Tag Archives: President Obama

Fiscal Cliff Averted, But What’s Next?

The Fiscal Cliff has been averted. Due to savvy political maneuvering and the dedication of senior lawmakers, the self-created asteroid of austerity set to strike at the heart of American economic recovery has been disintegrated by the atmosphere of bipartisanship and compromise… well… sort of. While the President has managed to get enough Republicans in line with his vision on taxes, the issue of spending has still not been addressed. Through the legislation, the automatic across-the-board cuts (know as the sequester) have been put off for two months.

So technically the cliff hasn’t been avoided, it’s been cut into two less scary hills or, maybe, two moderately imposing sets of stairs, one of which still looms ahead. Ridiculous metaphors aside, this means the discussion on spending will happen at the same time as the debate about raising the debt ceiling. On the latter point the President articulated in last night’s briefing that:

‘I will not have another debate with this Congress about whether they should pay the bills that they’ve already racked up.’

This is a firm position to take and is indeed an attempt by the White House to capitalize on its recent victory and set the tone for the upcoming debt ceiling discussion by saying it’s not up for discussion at all. Whether this is wishful thinking remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, the discussions surrounding the other major issue, spending, will be ugly.

The GOP, in the House particularly, just sacrificed on some pretty fundamental points of their economic ideology, namely that if you tax rich people less they’re inclined to invest more that this creates jobs. The most substantive gain that the GOP got was raising the income threshold for tax hikes from $250,000 to $450,000. A number they could have had at $1 million had they taken up Speaker Boehner’s Plan B. Simply put, they come out of this discussion looking like the losers and will be fighting hard for a win on spending.

While the President can walk tall after his recent victory, in the upcoming spending discussions he has less to negotiate on. The tax issue has been put to bed so options for compromise are limited. However he does hold one card that the GOP lacks, the President doesn’t need to run for re-election.

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Photo Credit: United States Government

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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A Ragged US Flag

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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

Omnipotent US President?

Is the President of the United States of America as powerful a position as it is made out to be? Or is political control over Congress distinctly more desirable?

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Thanks to Hollywood and “public relations” (the modern Western term for propaganda), it often seems God would have no America to bless if it weren’t for the President. When asked what role the United States played in the world at the final Presidential debate last week, Obama declared America to be ‘one indispensable nation’. Romney asserted that the US could only lead once its domestic policies were restored to good health.

The current President is axiomatically correct here, in the way that the United States, through ruthlessly efficient foreign policy and military supremacy, has been able to gain and maintain its superpower status. Foreign policy is indisputably America’s superlative strength, with no other nation yet to match it. In terms of issues close to home however, with high unemployment and an increasing deficit, military spending is generally not so relevant to the American people when they cast their vote.

The rise of social media in the twenty-first century inevitably led to a global revolution as Youtube, Twitter and Facebook became instruments that could tune and play public opinion. Four years ago, young people (and mainly Obama supporters) utilised social media to promote the potential candidates for the 2008 US Presidential election. The 2012 election has witnessed the online apparatus expand to older generations and the Republican’s – whose fan base is less young, are exploiting it just as much as Obama did in his successful 2008 campaign. So is it fair to suggest that the President of the United States is greatly limited by a “cyber-population”?

An increasingly common question is whether the Party or person who wins the election even matters; the chief limitation on the President which arguably subdues him to a mere puppet role is Congress. The past two years have consisted of petty partisan politics within government, as the Democrats and Republicans have failed to reach compromise on decisive issues such as the budget deficit. These unresolved disputes led to an automatic cut of $1.1 trillion from government spending. Ultimately how powerful can the role of the President be when he is effectively powerless in regards to domestic policy, since all decisions essentially lie in the hands of the House and Senate? More importantly, how much of a globally effective role can the US government play if it cannot even reach negotiations to resolve its own country’s issues?

China is foreseen to emerge as a highly competitive superpower in the upcoming years. Considering it isn’t a democracy, there is none of this Congressional crippling of power. Unlike the US, it doesn’t have what Romney says America does, which is ‘the responsibility and privilege to defend freedom and promote principles for world peace such as human rights’. When the Chinese government abuses human rights purely for economic growth, censorship bans the reporting of it. Without these constitutional restrictions therefore, there is a question of whether someone such as the Chinese President has more power to play with than the US President.

Overall, statistically the US government appears to be more powerful militarily and economically, but this is clearly subject to change. The question is not will, but can the winner of the 2012 US Presidential election play a role in affecting this change?

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Photo Credit: DonkeyHotey

Intolerance: The March of Equal Rights

Before you stand against gay marriage think about whether you are in a minority, whether that be religion, ethnicity, place of birth, being left handed, of different skin or hair colour, and how if you are one amongst them maybe you would have been swinging from those ropes as a result of intolerance. 

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isfahan hanging oct 2011

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This week it was announced that Scotland, Vietnam and New Zealand are beginning the walk towards equal rights for all sexualities to be married. The Catholic and Anglican Churches of England are in full rout, barely able to take a stand for more than days at a time. President Obama of the US has come out in support of equal marriages as state after state brings their laws up to date. What began with a leak in the wall of Church-lead prejudice in the Netherlands has turned into a tidal wave as the Christian Churches fold yet again.

And yet even as Christian opposition in the developed world collapses, driven by falling numbers in church attendance crippling their political clout, Muslim states are upping the public violence and persecution of homosexuals across the Islamic world. The line is being drawn between the developed world and the developing, the secular and the Islamic, and the voices either side of the line are becoming louder. Championed by the lobbying site “www.allout.org” LGBT allies are creating a global lobbying clout with which to pressure states into pushing through progressive reforms or dropping conservative ones. On the other side of the line Saudi and Iranian public executions are becoming a public declaration that homosexuality is never to be tolerated in the fiercely Islamic states, and ex-Soviet and sub-Saharan African states legislatures are actually pushing further towards the illegality of homosexual acts to the point of death sentences and banning the word “gay”.

The lines are drawn. Ten states list homosexual acts as grounds for the death penalty or life imprisonment. Ten states recognise marriage equality. It’s a tie. But when only ten years ago only one state was in the second category, the tides are clearly turning.

In 1948 a black man could only marry a white woman (or vice versa) in under half of US states. By 1967 only the American south was holding out. On the 12th of June, 1967 these last states were forced to stand down by a court decision branding inequality of marriage between races as unconstitutional. That was only 45 years ago, and yet now the concept of a white man being able to marry a black women as being illegal is a concept which only bears serious consideration in a few lonely farms hundreds of miles from civilisation.

In 1913 many suffragettes were locked behind bars for their protests to grant equal rights to women to vote. In the 1950s and 1960s equal rights for blacks in the US to escape discrimination and regain the right to vote  shook America just as in 1967 homosexual acts were no longer threatened with criminality in the United Kingdom. Now lies one of the last major fights for equal rights in the developed world after a century of progress.

It is with this background the next step is being taken. Equality laws enforcing a lack of prejudice is already commonplace in developed states so that companies and governments cannot discriminate based on colour, creed or sexuality. Marriage is simply a facet which was left untouched due to a deference to religion which is swiftly fading.

This progress, which has come across in leaps and bounds through the last century, is the true clash of civilisations which Huntington attempted to theorise in the 1990s. As a battle between modern liberal secularism and equality of all before law, and the forces of conservative prejudice and violent tribalism it has in some way or another defined politics of the last several hundred years. First the English civil war, and the collapse of absolute royal power in the state which would go on to spread its ideas across the world. Then the revolutions of the 1700s cracked the divine right of Monarchies over the rights of their subjects, a cause Napoleon spread by musket across Europe, breaking the tyranny of the European dictators as he marched. The idea of master race rose its ugly head with the Empires of Europe: European slavery and white supremacy leading to conclusion with the gas chambers of Nazi Germany where all minorities shared the same fate. With the collapse of empires in the 1950s and 1960s came the collapse of white supremacy and the first signs of a coffin for institutional tribalism.

The fight continues today as the beginnings of intolerance towards intolerance, of entire societies in which intolerance is banned by law and intolerant societies are no longer respected. It is in this atmosphere that the rulers of Europe began the second decade of this millennium declaring multiculturalism dead and integration as the way forward. This was not a declaration that other cultures were not welcome, quite the opposite, it was a welcoming of others into the fold, but only as long as they showed an equal welcome to those cultures they joined. No longer would the Islamic subjugation of women and hatred of other faiths be tolerated, no longer would hard-line Christians be able to push for the illegality of homosexuality, no longer would nationalists be able to call for the ejection of immigrants, but in turn those immigrants would have to play by the rules of the societies they joined.

As this doctrine of integrated melting-pots of Europe has begun to take hold, so have the liberal and equality values spread. The north-eastern and western US states, South America, South Africa, the Pacific Islands and South East Asia have all begun to push in the same direction. Northern and Central Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia are becoming increasingly isolated in their rhetoric and acts of intolerance. The Arab Spring was the cumulation of escalating pressure on established elites immune to the rule of law to concede power, and the results have refuted the most critical of observers. In Libya liberal parties have seized elections as in Tunisia and Egypt moderate Islamists have confronted fears of a tumble into the intolerance of Saudi Arabia of Iran by promoting liberal reforms, strong constitutions and working with liberal parties to ensure freedoms for women in the newly democratic states.

Gay rights are a symptom of something deeper and more permanent than simply a happily married gay couple moving in next door. It is a symptom of a success in the fight for equal rights and liberal values we have been battling towards for centuries. It is a sign of the collapse of intolerant ideologies and the march of freedom before law across the world, from the Netherlands towards the Islamic World. It is a step by step process and everywhere you look there is conflict marking the battle for every step.

So before you stand against the image of two porcelain men holding hands on top of a wedding cake, rewind to the beginning of the process and scroll to the top of this page. Go back far enough and those men were blasphemers, blacks who disobeyed their masters, women who were raped, Jews, adulterers, barons who stood against the dictatorship of kings and peasants who could not afford to give away their wheat. Before you stand against gay marriage think about whether you are in a minority, whether that be religion, ethnicity, place of birth, being left handed, of different skin or hair colour, and how if you are one amongst them maybe you would have been swinging from those ropes for a petty crime. Those are the values you would have stood for decades and centuries ago, the values where those unlike you do not deserve to stand at your side as an equal.

Then look to the places where gays swing from the gallows, and see that intolerance must be met with intolerance.

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Originally published at A Third Opinion.

American Exceptionalism & The Shaping Of US Foreign Policy

The resort to the nationalist ideology of American Exceptionalism by both sides of the political spectrum is not just a temporary electoral trick, but a signal of a deeper state of uncertainty and concern rooted in the history of the American republic.

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[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he growing electoral debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney has been focusing on, among many other issues, the meaning of American Exceptionalism, after years of dismissal from the public arena. This comeback to an ideological lexicon, concurrent with an historical period marked by economic turmoil and political uncertainty about the predominant role of the United States in international relations, can be explained by digging into its own origin in order to get a better understanding of what is now at stake within the current debate over the American greatness.

The resurgence of American Exceptionalism should be framed into the historical evolution of the concept, in order to relate it to the relevant political backdrop. Indeed, although many commentators attribute the coining of the term to Joseph Stalin in 1929 – who’s condemnation of American Exceptionalism was based on capitalism being an exception to Marxism’s universal laws – the ideological roots are to be found in the famous puritan John Winthrop’s speech in 1630. Winthrop alluded to the Arabella’s passengers escaping England as the “city upon the hill” for future people: drawing upon Matthew 5:14–15, Winthrop articulated his vision of the forthcoming Puritan colony in New England as an example of a truly godly society to be admired and imitated by England and the world.

However, Thomas Paine made the greatest contribution to the definition of the American national ideology, when in his “Common Sense” pamphlet written in 1776 he described America as a the rampart of liberty for the world. In addition, the French intellectual Alexis de Tocqueville confirmed such a self-perception of political uniqueness in 1840.

What is interesting, and worth noting, is that the ideology of exceptionalism, coupled with a keen interest in commercial trade, marked the first years of American independence with a new kind of foreign policy approach characterized by the intertwined relationship between interests, values and self-representation, by working as the mobilizing domestic driver of the American role in the world. As a matter of fact, as the Italian historian Mario Del Pero puts it, unilateralist foreign policies have been implemented every time national interest and international inspiration overlapped, by reflecting on international level the nationalist rhetoric (as occurred in 1898, 1914, 1941 and recently along with the neo-conservative political resurgence), in order to give Americans order to their vision of the world and defining their place within it.

Despite some prominent scholars (such as Stephen Walt) having tried to debunk the myth of American Exceptionalism and to rule it out from the possible explanatory variables of US foreign policy, stressing that its conduct has been determined firstly by the relative power and the competitive nature of international politics, contemporary debate has refocused its attention on this issue. This resurgence has come about in no small part due to some surveys carried out by Gallup, according to which American nationalism is booming within the United States: 80% of its population believes in the unique character of their country because of its history and possession of a constitution that make it a different, and the greatest nation in the world.

Indeed, nationalism is quite a common means for uniting divided populations and can act on two different levels: domestic and international. As for the former, nationalism comes out as unifying and mobilizing factor when economic difficulties and political challenges arise. For instance, national reaction and popular refusal to the “Malaise Speech” by President Carter in 1979, gave a big thrust to the Reaganian propaganda on international level: as a matter of fact, the 40th President of the United States based his electoral campaign on the saving role of the American leadership against the Evil Empire led by the Soviet Union.

Currently, given the end of the unipolar moment, the beleaguered state of American economy combined with its military troubles (with its expenditure being cut and it being overstretched from East Asia to Western Europe), as well as an increasing dysfunctional governance and the decline of American legitimacy abroad, the United States is in a very uncomfortable position. The resort to the nationalist ideology of American Exceptionalism by both sides of the political spectrum is not just a temporary electoral trick, but a signal of a deeper state of uncertainty and concern rooted in the history of the American republic.

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.

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[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.

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[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.