Tag Archives: Barack Obama

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Morality and Practicality: America’s Syrian Intervention

What if Obama’s plan — to punish Bashar al-Assad for his criminal use of chemical weapons by destroying his capability to employ them again — is too much of a success? The answer hinges on what Washington considers a victory.

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[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s President Obama makes his case to the American Congress about intervention in Syria, his administration must confront contingencies and plan for unforeseeable challenges. Yet the most pressing question is not what might happen if something goes wrong. Quite the opposite. What if Obama’s plan — to punish Bashar al-Assad for his criminal use of chemical weapons by destroying his capability to employ them again — is too much of a success? The answer hinges on what Washington considers a victory.

On 3 September US Secretary of State muddied the waters of intervention, sending what TIME magazine called “mixed messages” against a congressional prohibition on the use of American soldiers in Syria: the feared “boots on the ground” option. In front of Congress, Kerry testified that “in the event Syria imploded, for instance, or in the event there was a threat of a chemical weapons cache falling into the hands of al-Nusra or someone else and it was clearly in the interest of our allies and all of us, the British, the French and others, to prevent those weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of the worst elements, I don’t want to take off the table an option that might or might not be available to a president of the United States to secure our country.”

There is a real chance that airstrikes, if targeted effectively, could help topple Assad’s government, at the very least providing a much needed morale boost and significant breathing room for the mixed rebel front. Such inputs, when factored into the complexities of war in Syria, may lead to unforeseeable and magnified results. In such an environment of uncertainty, a clear definition of American objectives is needed. Yet such a framework has not been debated adequately.

What does the White House count as a “success” in its proposed intervention plan? Knocking out Assad’s future capability to employ his heinous arsenal, a strategic military objective? Or punishing the Syrian regime, a moral goal? Although subtle, the difference between these two outcomes is important, and has been confused in both Congress and the broader discussion. One can be achieved without extensive military involvement, the other cannot. If the answer lies in a murky middle ground — as it seems to be for now — the implications could be deep.

Discussion of a moral imperative to intervene in response to Assad’s most recent chemical war crime — since when has the killing 100,000 citizens, over two years, not been a war crime? — is dangerous because of this ambiguity. When morality becomes intermingled with strategy the result is a tendency towards escalation, as recent American history in Iraq has shown. And when the phrases “humanitarian intervention” and “protecting American interests” are used in the same breath, there is little doubt that such a co-mingling of objectives has arisen.

Limits become fuzzy when generals and politicians are fueled by lofty and noble principles. What is in the national interest, and what is in the human interest, drift closer together until two become one. True humanists must demand full intervention, the destruction of Assad’s military capability so that he will release his murderous grasp on power: No man who willingly kills 100,000 of his citizens has a right to rule. If humanity is national policy, as Washington’s rhetoric implies, where does the national interest end?

It is in this unsuspectingly ambiguous environment that Kerry’s statements become incredibly pertinent. If the United States goes through with its plans for intervention, it will be faced with the tough task of placing limits on its action. The hybrid policy of morality and military practicality handicaps this process, and could lead to an overstepping of acceptable boundaries. A few more tomahawk missiles in key sites could mean the difference between Assad’s survival or his end. If the latter becomes reality, the feared Syrian power vacuum becomes reality as well and with it serious questions of who controls the regime’s remaining military technologies. If such a possibility comes to pass, Kerry’s intimations may become all too concrete, as the spiral of American “national interest” unwinds.

Before Obama, his cabinet, and the American Congress make any decision regarding intervention in Syria, they must confront their own definitions of success. They need to grapple with their motivations for involvement, and their ultimate objectives. For if they continue to confuse morality with strategy, and work in the middle, the results could be just as Kerry described.

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Photo Credit: stephen_medlock

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No SOFA: US Troops In Post 2014 Afghanistan

The discussions surrounding US troop numbers in post 2014 Afghanistan are valuable, but only to the extent that US policymakers and military leadership are confident that they will be able to keep any troops in the country at all.

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On Tuesday, in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, General Mattis stated that he believed the proper number of NATO troops to remain in Afghanistan after 2014 would be 20,000, 13,600 being American. This number is significantly higher than what was discussed at a recent NATO summit, where preliminary estimates were 9,500 US troops and 6000 troops from other NATO nations. The White House has yet to come out with an official number.

These discussions, while important to have for the Administration, Congress, and military leaders to get on the same page, in many ways put the cart before the horse. Before any US troops can be committed to post 2014 Afghanistan, the question of a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) has to be resolved. While there are many things covered in a SOFA, the most important and most controversial points are those which grant immunity to US troops from criminal prosecution under Afghan law.

President Karzai has said that he will not make the decision but will make the case for a SOFA to the Afghan people and leave the choice to a Loya Jirga, a meeting of elders. However President Karzai is also the same leader who demanded security contractors leave the country and that US and NATO troops leave Afghanistan’s villages. It seems then that Karzai wants, or understands the necessity of, continued US and NATO presence in Afghanistan, but does not want to be the one held responsible for its potential consequences. By leaving the decision to a Loya Jirga, President Karzai can say “this is what you wanted”, deflecting blame from potentially unsavory US action.

While it would be purely speculative to asses whether a SOFA will be approved by Afghan elders, it is worth highlighting that acknowledging that US troops are needed and agreeing that they should have legal immunity is not the same thing. Local leaders may see the utility in a continued US presence for preventing al Qaeda to regain a foothold, however selling legal immunity to their “constituents” is a horse of a different color. Indeed this is the same problem Prime Minister Maliki faced in the failure to build sufficient support for a SOFA in Iraq. Both alleged criminal actions from US service members, such as Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, and civilian casualties from NATO operations, most recently the accidental killing of two young boys gathering firewood who were thought to be Taliban, are likely to be sticking points for the approval of a SOFA by Afghans.

A SOFA is far from settled and without this agreement there will be no US presence in Afghanistan after 2014. As President Obama said in January:

 ”It will not be possible for us to have any kind of US troop presence post-2014 without assurances that our men and women who are operating there are (not) in some way subject to the jurisdiction of another country,”

With this line being drawn and a SOFA still unresolved, the discussions surrounding troop numbers in post 2014 Afghanistan are still valuable, but only to the extent that US policymakers and military leadership are confident that they will be able to keep any troops in the country at all. Without legal immunity under a SOFA, the debate over 20,000 or 13,000 troops is a moot point.

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Photo Credit:  isafmedia

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Withdrawal Lessons From Iraq

The United States should think twice about how to withdraw while protecting Afghan democracy at the same time.

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On January 11 President Barack Obama declared that the United States is, after 12 years of conflict, moving towards a “responsible end” to the war in Afghanistan. His meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai marks an emotional turning point in the conflict. The joint agreement to accelerate the military transition to Afghan forces is a step in the right direction, but it is important not to be carried away. The American fighting role in Afghanistan should end. Yet it is crucial to withdraw responsibly, to avoid the mistakes made when leaving Iraq.

Similar to the choices facing leaders in Afghanistan today, the decision to withdraw American troops from Iraq in December 2011 was a difficult one, commensurate with the conflict’s complexity. Yet, despite its merits (which were considerable), the exit underscored the low priority the Obama Administration placed on Iraq; in the rush to leave a draining war, the Administration left a country unready to support itself. The effects of the premature drawdown are being felt across the Iraqi political landscape today, as Nouri al-Maliki continues to move menacingly towards authoritarianism and fissures open between the country’s disparate factions.

The US military withdrawal created a vacuum in which Maliki has been able to abuse the stillborn democratic political system left behind. The leverage that the military presence afforded US diplomats has evaporated, leaving American ambassadors woefully unable to prevent Maliki from abusing government. Instead, he is reinforcing his grip on the military chain of command, using arrests to intimidate dissenters, and ensuring loyalty from his intelligence and judicial services.

These actions, amongst others, are deeply subversive of the envisaged democratic state for which much blood and money were expended. The Iraqi opposition, wary of engaging in the political process, has looked to regional neighbors for support. The protests across Iraq over the past two weeks further underscore this outward search for allies. The opposition leadership is turning to foreign allies among the Sunni Arab states, mostly in Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.

This situation was not predestined for Iraq, nor is it for Afghanistan if the right lessons are learned. Between 2008 and 2010, Iraq made stunning progress that surprised even the staunchest cynics. Democratic incentives began to influence the Parliament in Baghdad and politicians across the country. Iraqis were pushed to conduct politics in ways that, as Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution described, “were uncomfortable and alien for them. Yet they were having to do it, they were all learning democratic processes.”

Yet US leaders did not wait for this fledgling democracy to take root. Their departure just as these processes were beginning to transform Iraq’s political landscape opened the gates for the traditional political culture to reassert itself. American soldiers were, for better or worse, a barrier to the fear that had defined Iraqi politics for decades. Once they were gone, the country reverted to what it once knew: A political system in which a deep distrust of government defined a populace reliant on its own wit to protect itself.

Afghanistan could face a similar fate if American leaders do not understand the lessons from Iraq. Progress in Afghanistan during recent months is worthy of praise, but should be greeted by cautious optimism.

Most importantly, both Obama and Karzai have affirmed their support for negotiations with the Taliban, which has expressed a tentative desire to come back into Afghanistan’s political fold. Each party supports the establishment of an office in Qatar to facilitate peace talks, and although all sides have a ways to go before they understand the others’ “red lines,” analysts are hopeful that negotiations are near.

There are, of course, challenges. How much faith can western and Afghan leaders have in their Taliban interlocutors? What role will third party actors like Pakistan can play, in the coming months? Many senior Taliban leaders have refused to negotiate until the Afghan Constitution is amended and Karzai is gone. But within these parameters progress is possible. And if Karzai follows through on his promise to step down next year, a successful start of this conversation will become even more likely.

Negotiations with the Taliban hinge on a synthesis of military and diplomatic lines of operation. The Obama Administration needs to combine military security with increased pressure on politicians to open negotiations. Yet the time to make such a calculation is fast ending. Distressingly, it seems the current administration is sliding towards withdrawal without any attempt to pursue diplomatic options. Obama and Karzai have jointly adopted the transition narrative, emphasizing the transferal of security and administrative responsibility to the Afghan government. Just how ready Kabul is to take over these challenges is uncertain. For Washington, though, this narrative is ideal, as it allows policymakers to hand their problems to the Afghans, without paying a high political price of pursuing negotiations.

Afghanistan stands a great chance of being ripped apart from within and without. Heading a state with no precedent of unity, Afghan leaders must reconstruct a country from political zero. Pakistani, Iranian, and even Indian, Chinese, and Russian influence could further weaken Kabul’s ability to exercise authority over border regions. If conversations with the Taliban break down, internecine conflict could add to these woes.

In this volatile environment, Afghanistan will presumably face a turnover of its government in 2014. Without proper safeguards, Karzai could go the route of Maliki. Like in Iraq, without the leverage provided by a strong military presence, there will be little barrier to such a reversal of democratic progress. The US should think twice about how to withdraw and protect Afghan democracy at the same time. It is a step in the right direction that Karzai agreed to grant US soldiers legal immunity — which Maliki denied — but whether this promise holds is another question.

In Iraq, a good-intentioned but ill-timed withdrawal of American soldiers left a country still finding its political feet without ground on which to stand. The promising developments in the last years of the occupation were largely lost as Maliki reverted to authoritarian practices, the political factions reverted to divisive diplomacy, and the population reverted to the politics of fear. It is yet to be seen whether Afghanistan will follow the same trajectory. The war has cost over 3,000 coalition and countless Afghan lives, and needs to end. But it leaders should examine their own history to avoid snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

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Photo Credit: The U.S. Army

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Da “Yes We Can” a “Forward”: la rivoluzione retorica di Obama dal 2008 a oggi

Dopo aver vinto la sfida con la storia, ed essere divenuto il primo Presidente di colore degli Stati Uniti nel 2008, a distanza di quattro anni e nonostante la crisi economica, Barack Obama è riuscito ad incrementare il consenso elettorale tra coloro che avevano già riposto fiducia in lui.

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Marianna Bettini è co-autrice di questo articolo.

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[dropcap]R[/dropcap]innovando la scelta operata già quattro anni fa, la rivista Time ha proclamato nuovamente Barack Obama “Person of the Year“. L’inversione di tendenza nella strategia della macchina elettorale democratica, in seguito al timore di un declino dell’effetto Obama, è riuscita a far dimenticare, almeno temporaneamente, l’esito poco brillante della sua presidenza. Il nuovo approccio di Obama emerge anche dai discorsi celebrativi pronunciati nel 2008 e nel 2012, all’indomani della vittoria elettorale.

Infatti, se il discorso del 2008 era incoraggiante e proteso verso un futuro fiducioso, quello tenuto a Chicago lo scorso novembre è sembrato incerto e poco originale, nonostante l’emozione che lo ha accompagnato. Grazie alla retorica utilizzata, Obama ha cercato di ricomprendere le individualità, le minoranze, le singole specificità, nel tentativo di orientare a proprio favore quella parte di opinione pubblica e di elettorato a lui politicamente più congeniale. Mai come quest’anno, infatti, la campagna è stata una scommessa sulle qualità personali del Presidente, inteso come uomo di responsabilità, padre ed emblema del ceto medio. La campagna elettorale, infatti, è stata incentrata sull’ideologia politica portante e sul carisma del personaggio, più che su progetti o idee programmatiche: Obama, pertanto, è stato eletto a leader e, contemporaneamente, rappresentante credibile di un’America in affanno.

Il nuovo atteggiamento di Obama è riuscito a capitalizzare efficacemente il nuovo panorama demografico emerso nella società americana negli ultimi 4 anni. Sebbene i gruppi che costituivano l’elettorato democratico nel 2008 siano rimasti numericamente invariati, il consenso è aumentato soprattutto tra le componenti etniche che lo sostennero quattro anni fa: il 93% degli afro-americani (2% in meno rispetto al 2008), il 71% degli ispanici e il 73% degli asioamericani (rispettivamente in aumento del 4 e 11%) lo hanno preferito al suo avversario repubblicano

Nel corso dello scorso mandato, in questi settori dell’elettorato si è registrata una generale disaffezione rispetto al messaggio obamiano, tradito nella sua portata innovativa ed epocale, con un calo di popolarità pressoché uniforme. Tuttavia, solo nell’ultima fase della campagna elettorale, quando Obama ha concentrato la sua attenzione sulla quotidianità degli americani, è emersa una rinnovata fiducia, dimostrata dall’aumento delle registrazioni al voto proprio da parte dei gruppi etnici citati. Non va però minimizzata la critica di molti americani, soprattutto del ceto medio e dei lavoratori a bassa e media specializzazione, rispetto alla gestione della crisi economica.

Una novità assoluta della recente campagna elettorale, caratterizzante soprattutto la piattaforma democratica, è stata la centralità data alla famiglia. Michelle Obama, in particolare, è diventata la personalità chiave della campagna del partito democratico, elevando la figura della first lady alla stregua di una vera e propria guida spirituale e rappresentante del popolo, una sorta di Marianna americana. A lei è stato assegnato il compito di aprire la Convention di Charlotte, dimostrando la sua rilevanza non solo come icona femminile, affermatasi per il suo stile e la sua eleganza, ma anche per il sostegno costante al proprio marito, al punto da far ipotizzare, tra i commentatori politici, una sua possibile, benché sorprendente, candidatura per il 2016.

In questa campagna, Obama ha adottato una strategia politica più diretta e concreta, dando voce alle esperienze di soggetti particolarmente provati dalla crisi: il candidato-presidente ha infatti posto al centro della sua retorica le testimonianze di vita quotidiana raccolte dal 2008. Parafrasando Dwight D. Eisenhower e John F. Kennedy, il candidato democratico ha reso i cittadini protagonisti dell’attività di governo, sottolineando l’importanza del loro contributo per uscire dalla situazione attuale. Dallo stesso palco di Chicago, nel suo discorso del 2008, il neo-eletto Presidente aveva raccontato l’esperienza della signora Ann Nixon Cooper, nata una generazione dopo l’abolizione della schiavitù, che aveva potuto esprimere per la prima volta il voto digitale all’età di 106 anni. L’importanza di tale conquista fu paragonata allo sbarco sulla Luna e alla caduta del muro di Berlino, quali esempi di libertà e unione della cultura americana. Era, quello, un discorso che parlava di valori e di ideali, di imprese che rimandavano ad un concetto ampio e onnicomprensivo di storia.

Lo scorso novembre, invece, la storia ha lasciato spazio alle storie: lo slogan “forward” non ha indicato solo la direzione verso cui tendere, ma ha voluto evidenziare in negativo le politiche offerte da Romney, che sembravano riproporre le ricette liberiste degli anni ottanta. Risulta curioso, pertanto, che proprio nel suo discorso del 7 novembre Obama abbia ripreso l’espressione “the best is yet to come”, usata da Reagan poco prima di lasciare la Casa Bianca. La suddetta espressione, resa celebre proprio da quest’ultimo, fu pronunciata per la prima volta da Carter nel 1978 ed è quindi riconducibile alla tradizione democratica: si evince, pertanto, l’intento unificatore, dapprima di Reagan, e oggi rinnovato da Obama.

Se, dunque, nel 2008 Obama si riferiva agli Stati Uniti come al Paese delle certezze e dei sogni realizzati, nel 2012 ha parlato più volte di impegno, di sacrificio, di speranza e di una forza che emerge quasi negando se stessa: “Questa è la nazione dove c’è più benessere, ma non è quello che ci rende ricchi.” Obama ha così demandato al popolo americano il compito di dimostrare la propria grandezza, ponendosi egli stesso come primus inter pares. Come già aveva tentato Carter, che cercò di fornire una risposta provvisoria alle incertezze degli americani, traditi dalle precedenti amministrazioni ree di aver trascinato gli Stati Uniti nel baratro del Vietnam e di una crisi economica e di potenza, Obama ha chiuso il suo discorso ricordando come quella statunitense sia “la nazione più grande della Terra”, ricalcando pienamente la tradizione della retorica politica ispirata a quella dei Padri Fondatori.

Di conseguenza, la “seconda incarnazione” del Presidente, così come è stata definita dal Time, si è dimostrata vincente, smentendo chi sosteneva che l’effetto Obama fosse svanito del tutto. Sebbene durante il suo primo mandato ci sia stata una leggera flessione nel consenso popolare, gli americani hanno rinnovato la propria fiducia al Presidente uscente, in virtù del nuovo approccio retorico, che si è dimostrato più incisivo, strumentale e adatto al superamento del momento storico attuale. Dopo aver vinto la sfida con la storia, ed essere divenuto il primo Presidente di colore degli Stati Uniti nel 2008, a distanza di quattro anni e nonostante la crisi economica, Barack Obama è riuscito ad incrementare il consenso elettorale tra coloro che avevano già riposto fiducia in lui.

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Photo Credits: MyEyeSees & LeStudio1.com

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What’s Best For The Country!?

With the Fiscal Cliff looming, and with a deal so close, this is precisely the time when petty politics should be anathema.

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In Wednesday’s (December 19, 2012) press conference, President Barack Obama accused GOP lawmakers of putting their unwillingness to work with him ahead of what’s best for the country.

“…if they’re not worried about who’s winning and who’s losing, you know, that they score a point on the president, that they extract that last little concession, that they — that they — you know — you know, force him to do something he really doesn’t want to do just for the heck of it, and they focus on actually what’s good for the country, I actually think we can get this done.”

The President himself, over the past week and indeed earlier in that same address, acknowledged that House Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican, who has met personally with the President several times over the last several weeks, are close to a deal, with the main sticking point being $200-300 billion of increased revenue. The President’s above statement, however, was what viewers left the news conference with. CNN’s text alert following the President’s news conference read as follows:

“CNN Breaking News – Obama says GOP is too focused on getting better of him in fiscal cliff talks than doing what’s best for the country.”

Speaker Boehner, in response, offered a brief statement later that evening, stating that the President should support his Plan B, which is very far away from the proposals that the President and the Speaker have offered privately. It should be noted that it is likely that Plan B likely lacks even the Republican support to make it out of the House.

President Obama’s statement that impasse on Fiscal Cliff negotiations are a result of a GOP vendetta against his person rather than smart policy is probably correct, but that doesn’t make it good politics. A 30 minute news conference yesterday, where the President addressed gun control in response to the Newtown massacres, immigration reform, and energy reform in addition to a progress report on the Fiscal Cliff was summarized by a trusted national news outlet as “this conversation persists because of Republican bad behavior.” There was no possible response besides outrage from leading GOP lawmakers, and American taxpayers will likely suffer because of the President’s frustrated slip of the tongue.

Democrats and Republicans are closer to striking a deficit deal than they have been since Barack Obama’s inauguration. With the Fiscal Cliff looming, and with a deal so close, this is precisely the time when petty politics should be anathema. As Chief Executive of the United States, the President made a dire mistake by letting people see him sweat. Assuming that at least a majority of United States elected officials can see the forest in spite of the trees, a deal may still be reached by Christmas. But that may all come down to the perception of who’s scoring the most points, which indicates a genuine lack of respect for one’s friends across the aisle, so to speak.

Here’s hoping somebody can step up and be the bigger man, and that we can find an acceptable income level somewhere between $400,000 and $1,000,000 to get some more good old-fashioned revenue. I and everyone else down here in five figures don’t make anywhere close to enough to deserve a tax hike if personality conflicts prevent compromise.

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Photo Credit: Medill DC

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La futuribile convergenza tra sistemi sanitari: equità o innovazione?

Dall’analisi comparata tra sistema sanitario americano ed europeo, emerge il dilemma della sostenibilità: da un lato, l’esigenza di garantire servizi universali controllando la spesa sanitaria; dall’altro la volontà di sostenere l’innovazione tecnologica e l’eccellenza nella ricerca.

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[dropcap]M[/dropcap]entre negli Stati Uniti la riforma Obama del 2010 ha cercato di dare risposte ai problemi di equità determinati dal sistema sanitario delle assicurazioni private, in Europa è crescente l’allarmismo riguardante la sostenibilità dei sistemi sanitari nazionali. Se ne ha un chiaro esempio nella recente dichiarazione dell’attuale  Presidente del Consiglio, Mario Monti, circa la necessità di individuare nuove forme di finanziamento per il SSN. Ritengo, pertanto, che la convergenza dei due trend non sia casuale: i distinti e originali percorsi del sistema delle assicurazioni private statunitense, e di quelli universalistici europei, sono destinati a influenzarsi reciprocamente.

Come anticipato circa un decennio fa da Giovanni Fattore, direttore del Dipartimento di Analisi Istituzionale e Management Pubblico dell’Università Bocconi, il tentativo dei sistemi sanitari europei di raggiungere gli standard tecnologici americani pone un problema di sostenibilità per almeno due ordini di motivi: la minore incidenza della spesa sanitaria sul PIL, e l’assenza di rilevanti fonti private di finanziamento in Europa.

A questo quadro, è necessario aggiungere un ulteriore elemento: la curva demografica. In base a quest’ultima, si può concludere che il costo della sanità non potrà che aumentare nei prossimi anni. La curva della spesa sanitaria media per età presenta, infatti, un andamento a “J”, dovuto al fatto che, dopo una riduzione negli anni successivi all’infanzia, i consumi medi pro-capite cominciano a crescere lievemente dopo l’adolescenza, si intensificano a partire dai cinquant’anni circa, per impennarsi infine verso i sessanta-sessantacinque anni. Si stima che in Italia, nel 2050, il 33% della popolazione sarà ultrasessantenne. Il trend accumana USA ed Europa ed appare difficilmente contrastabile.

Diversamente dalla tradizione storica europea, il modello statunitense delle assicurazioni private ha sempre considerato la sanità come un prodotto individuale afferente alle logiche di mercato. Tale modello è sostenuto dai contributi volontari dei lavoratori o dei datori di lavoro, sotto forma di premi assicurativi o pagamenti diretti. Il sistema è incentrato sulla rimborsabilità delle prestazioni – per coloro che possiedono un’assicurazione sanitaria, e sulla “gratuità” delle stesse – principalmente per coloro che beneficiano dei programmi Medicare e Medicaid. Al contrario, i modelli universalistici europei considerano la sanità come un diritto che lo Stato deve garantire ai cittadini. La forma di finanziamento principale del modello Beveridgiano (UK) è stata la fiscalità generale, mentre quella del modello Bismarckiano (Germania) consisteva nei contributi obbligatori pagati dai lavoratori, o dai datori di lavoro, alle assicurazioni sociali.

Le marcate differenze tra i due sistemi sanitari trovano origine in una diversa concezione dei diritti e dei privilegi relativi all’individuo. Riecheggiando il pensiero di una larga fascia di cittadini statunitensi, non necessariamente di fede politica repubblicana, si potrebbe arrivare a dire che: “Ogni cittadino ha l’assicurazione sanitaria che si merita”. Al contrario, in Europa, il fenomeno delle caring externalities è nettamente dominante: il singolo individuo è disposto a cedere parte del proprio reddito in cambio di servizi, anche se non ne usufruirà personalmente.

A oltre sessant’anni dall’introduzione, nel 1948, del primo modello universalista, il britannico National Health Service, è oggi possibile osservare e comparare i risultati ottenuti dai suddetti sistemi sanitari.

Il sistema statunitense delle assicurazioni private è quello che determina la spesa sanitaria pro-capite più alta tra i Paesi OECD, e allo stesso tempo non garantisce al 15% della sua popolazione, cioè a 45 milioni di persone, alcuna assicurazione sanitaria. I welfaristi potrebbero affermare, a ragione, che l’applicazione delle politiche liberiste in sanità abbia generato un sistema iniquo e inefficiente allo stesso tempo. La riforma Obama 2010 e la seconda ondata di correttivi, prevista per il 2014, costituiscono un tentativo di risposta alle evidenti lacune di tale impianto. Un tentativo, questo, concepito nella direzione dell’universalismo, ed evidentemente influenzato dai sistemi sanitari europei.

Secondo Robert Evans, specialista in Health Economics all’Università della British Columbia, le ambizioni riformiste di Obama, sono state frenate dall’alleanza implicita tra i soggetti dell’offerta (imprese fornitrici, medici, ospedali) e i cittadini con reddito  medio-alto. La prima componente, infatti,  garantisce servizi d’eccellenza ai cittadini con reddito medio-alto e trova nella loro domanda la condizione sufficiente per continuare a dominare il sistema sanitario. Di conseguenza, la qualità della ricerca biomedica statunitense e l’eccellenza dei suoi centri di studio, è di fatto indiscutibile, e non sorprende, quindi, che siano proprio gli USA a dettare i ritmi di sviluppo tecnologico ai sistemi sanitari europei.

Nel vecchio continente, un modello di matrice universalistica offre, al contrario, assistenza sanitaria alla totalità della popolazione, ed è caratterizzato da una spesa pro-capite decisamente inferiore. A riguardo, si segnala che il tanto vituperato SSN abbia una spesa sanitaria pro-capite inferiore alla media OECD. In un costesto recessivo, con trend demografici sfavorevoli e PIL inferiori, i sistemi sanitari europei non riescono però ad assorbire l’innovazione tecnologica promossa dal sistema sanitario americano. La capacità di porre un filtro costruttivo all’innovazione potrebbe essere un elemento fondamentale per garantire la sostenibilità dei sistemi sanitari europei, preservando il loro carattere universalistico.

In conclusione, questa breve analisi comparata consente di mettere in luce il critico trade-off tra la necessità di garantire servizi sanitari universali, controllando la spesa sanitaria, e la capacità di sostenere l’innovazione tecnologica e l’eccellenza nella ricerca. Si è già detto di come Stati Uniti e Europa abbiano privilegiato, rispettivamente, la prima e la seconda dimensione. Nell’era globale è possibile, ma non nesessariamente augurabile, una progressiva convergenza tra due modelli storicamente distinti, che costringerà l’Europa a rinunciare progressivamente al carattere sociale dei propri sistemi sanitari.

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Editing: Maria Teresa De Palma

Photo Credit: Creative Commons

 

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Gli Stati Uniti Tra Antiche Sfide E Nuovi Dilemmi Geopolitici

Barack Obama dovrà decidere con attenzione il ruolo da assegnare agli Stati Uniti nei prossimi quattro anni, dato che attualmente Cina, Europa, e le altre potenze regionali non sembrano disponibili ad un maggior coinvolgimento nella gestione delle aree più critiche del pianeta.

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L’ elezione di Barack Obama, come 45esimo Presidente degli Stati Uniti, merita una riflessione approfondita sull’impatto che la nuova amministrazione avrà sulla politica internazionale. I prossimi quattro anni, in effetti, preannunciano su questa linea una molteplicità di sfide e veri e propri rompicapi, i cui epiloghi potrebbero condurre ad uno scenario globale completamente stravolto rispetto agli adagi tradizionali. Il complesso rapporto con l’Europa, la difficile situazione mediorientale, l’incognita cinese e le nuove attenzioni rivolte al Pacifico rappresentano le più urgenti questioni che la nuova amministrazione dovrà affrontare.

Una comprensione più approfondita delle relazioni transatlantiche nel corso dell’ultimo anno, rivela come il vecchio continente sia quanto mai centrale nelle valutazioni strategiche di Obama. Infatti, contrariamente alle opinioni di alcuni osservatori continentali, il presidente americano ha già dimostrato nel mese di giugno, quando la crisi economica spingeva l’unione monetaria europea e la Grecia verso un inevitabile tracollo, di temere la destabilizzazione della fragile e lenta ripresa americana.

La reazione di disappunto, maturata a livello europeo, ha posto in discussione la partnership privilegiata che lo stesso Obama aveva ridefinito come essenziale all’indomani della sua elezione nel 2008. Come preconizzato a maggio dall’ex Presidente del Consiglio italiano Giuliano Amato, l’Europa e le sue scelte di politica economica sarebbero diventate decisive nella corsa alla Casa Bianca. Allo stesso modo, seppur da prospettive differenti, l’argomento “Unione Europea” non è stato trascurato neanche da Mitt Romney nel corso della campagna elettorale. Hanno colpito, infatti, le parole dello sfidante repubblicano, secondo cui gli Stati Uniti avrebbero rischiato di precipitare nella disastrosa situazione economica di Italia e Spagna qualora Obama avesse ottenuto un nuovo mandato. Nel bene o nel male, la questione europea è stata centrale per la rielezione del candidato democratico, come ha dimostrato il successo ottenuto da quest’ultimo in Ohio, teatro del piano di salvataggio statale di Chrysler e della partnership con FIAT. Anche per queste ragioni è lecito pensare che il rieletto Presidente porrà maggiore attenzione alla stabilità della moneta unica, quale pilastro fondamentale per l’interdipendenza economica e finanziaria. In ogni caso, è fuori discussione che tali attenzioni si riflettano in un rapporto euro-atlantico basato sulle stesse stringenti logiche di cooperazione risalenti alla guerra fredda.

Per quanto riguarda la situazione mediorientale, la posizione diplomatica della Casa Bianca rimane ancora incerta e non definita. Considerato un consequentialist da Ryan Lizza, in virtù di un approccio a cavallo tra il realismo di John Quincy Adams e l’idealismo di George W. Bush, Obama ha suscitato le reazioni piccate di Israele a causa della gestione della primavera araba. Infatti, pur adottando una politica di dialogo con Iran ed Egitto, il presidente americano ha comunque anteposto gli interessi di sicurezza americani a quelli di altri paesi. Questo atteggiamento ha creato confusione a livello diplomatico e tensione con Gerusalemme, soprattutto in seguito alle posizioni di apertura di Obama verso il presidente egiziano Mosri, e a quelle mostrate con Teheran riguardo ai negoziati sul nucleare. In un articolo di Helene Cooper sul New York Times, è stato rilevato come i rapporti Washington-Teheran siano stati caratterizzati da un inedito accordo sullo sfruttamento dell’energia nucleare. Per questo motivo, anche a Teheran si fremeva per la rielezione di Obama, considerato un interlocutore affidabile e comprensivo delle esigenze nazionali.

Infine, l’ascesa della Cina a protagonista della scena internazionale. Durante la campagna elettorale, il candidato democratico ha mantenuto una posizione piuttosto ambigua, improntata al dialogo con un interlocutore globale da un lato, e di risolutezza verso le scelte economiche di Pechino dall’altro. Risalta, pertanto, il richiamo effettuato a marzo dal presidente americano, che invitava Pechino ad adottare un comportamento più rispettoso delle regole del commercio internazionale. La futura strategia americana verso la Cina, pertanto, appare caratterizzata da un approccio attendista e di neutralità rispetto a questioni interne che stanno pian piano turbando la tranquillità politica del gigante asiatico. Infatti, l’economia cinese, sta subendo un lieve ma inevitabile rallentamento, cui si associano l’irrisolta questione tibetana, i casi di corruzione all’interno del Partito comunista cinese e la richiesta sempre più pressante di diritti civili e sociali.

L’atteggiamento del rieletto Presidente, dettato da un maggiore interesse alle questioni interne, sembra condurre ad uno scenario geopolitico fortemente balcanizzato con gli Stati Uniti sempre meno coinvolti nei contesti regionali dove sono stati presenti per larga parte del Novecento. Come prospettato da Ian Bremmer, si sta determinando uno “G-Zero World” in cui nessuna potenza mondiale (Stati Uniti e Cina) o gruppi di paesi (UE o BRICS) sono in grado di dettare una chiara agenda politica internazionale, soprattutto per ragioni di ordine economico e politico interno.

Pertanto, il comportamento dell’inquilino della Casa Bianca, incoerente a prima vista, cela una chiara scelta politica di disimpegno, che nell’immediato ha provocato una crisi nei rapporti con Israele, una risposta insufficiente agli interrogativi delle rivoluzioni del mondo arabo, e a un atteggiamento ambiguo e discontinuo nei confronti di Europa e Cina. Nei prossimi mesi sarà particolarmente interessante analizzare l’evoluzione delle relazioni tra Pechino e Washington, da cui dipenderanno i futuri assetti geopolitici. A livello teorico, vi sarebbero almeno quattro possibili scenari: la creazione di un G-2 informale, improntato ad un pacifico rapporto tra le due maggiori potenze; un concerto globale caratterizzato dai differenti interessi economico-politici delle potenze emergenti; la possibilità di una Guerra Fredda 2.0 dettata dalla competizione economica tra le due potenze principali; infine, un contesto internazionale frammentato con scarsa cooperazione multilaterale.

A prescindere dalle suddette ipotesi teoriche, Barack Obama dovrà decidere con attenzione il ruolo da assegnare agli Stati Uniti, dato che attualmente Cina, Europa, e le altre potenze regionali non sembrano disponibili ad un maggior coinvolgimento nella gestione delle aree più critiche del pianeta. Oltre ad una grande attenzione a tutti problemi passati, presenti e futuri, il 45esimo Presidente degli Stati Uniti necessita anche di una buona dose di fortuna nei quattro anni che lo vedranno nuovamente al comando.

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Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

 

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The End of American Exceptionalism

The “Greatest Generation” won the Second World War, helped rebuild Europe, stood up to communism and put a man on the moon. The present day United States of America could do none of those things. American exceptionalism is ending. 

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[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his week’s election results showed us something deeper about the United States than  simply the willingness to re-elect a president with a record that can be considered mediocre at best. It showed us that American exceptionalism is dead.

America is still a great country that has the capacity to do great things for themselves and the rest of the world, but the fact of the matter is that their political system is badly broken and Americans now face the prospect of at least 2, if not 4 years of divided government and gridlock in Washington. As of 12:01 AM on November 7th, 2012 the race to the 2014 midterm elections began and some are looking beyond that to 2016 where polling is already available.

However, the margin of victory and the results of some down ticket races have yet to be determined. Speaker of the House John Boehner is already stating that President re-elect Obama has no mandate for a tax increase . By immediately digging in and establishing his line in the sand for the upcoming budget fight over the impending “fiscal cliff”, the Republican party is preparing to risk driving America and potentially the world back into recession to appease a constituency that no longer has the capability to win them the presidency.

This constituency is, of course, white men. President Obama carried states like Virginia, New Mexico, Colorado and possibly Florida (at time of writing the state had not been called but President Obama did maintain a slim lead) on the backs of minority vote. He scored approximately 39% of the white vote nationally yet carried 93% of the black vote, 71% of Latinos and 70% of Asians (some preliminary data). The Republican Party is standing on the brink of an electoral abyss and unless they are willing to abandon the principles that have endeared them to their most vocal supporters– white men–they face a potentially bleak future.

It is in these divided election results where American exceptionalism ends. Billions of dollars were spent by both sides in this election and what resulted was a return to the status quo and potentially years of gridlock. Tom Brokaw (former NBC Nightly News Anchor) wrote a book called “Greatest Generation” in which he describes a generation of Americans that was both united in common cause and common values. This was a generation and an America that won the Second World War, helped rebuild Europe, stood up to communism and put a man on the moon.

The present day United States of America could do none of those things. Collective good will and willingness to share the burden has been removed from American culture. America is now defined by the 47%, or the 99% vs. the 1%, or any number of divisive and exclusive titles elevated by the talking heads of political punditry in an attempt to pander to the same groups that produced a divided election result. If you believe that the re-election of President Obama will erase these divisions, you are in the same level of denial as some Republicans and Fox News were when Ohio was called for the President and not Mitt Romney.

If this division and dysfunction only affected the United States then it wouldn’t be a problem; unfortunately it affects us all. Without the common purpose of the past generations of Americans, the ability for the United States to effectively lead on the international stage comes into question. Leadership on issues such as climate change, halting nuclear proliferation and taking action on the Syrian Civil War to name a few challenges is badly needed.

The election of November 6, 2012 showed us that the United States has refused to answer the world’s call for leadership. All that can be done now is to hope for change. Unfortunately, hope is a precious commodity these days.

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Photo Credit: Beverly & Pack

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Good Luck President Obama, You Need It!

Most of Obama’s policies are completely unchanged from those of his predecessor. The War on Terror continues, the drone program has expanded, relations with western Europe remain strong whilst those with Russia remain hostile. But what of the second term?

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“The best is still to come” was the soundbite which has resonated from Obama’s victory speech last night. Time will tell if this is the case, but the facts are that the US public has overwhelmingly supported the status quo in this time of economic trouble. The President remains in office, the Democrats keep the Senate and the  Republicans keep the House of Representatives. In that respect nothing has changed. But with no future election to worry about, will Obama’s foreign policy change from the Bush spillover which dominated his first term?

In 2001 George W. Bush faced one of the most dramatic changes in international affairs since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Faced with two falling towers and thousands of dead Bush was faced by a US public desperate for answers, for justice and for vengeance. The result of this was the first term of the War on Terror, 2001 in Afghanistan, 2003 in Iraq. Wars that were supposed to be short interventions to create a change in the Middle East became festering pools of suffering for almost a decade. Tens of thousands died across the Middle East, and by his second term Bush was desperately trying to hold together a mission that was going from bad to worse.

Obama inherited that mission. Bush’s surge in Iraq had already stabilised the country ready for a withdrawal Obama only had to keep on target. However, the ongoing mission to attempt to stabilise the Middle East, destroy the leadership of Al-Qaeda and mend relations damaged by the 2003 invasion of Iraq remained the same.

What Obama faced in taking office was a battle between his lofty ideals and promises and reality. His compromise was pragmatic, driving towards aims slowly and cautiously and making no significant and unbalancing changes to the foreign affairs of the second term of Bush.

What did change was so gradual the world’s population at large barely noticed it. There was a shift from the Middle East to the Pacific with troop deployments in Australia and a new agreement with Japan over Guam and further military cooperation. Although this shift has been slowed by the Arab Spring and the continued fighting in Syria, it is symbolic enough to prompt China’s own challenges for the South and East China Sea. There were significant defense cuts which have placed an emphasis on less of everything, but a greater emphasis on technological and training superiority. Obama has orchestrated a gradual lean to a more impartial role in the Middle East than under Bush, one aided by his faux-pas with Nicholas Sarkozy and the intervention in Libya against a secular dictator on the side of Islamists as well as liberals. More generally there has been a shift away from democratic transition by pressure or force and towards a focus on stability. Transition is now pushed towards supporting stable governments and pushing them towards liberal reform. Again, the Arab Spring was an unexpected reversal of this trend. And, of course, Osama Bin laden is dead.

However, most of Obama’s policies are completely unchanged from those of his predecessor. The War on Terror continues, the drone program has expanded exponentially, relations with western Europe remain strong whilst those with Russia remain hostile. But what of the second term? What of 2012-2016?

Well the answer is: Probably much of the same, but don’t expect the US foreign policy world to look the same in 2016 to 2008. The track of Obama’s presidency has been a gently-gently turn from Bush’s policies to Obama’s, and the US should look very much like Obama’s legacy by the end of the next four years. A turn from the Middle East to East Asia, from military intervention to diplomatic and economic pressure, from antagonism of Muslim states to partnerships based on the national interest of influence.These policies have already proved fruitful and will continue to do so. Japanese support for military bases was prevented from collapse just long enough to actually step up cooperation important to limit China’s expanding Pacific potential. Sanctions in Iran have its economy on the verge of collapse and popular support of Ahmadinejad beginning to turn against him. The intervention in Libya and support for the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions has given Obama political capital there not seen for decades. Despite the Benghazi attacks popular support is actually for the US as militant groups were forced out of Eastern towns across the country by anti-extremist protesters.

That said, just like the Arab Spring revolutions, the 9/11 attacks and the fall of the Soviet Union, sudden and unexpected events can throw the best plans into disarray. How Obama deals with potentially disastrous events could change his foreign policy dramatically.

  • Afghanistan: Withdrawal in 2014, if too soon, could devastate the region and NATO’s influence.
  • Syria: The conflict must be restrained to the country to avoid regional collapse.
  • Iran: Although sanctions are working, should Iran turn to desperate measures or should Israel overplay its hand things could turn very dangerous.
  • Yemen: A potential second Afghanistan/Somalia. Though the risk is smaller should the state collapse, the threat of a new front could give extremists a valuable new refuge.
  • South/East China Seas: The competition between the South-Eastern/Eastern Asian powers over the seas is not a battle the US can involve itself in overtly or risk facing backlash. However it is one which needs to be carefully monitored and one where soft power could be at its most important.
  • West Africa: The continued rise of Bokko Haram, Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQM) and other extremist Islamist groups in this region could be a new front in the most need for intervention but with the least popular support for it. So far the US has only been able to give token support for these states, but as things go from bad to worse in Mali this cannot be expected to be the end of the conflicts.

Congratulations Barack Obama, but I don’t envy you in the four years to come. You will face a hostile House of Representatives and a demanding public. You will face the challenge of keeping North Africa on your side and yet still combat Islamic extremism, of limiting China without antagonising it, of realising your potential without ceasing to be pragmatic. Good luck President Obama, you need it.

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Photo Credit: US Army

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(Decided) Citizens United Against Super PACs

In an election in which national debt, the federal deficit, the Great Recession, and unemployment rates are playing a central role, it seems inappropriate that we have so much money to spend.

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This year, all campaign contributions made to candidates in local, state, and federal elections have amounted to (following the final debate of the 2012 Presidential Campaign) more than $77 billion. The presidential campaigns alone have spent nearly $500 million on campaign ads, and don’t seem likely to run out of money yet, pulling in a combined $140 million in the month of September.  The 2008 presidential election set records for the costliest in U.S. history, and ended up setting each of the candidates back $5.4 billion. Projections for the current presidential election will cost near $6 billion, which is (very) roughly a 10% increase and, in case anyone is interested, an increase that is just about the GDP of our own little American protectorate, American Samoa, who, of course, cannot vote for the President of the United States.

Conventional wisdom (or general logic) would suggest that money spent on campaigns would be intended to entice American voters who have not yet decided how their blessed franchise will be spent on November 6, 2012. Anyone who pays attention to American politics might be able to understand that this money, then, is being well spent. Liberals in the United States have felt betrayed by Barack Obama since he took office in 2009, and before landing on Mitt Romney as their candidate, Republicans flirted with much more exciting, if also more ridiculous conservative ideologues. Nobody seems particularly excited about their party’s representation at the upcoming election, so it stands to reason that campaigns might be trying to court those voters who feel abandoned or unenthused. Polling would suggest that the undecided pool of voters makes up only 6% of the electorate, and that 6% are among the least likely to vote. Just days before the 2008 presidential elections, 6.4% of voters were undecided.

This exposition of the absurd amount of cash that is poured into becoming an elected official in this country is not meant to criticize the recently upheld notion that political contributions constitute expressions of free speech, as guaranteed by the First Amendment of the US Constitution. What the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United did made it easier for corporations and individuals to donate massive sums of money to Political Action Committees, who are free to put whatever they like on the airwaves, so long as they are not officially affiliated with a particular candidates campaign. The issue, of course, is that these PACs are inherently, if not explicitly, oriented one way or the other. The result, therefore, is a deluge of toxic campaign rhetoric and regurgitation of stump speeches from either side of the aisle that, as noted above, is targeted towards an increasingly smaller portion of the population. More money is being put into political advertisements than ever, but fewer potential voters are deciding on their preferred candidates.  If campaigns are not trying to pull voters towards their candidates, they are trying to mobilize their base, to ensure they make it to the polls.

American politics have become a practice in partisanship – very little in terms of legislation can make it through Congressional Houses because of the uncooperative atmosphere, which have led to Congressional approval ratings so low that it’s difficult to grasp how they were elected in the first place. (Comically, the above-cited study shows that approval ratings of telemarketers higher than those elected officials. If you live in the United States, those telemarketers are currently competing for airtime on your voicemail with volunteers from Congressional election campaigns). Each Presidential candidate has made it a central point to explain how they are the candidate most likely to work across the aisle; Obama citing bipartisan commissions on deficit reduction, Romney citing his ability to work with a mostly Democratic legislature while serving as Governor of Massachusetts. Supporters of both the President and the former Governor refute the other side’s claims. Whether it is coming out of an official campaign or a PAC, billions of dollars are being spent accusing the other campaign of an inability to work with the other side, which in effect, is accusing both men of being suited only for a titular role as Commander-in-Chief, but being unable to assume that role in any functional capacity.

Confused? I’ll summarize. More money is being spent to convince less people that both Presidential candidates are ill-suited for the job. It may be within the constitutional rights of individuals, corporations, and foreign entities to pour millions of dollars into campaign war chests, but the candidates, their campaigns, and PACs who support them need to consider the bad taste left in the voters’ mouth when their preferred candidate either wins or loses. 6 billion dollars is an absurd amount of money to be spent winning over an extremely small portion of the electorate. I also do understand that I’m understating the strategy that goes into winning 270 electoral votes. But in an election in which national debt, the federal deficit, the Great Recession, and unemployment rates are playing a central role, it seems inappropriate that we have so much money to spend.

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Photo Credit: army.arch

Democrats and Republicans

Foreign Policy Knows No Party

If citizens want to have an opinion on how American foreign policy should be conducted, they may sadly be forced to think for themselves for the foreseeable future.

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Democrats and Republicans

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My European friends typically portray Republican foreign policy as monolithic. Which is to say, nasty. This is baffling, as there is little consensus on foreign policy in either party beyond razing any Olympic uniforms made in China, and wholly and unquestionably doing whatever AIPAC wants.

There are perhaps one or two blurry foreign policy differences between the major parties. The Democrats are arguably less hawkish, with the notable exception of when it comes to doing things like voting on whether or not to bomb other countries. In these rare instances (invading Iraq, for instance) they’re surprisingly gung-ho.

To their credit, Democratic lawmakers did not vote in favor of the Libyan military intervention of 2011. However this is largely because President Obama neglected to ask Congress’s permission to do so.

While the Republican Party still sports an alarming amount of Neocons eager to engage in nation building (usually by bombing the nations they intend to build), it’s unfair to describe the GOP as the party of war. In truth the GOP has only one commonality: a fear of commitment. Isolationist, Neoconservative, Realist and whatever exactly Governor Romney is, Republicans are the party hesitant to confirm “relationship status” with other countries on Facebook.

Let’s look at three recent prominent contenders for the Republican presidential nomination:

First, Rick Santorum, whose hypothetical White House policy briefings would involve several men (note: men) sitting around in sweater vests discussing “Operation Glass Parking Lot.” Santorum appeared to be in such a hurry to catapult projectiles at Tehran that, endowed with the presidency, he would probably order NASA to build a time machine through which to dispatch F16′s to carpet bomb the Ayatollah last month. After leveling the Parchin, Bidganeh and Qom military complexes, they would circle back to the 1950′s to refuel their sweatervest reserves and return to now.

There could be no greater contrast than Ron Paul, a staunch non-interventionist who would ideally like America to transition from the world’s only remaining super power to a sort of 320-million person Switzerland. Defend the shores, deliver the mail. Stop.

The only commonality between Rick Santorum and Ron Paul is that both find the notion of any treaty compelling America to legally bind itself to the consensus of other nations utterly distasteful. Differences notwithstanding, monks and playboys are nonetheless bachelors.

As it stands, the Republican contender for the presidency is Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney’s foreign policy plan is more or less identical to President Obama’s, only with more aggressive adverbs.

It’s possible he’ll start a trade war with China by labeling them as currency manipulators. In his book No Apology, he was of the opinion that “protectionism stifles productivity,” which indicates a reluctance to start a trade war. More than likely, he would carry on the same Free Trade policies enacted by Obama, many of which started during the Bush administration.

The only discernible difference between the diplomatic and economic measures which President Obama has employed to halt the Iranian nuclear program and Romney’s counter plan is his more liberal use of exclamation marks. He would also support covertly support dissidents and increase the US Naval presence in the Straight of Hormuz. Primarily, however, he would rely upon economic sanctions and diplomacy, reserving military intervention in the event that soft power fails. Just like Obama.

What are we to make of all this? The first is that Americans don’t particularly care about foreign policy. If they did, Jon Hunstman would be orchestrating it right now.

The second lesson is that, while Republicans and Democrats might neatly organize themselves into tug-of-war teams on issues like abortion, healthcare and firearm regulation, there is no actual partisan American foreign policy agenda.

If citizens want to have an opinion on how America should conduct itself abroad, they may sadly be forced to think for themselves for the foreseeable future.

Romney Obamacare

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.

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[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.

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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

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[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 Meets With Small Business Owners During Colorado Campaign Swing

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.

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[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.