate is focused around Obamacare, the President will lose.

The Implications Of Immigration Reform United States v. Arizona

While immigration reform may be less salient an issue than the economy in this election year, the relationship between the executive and the legislature over the course of President Obama’s first term is set to be a recurring feature of debate

[dhr]

American passport

[dhr]

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]n Monday, the Supreme Court upheld a provision of an Arizona state law that requires the police to check the immigration status of individuals they stop for offences of any kind.  Simultaneously, however, the court struck down provisions that would, amongst other things, authorise the arrest of immigrants without a warrant for crimes that could lead to deportation. Explaining the decision to strike down elements of the law, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that ‘Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration while that process continues, but the State may not pursue policies that undermine federal law.’ Despite this watering down of Arizona’s law, the court’s decision has nonetheless been met with various criticisms.

On the one hand, conservatives such as Justice Antonin Scalia have gone so far as to argue that all provisions should have been upheld by the court. On the other hand, the Mexican government has articulated concerns that the remaining provision alone could threaten the civil rights of its citizens. Meanwhile, in the context of the US presidential election, the ruling has provided Republican hopeful Mitt Romney with an opportunity to both criticise President Obama’s lack of action on the issue of immigration and defend the right of states to take matters into their own hands.

Romney has responded to the Supreme Court ruling by suggesting that it is the result of states being forced to act because of dithering at a federal level. Romney has argued that because President Obama ‘didn’t act, state and local governments have had to act, the courts have got involved and it’s a muddle.’ As highlighted by commentators, this analysis suggests significant disagreement with the Supreme Court given that the court opinion explicitly prioritises federal law over state law. Moreover, Romney has  advocated state legislation on the issue whilst simultaneously criticising the President for failing to pursue national solutions, stating ‘I would have preferred to see the Supreme Court give more latitude to states, not less’, adding in a statement that ‘I believe that each state has the duty – and the right – to secure our borders and preserve the rule of law, particularly when the federal government has failed to meet its responsibilities.’ The statement, which also maintains the need for a ‘national immigration strategy’, thus reveals an attempt to emphasise both a reverence for small government and the importance of federal involvement.

President Obama’s reaction to the decision shifts emphasis away from state legislation and towards federal solutions, focusing on the importance of progress on the issue in Congress. In a statement, Obama responded to the court decision by saying, ‘What this decision makes unmistakably clear is that Congress must act on comprehensive immigration reform. A patchwork of state laws is not a solution to our broken immigration system – it’s part of the problem.’ This statement follows a speech to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) last week in which the President said that, ‘In the face of a Congress that refuses to do anything on immigration, I’ve said that I’ll take action wherever I can,’ in reference to an executive order to stop the deportation of young people enacted in mid-June. The President’s remarks can be viewed as a part of his wider effort to motivate Congress into action on the economy, recently centred around a five-point ‘To-Do List’ for the legislature to work on before the summer recess. More broadly, however, there is also an attempt here to draw attention to obstructionism in Congress as an explanation for what Obama’s critics label as his own inaction.

While immigration may be less salient an issue than the economy in this election year, the relationship between the executive and the legislature over the course of President Obama’s first term is set to be a recurring feature of debates until the polls close in November. The ruling in United States v. Arizona has undoubtedly drawn attention to the interlinked relationships between the separated powers, and has served as another point of political contention between President Obama and Mitt Romney.

Romney & China: Continuity Or Change?

Many political commentators have noted the clear similarities between the foreign policies of President Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney, and recent disputes over the South China Sea only strengthen this perception.

[dhr]

[dhr]

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Romney campaign has articulated a number of key policies with regard to China. On its website, the campaign states that ‘the United States should maintain and expand its naval presence in the Western Pacific’, adding that ‘Mitt Romney will also pursue deeper economic cooperation among like-minded nations around the world that are genuinely committed to the principles of open markets through the formation of a “Reagan Economic Zone”’, in order to strengthen relations with other countries in the region. Each of these policies should be viewed in light of the Republican candidate’s fascination with all things Reagan as well as his overarching vision of an ‘American century’ to counter what he perceives as an apologetic foreign policy from President Obama. Indeed, in an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal in February, Romney attempted to demonstrate weaknesses in the Obama administration’s approach to China by accusing the President of ‘almost begging it to continue buying American debt so as to finance his profligate spending here at home.’ This is a key example of Romney’s attempt to present the President as not only weak, but also supporting the strength of other nations at the expense of the United States. Instead, Romney suggests that the United States should ‘maintain a strong military presence in the Pacific.’

The article goes on to suggest that the administration has been hesitant in approaching the problem of human rights abuses in China. The recent case of Chen Guangcheng, a Chinese civil rights activist who escaped from house arrest in April, does seem to demonstrate a measured approach from President Obama. Refusing to speak about Chen specifically, the President instead argued more broadly that, ‘We think China will be stronger as it opens up and liberalises its own system’ while reaffirming that, ‘we’re very pleased with all the areas of cooperation that we’ve been able to engage in.’ The statement also included a reminder that the human rights was a frequent feature of US talks with China.

This attempt to balance positive economic relations with criticism of human rights abuses may have left the administration open to further criticism from the Romney campaign, but both Romney and the President have similar policies on China in other contexts. A dispute over an area of the South China Sea between China and the Philippines is an interesting example of this. Last week, President Obama articulated sympathy for the President of the Philippines in the dispute, and the US has taken steps to reassert its influence in the Pacific. These measures include the strengthening of relations with other powers in the region, such as Australia, in addition to a deal facilitating the movement of US military personnel across the Philippines and improvements in Philippine defensive equipment.

While these details suggest a stark contrast between Romney and Obama, the overall picture is one of similarity. An emphasis on building relationships with other countries to limit China’s influence, combined with some form of limited military measure as a deterrent. These are a few of the ideas suggested by Romney both on his website and in his piece for the Wall Street Journal. Despite this, the debate over Iran has already demonstrated that Romney will likely continue to criticise current policy in an attempt to distance himself from the President.

Buddy Roemer: The Best Candidate You’ve Never Heard Of

Accepting Mr. Roemer’s diagnosis of the American political system is accepting that American democracy is not only sick, it has stage IV cancer.

[dhr]

[dhr]

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n the recent history of American Presidential elections, apart from the two major party candidates there’s been a tradition of the scrappy third-party candidate with no shot of winning the race (or even a single electoral vote) but with the ability to shake things up and perhaps add to the conversation. In 1992 Ross Perot, running on the Reform Party ticket, took close to 19% of the popular vote. In 1996 Mr. Perot again made a, much smaller, dent with almost 8.5% of the popular vote. Perhaps most infamously, in the 2000 election Ralph Nader took only 2.7% of the popular vote nationally, but 97,388 votes in Florida. Votes that many contend would have gone to Vice-President Al Gore had Mr Nader not been in the race, changing the outcome of the race in George Bush’s favour. In 2004 and 2008 third party candidates dropped off the map, arguably because of Mr Nader’s 2000 impact, registering miniscule numbers in both elections.

Here we are in 2012, enter Buddy Roemer. Mr. Roemer is a former member of the United States House of Representatives and former Governor of Louisiana. This election cycle he ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination, finishing last in the Iowa Caucus (behind ‘No Preference’) and has been denied space at every Republican debate. He is now running independently without the endorsement of a third-party.

Mr. Roemer believes his campaign can find common ground between the two biggest American political movements of the last four years, the Tea Party and Occupy. The overlap, he claims, is the role that money plays in politics. In theory this appeals to the Tea Party because corporations lobby for laws that favour them; this makes government bigger, and it appeals to Occupy because it limits the influence of corporations in politics.

This above all has been his campaign’s main focus and thus far they’ve practiced what they preach. The Roemer campaign accepts no money from PACs, does not have a Super PAC, and does not accept individual donations over $100. He is running on a platform which pushes for full disclosure of every campaign contribution, real-time electronic reporting of campaign contributions, elimination of Super PACs, limiting PAC donations to the same as individual donations, prohibiting lobbyists from participating in fundraising, and criminalizing violations to campaign finance laws.

On other issues Mr. Roemer comes down as center-right. He would support a repeal of Obamacare but keep the coverage for pre-existing conditions. He would have a flat income tax of 17% with a $50,000 exemption and close tax loopholes for corporations. On national security he supports the use of drones and questions the productivity of a cash-based foreign policy. This is not exhaustive and you can view his full platform on his campaign’s website.

The other thing about Mr. Roemer is that he is surprisingly of the ‘establishment’. He holds a BA and an MBA from Harvard and he has held State and national office, as both a Democrat and a Republican. He is in everyway middle of the road, and his major issue, money in politics, is something that would unquestionably benefit the average voter by making government accountable to people, not to special interest. When you hear him speak with his Louisiana twang, you get riled up, you get angry, he brings you in, and he’s speaking directly to you.

So why is he totally and completely unelectable?

Fundamentally I think it’s this, accepting Mr. Roemer’s diagnosis of the American political system is accepting that American democracy, which one is taught to think is exceptional, is not only sick, it has stage IV cancer. You have to accept that under the current circumstances your vote, your advocacy, and your voice are meaningless; you are powerless. The leaders that you ‘elect’, no matter how much they talk about ‘hope’, ‘change’, or their belief in America, are really bought and paid for.

This is a bitter pill to swallow but it’s time America wakes up and gets some treatment.

US Election: The Race Is On

As the presidential election race solidifies into a direct confrontation between Romney and Obama, Republican foreign policy attacks on the president are likely to intensify.

[dhr]

[dhr]

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he announcement earlier this week that Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum would be suspending his campaign looks to have established what many thought was already the case – the race for the US presidency will be between former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and current president Barack Obama. This was most vociferously confirmed by the Obama campaign’s manager Jim Messina, who focused on Romney in a statement responding to Santorum’s departure: ‘It’s no surprise that Mitt Romney finally was able to grind down his opponents under an avalanche of negative ads. But neither he nor his special interest allies will be able to buy the presidency with their negative attacks. The more the American people see of Mitt Romney, the less they like him.’

In addition to this apparently growing tension, the changing nature of the presidential race has also heightened interest in public perceptions of the Romney campaign and the Obama administration. A new poll conducted by Washington Post and ABC News between the 5th and the 8th April, has found that 51% of registered voters would vote for Obama, compared with 44% for Romney, were the election ‘being held today’. Surveying a range of political issues, the poll found Obama to be leading in most areas but, as an accompanying Washington Post article highlighted, lagging behind on the crucial domestic issues of handling the economy and the federal budget deficit.

Despite these dips, President Obama leads the poll on the majority of the issues, including both foreign policy areas. On the issue of handling international affairs, 53% of respondents supported Obama, compared with 36% supporting Romney. On the question of handling terrorism, Obama scored 47%, compared with Romney’s 40%. The Obama administration has exhibited strength in these areas, and many pointing to the assassination of Osama bin Laden and other tactical military offensives against al-Qaeda, as well as increasing economic sanctions against Iran.

However, it appears that the Romney campaign is eager to weaken Obama’s foreign policy lead, pointing to the US relationship with Russia, a lack of assertiveness in Libya and cuts to the military as evidence of the president’s weakness. In addition, a recent Reuters article quotes Richard Williamson, a Romney campaign adviser, as saying: ‘Governor Romney believes in American exceptionalism, that we are great not just because of our military and economic power but also because of our values. The current president does not.’ This criticism has been reiterated throughout Romney’s campaign thus far, reinforcing his persistent attempt to revive a Reagan-style foreign policy.

Most recently, the attempt by North Korea to launch a long-range rocket has prompted further attacks upon the Obama administration. Responding to the launch, which ultimately failed to propel the rocket out of the Earth’s atmosphere, Romney said: ‘Instead of approaching Pyongyang from a position of strength, President Obama sought to appease the regime with a food-aid deal that proved to be as naive as it was short-lived.’ Romney’s website outlines a characteristically more aggressive alternative to the Obama administration’s stance, stating that ‘Mitt will work with allies to institute harsher sanctions on North Korea, such as cracking down on financial institutions that service the North Korean regime and sanctioning companies that conduct commercial shipping in and out of North Korea.’

This latest criticism indicates what has been and will continue to be an attempt on behalf of the Romney campaign to expose what it perceives as weaknesses in the Obama administration’s foreign policy. As the presidential race solidifies into a direct confrontation between Romney and Obama, Republican foreign policy attacks on the president are likely to intensify.

Romney & Obama’s ‘Flexibility’

This latest microphone mishap has revealed more about Romney’s views on international affairs than about Obama’s post-election intentions.

[dhr]

 

[dhr]

[dropcap]D[/dropcap]uring talks on missile defence in Seoul, South Korea last week, United States President Barack Obama was picked up by a microphone telling the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he will have ‘more flexibility’ to negotiate the issue of missiles after the US presidential elections this November.

Opponents of the Obama administration were quick to express their concern over the remark. In an article for Foreign Policy magazine, Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney described the president’s remarks as ‘revealing’ and ‘alarming’, while fellow candidate Newt Gingrich asked in an interview with CNN: ‘how many other countries has the president promised that he will have a lot more flexibility the morning he doesn’t have to answer to the American people?’ However, while there may be genuine debate to be had over the extent to which Obama can expect more political freedom should he retain the presidency in November, these remarks are aimed more at generating a degree of anxiety and uncertainty.

While the White House maintained that progress on the issue of missile defence would be unlikely in an election year, the implications of Obama’s comments also sparked heated correspondence between Romney’s advisers and those of the Obama administration. In an open letter, foreign policy advisers to Romney suggested that Obama’s remarks were indicative of ‘weakness and inconstancy’, and asked the president to elaborate on what he had meant by the term ‘flexibility’. Despite this request, the letter appeared to rely on the ambiguity of the word in order to imply the president’s misleading policies and the uncertainty he would unleash were he to be re-elected. The letter provided numerous criticisms of the administration’s handling of various foreign policy issues, including Afghanistan and Iraq, the Israel-Palestine conflict, Iran’s nuclear programme and the defence budget, applying the menacing and mysterious notion of post-election ‘flexibility’ to each instance. The following day, however, national security advisers within Obama’s re-election campaign wrote back, addressing Romney directly. In their response, the team addressed each of the issues raised by Romney’s advisers in detail, and posed a few critical questions of their own. They pointed out Romney’s lack of policy on Afghanistan, for example, and attacked his views on the United States’ relationship with Russia.

The latter criticism stems from Romney’s repeatedly hostile comments towards Russia, which he described as America’s ‘number one geopolitical foe’ in an interview with CNN. He reinforced this view in his article for Foreign Policy, stating that Moscow ‘has been a thorn in our side on questions vital to America’s national security.’ Romney has faced heat in this area not only from the Obama administration but also from Russia. President Medvedev has commented that this attitude ‘smells of Hollywood’, adding that ‘we are in 2012 and not the mid-1970s.’ While Romney’s historical interests appear to lie in the 1980s, as demonstrated by his recent enthusiasm for Ronald Reagan’s ‘peace through strength’ foreign policy, Medvedev’s assessment correctly identifies a considerable amount of animosity towards Russia expressed by Romney that has not characterised the Obama administration. In their letter, for example, Obama’s national security experts reiterated that ‘strategic cooperation with Russia is essential for countering the Iranian nuclear threat’, while the White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has said that the US relationship with Russia allows differences to be discussed ‘candidly and openly’.

Both Romney’s campaign team and the Obama administration will undoubtedly continue to express their disagreement over this and other foreign policy issues as the presidential election draws closer. However, it appears that this latest microphone mishap has revealed more about Romney’s views on international affairs than about Obama’s post-election intentions.

Romney & Iran: Continuity Or Change?

Symmetry exists between Romney and Obama on the issue of military involvement: both are committed potential military solutions within the Islamic Republic.

[dhr]

[dhr]

In the Washington Post earlier this month, former Democratic presidential candidate John Kerryweighed in on the Republican nomination race, responding to a foreign policy piece written by Mitt Romney a few days earlier. Kerry described Romney’s policy on Iran as both ‘inaccurate’ and ‘aggressive’, and accused him of imagining problems with the President Obama’s current policy that do not really exist in order to generate support from the Republican base.

Romney’s campaign trail rhetoric thus far confirms that he is making every effort to appeal to core Republican voters by distancing himself from the current President. The enthusiasm he expressed last year for an ‘American Century’, combined with his readiness to accuse Obama of ‘apologising for America’, suggests a considerable renascence of exceptionalist Republicanism. Indeed, in the article to which Kerry was responding, Romney compared himself to former Republican President Ronald Reagan, promising to revive a Cold War-style foreign policy of ‘peace through strength’.

More interestingly, the article reiterates a number of Romney’s core policy aims surrounding Iran. Romney says that he ‘will press for ever-tightening sanctions’ against Iran, supporting the statement on his website that he will implement ‘a fifth round of sanctions targeted at the financial resources that underpin the Iranian regime.’ As Kerry points out, this declaration seems to brush aside the previous four rounds of sanctions, which have restricted Iran’s finances and nuclear programme, banned its arms exports, implemented cargo inspections and prevented the country from buying heavy weaponry and military vehicles. All this, in addition to the European Union’s oil embargo on Iran announced in January this year, suggests that Romney’s sanction pledge represents an intensification of current US policy, rather than the kind of change Romney claims to want. Romney’s website goes so far as to praise the current President ‘for pushing for a fourth round of international sanctions on Iran early in his term’ despite the Republican frontrunner himself commenting early in March this year that Obama ‘has failed to put into place crippling sanctions against Iran.’ These conflicting statements suggest that Romney’s policies on Iran depend greatly on which crowd he is speaking to.

There are areas in which Romney is more consistent with his criticism of Obama’s policy, however. In a debate last year, Romney said that the President’s ‘greatest failing from a foreign policy stand point’ has been his failure to persuade Iran to drop its nuclear ambitions, adding: ‘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.’ More specifically, Romney’s website says that Obama should have supported popular opposition within Iran in 2009, labelling his restraint as ‘a disgraceful abdication of American moral authority.’ The current President has remained reluctant over the issue of internal opposition to the regime in Iran, responding to renewed protest in early 2011 by saying: ‘Each country is different, each country has its own traditions, and America can’t dictate what happens in these societies.’ However, commentators, including as the Washington Post’s Scott Wilson, have suggested that this reluctance underpins Obama’s argument that the legitimacy of regime change relies on the independent, internal desire for change, rather than the external influences of the United States.

Romney has also accused Obama of failing ‘to communicate that military options are on the table,’ explaining in his Washington Post article that he ‘will buttress my diplomacy with a military option that will persuade the ayatollahs to abandon their nuclear ambitions.’ However, in a recent interview for the Atlantic magazine, President Obama said that US policy in Iran includes political, economic and diplomatic elements, but also ‘a military component’, adding that ‘as President of the United States, I don’t bluff.’ These examples demonstrate a considerable degree of symmetry between Romney and Obama on the issue of military involvement, with both individuals committed to diplomatic and potential military solutions to the problems of Iran.

Given his commitment to sanctions and his fusion of diplomacy with military action, it appears that Mitt Romney is by no means advocating a shift away from the current administration’s policy, no matter how much distance he attempts to put between himself and the President.