Negligible News Day II: Ricky Martin Says Si To Hillary Clinton
  Remember Ricky Martin? Yep, the crooner who is responsible for the tune Livin La Vida Loca, which we all had to listen to for what felt like an eternity after the hit was released in 1999. Well, Martin, a Puerto Rican, now has officially endorsed Hillary Clinton ahead of the Democratic primary in Puerto Rico on Sunday.

"These elections will have historic repercussions both in the United States and the world. Senator Clinton has always been consistent in her commitment with the needs of the Latino community," Martin said in a statement released by the Clinton campaign. The former First Lady stated in a press release she feels "honored to have Ricky Martin's support. He is a very important voice in the Latino community and together we will work to improve the lives of families and children across the country."

In the 2001 presidential campaign, Martin had supported then Governor George W. Bush. The duo apparently hit it off so well that Martin performed at a pre-inaugural celebration for Bush.

A later falling out was triggered apparently by the Iraq war, which Martin opposed.

Now Martin is backing Hillary Clinton, who, by the way, in 2001 also backed the Iraq war. So maybe the war isn't the only reason Martin is supporting Clinton instead of Barack Obama, who opposed the war from the get-go. What are Ricky Martin's reasons then beyond Hillary Clinton's "committment" to Latinos? Hard to say, and also not that important. Clinton was already projected to win big in Puerto Rico prior to Ricky Martin's endorsement.

So what does all this signify? Nothing really. Just another piece of Negligible News.
Michael Knigge 31.05.2008, 15:15 # 2 Comments
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The Candidates' Cluster Bomb Divide
  Over in Dublin this week, the world was uniting behind a treaty to ban cluster bombs -- well, most of the world, anyway, since there were some significant hold-outs: the U.S., Russia and China, for instance. As it happens, two of the three presidential candidates almost certainly would maintain the United States' current position on cluster munitions.

Democrat Barack Obama has voted in the Senate to support a ban on cluster bombs in civilian areas. The vote came in 2006, and Republican John McCain voted against the ban, as did Hillary Clinton -- one rare vote where Obama and Clinton voted differently. Ultimately, the vote fell short, 30-70.

A search of newspapers and the candidates' Senate websites from that year turns up no explanation for why each candidate voted the way they did. It is therefore unclear whether Obama opposes cluster munitions in all cases or just in civilian areas. For a pretty good breakdown of the pros and cons of cluster bombs -- morally, tactically -- the Associated Press did a run-down here.
Tim Starks 31.05.2008, 05:14 # 1 Comment
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Negligible News Day: Susan Sarandon And Bryan Adams Back Barack Obama
  There are days when it's good enough to just kick back. Today is one of those days. Forget about Iran, Iraq, kooky pastors and controversial foreign leaders. Forget about Hillary Clinton's remarks, Barack Obama's gaffes and John McCain's bladder stones. Just for now. Relax and read.

Actress Susan Sarandon might relocate to Italy, Canada or somewhere else should John McCain become president. "If McCain gets in, it's going to be very, very dangerous," Saradon, who supports Barack Obama, told the Irish Independent. "It's a critical time, but I have faith in the American people. If they prove me wrong, I'll be checking out a move to Italy. Maybe Canada, I don't know. We're at an abyss." No word if husband Tim Robbins would also leave the U.S. By the way, Sarandon's new movie Speed Racer is now playing in theaters.

Canadian Rocker Bryan Adams didn't mention any moving plans should McCain win, but he also hopes for an Obama election victory. "I hope Obama will win," Adams said in Berlin, where his photo exhibition, Hear the world, is being shown. "Everything is better than what we have now", he added according to German news agency dpa.

What does all this signify? Nothing really. Just a piece of Negligible News.
Michael Knigge 30.05.2008, 20:43 # 24 Comments
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Foreign Policy Blunders By McCain Help Obama
  My colleague Michael wrote recently about the foreign policy gaffes of Barack Obama and how they feed into John McCain's strategy of emphasizing his foreign policy credentials and Obama's inexperience. But as it happens, McCain has had his share of international affairs blunders this year. They've happened farther away from the spotlight, often at moments when the protracted Democratic primary battle was particularly heated, overshadowing anything McCain did or said.

The first was a series of misstatements where McCain had to correct himself for claiming multiple times that Iran was training al Qaeda operatives. That organization is Sunni, while Iran is overwhelmingly Shiite, and rarely have the two played nice with one another. McCain got hit by the Washington Post's Fact-Checker for making the claim.

More recently, McCain asserted that because "the average American" thinks Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the leader of that country, he is. In fact, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is the one with authority over foreign policy. This is a little akin to Hillary Clinton's statement that she's not going to "put my lot with economists" when every economist alive criticized her plan to suspend the gas tax.

Another McCain embarrassment on the foreign policy front is that a number of people working for his campaign had lobbied for repressive foreign governments, including Burma and Saudi Arabia. This one was a double hit, because not only were the actual affiliations of those campaign officials dubious, but McCain has spoken many times before about the evils of lobbyists. Several have departed, but not all of them.

And the newest mistake was McCain's claim, in ridiculing Obama: "Many believe all we need to do to end the nuclear programs of hostile governments is have our president talk with leaders in Pyongyang and Tehran, as if we haven't tried talking to these governments repeatedly over the past two decades." As this writer and others were quick to point out, the U.S. policy on Iran has, for decades now, been not to talk to Tehran. (Three of the four here, notably, are about Iran.)

In each of these cases, liberal groups, blogs or political organizations quickly jumped on McCain. Democrats clearly have learned from a strategy popularized by Bush's former political guru, Karl Rove: Focus the attacks on an opponent's strength, not just his weakness. Republicans attacked John Kerry in 2004 over his Vietnam War record, when Kerry's resume as a veteran was one of the things that Democrats thought would make him electable and hard to attack on defense issues. McCain has the edge in overseas-related experience, sure, but going after mistakes he makes on that front gives Democrats a chance to try and neutralize that apparent advantage. In a campaign where sensitivities about race and gender have been in the forefront, that line of attack also gives Democrats a chance to play to concerns about McCain's age by questioning whether the ravages of old age have left him confused. Republicans have implied that's Democrats' intent, anyway; so far, none of the attacks have been that explicit.

The thing to watch will be whether Democrats can combine McCain's support of the Iraq War and some of the aforementioned blunders into a potent enough antidote to the problem Michael wrote about.
Tim Starks 30.05.2008, 03:49 # 0 Comments
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Obama Thrashes McCain In European Election Poll
  Nothing has changed. Europeans continue to be enamored with Barack Obama. According to a new poll conducted for the Internet portal of Britain's Daily Telegraph, Obama would score a blow-out victory against John McCain if voters in Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Russia could elect the next American president. The presumptive Democratic candiate received 52 percent of the vote across those five countries. McCain, his Republican rival in waiting, fetched only 15 percent.

Obama is most popular in Italy with 70 percent and Germany with 67 percent of the vote, respectively. Only in Russia is the race even remotely close. Here, Obama registers the least amount of support with just 31 percent of the vote compared with 24 for McCain. In Germany (six percent) and in France (eight percent), McCain doesn't even make it out of the single digits.

When asked who they think is better prepared to lead the global economy out of the current crisis, the winner is also Obama. Only in Russia do more people believe McCain (36 percent) would handle the current economic turmoil better than Obama (28 percent).

Among the five European nations polled, Italians are the most pro-American. Almost half of the Italians (49 percent) consider the U.S. a force for good in the world. In all other countries, the majority of those asked perceive the U.S. as a force for evil. In Russia, a whopping 56 percent of those polled feel that way.

So what do we glean from this poll? First, that the Obama swoon in Europe may be over with some in the media and policy wonks, but definitely not with the general public. Secondly, that anti-American sentiment is alive and well. And thirdly, that Hillary Clinton has been counted out of the campaign by Europeans. Clinton's name wasn't even mentioned in the poll.
Michael Knigge 29.05.2008, 20:47 # 7 Comments
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Foreign Policy Blunders By Obama Help McCain
  John McCain appears to be convinced that he can win the election against Barack Obama largely based on his foreign policy experience. It seems as though McCain thinks he owns the issue. I wrote about his sharp attack and his offer to tutor Obama on Iraq yesterday. But it's not just Iraq, McCain and the Republicans claim that Barack Obama simply lacks the experience to deal with international relations in general or with Iran, Russia, or North Korea in particular.

Obama, to be honest, doesn't possess a foreign policy or military background. Neither did George W. Bush and Bill Clinton prior to taking office. But because of his lack of international experience, Obama has to be especially careful on this topic. With his engagement-not-isolation proposal, he has laid out a vision to deal with unsavory regimes, which despite being criticized by McCain and the Republicans, promised a clear break with the past and could be perceived as cogent and sensible by the average voter.

Now a couple of botched remarks by Obama could be interpreted as a confirmation of McCain's claim of inexperience on the part the presumed Democratic candidate. First, Obama misspoke about his uncle's role in World War II. The Illinois Senator said in a Memorial Day speech that his uncle had participated in the liberation of Auschwitz. After a quick intervention by the Republican Party, the Obama campaign corrected the statement by saying that he had meant Buchenwald and not Auschwitz. While it probably was merely a mix-up, it is problematic for Obama. Since he has no military background, he was trying to become part of a one by familial extension. It backfired. Instead of his family's service in the war, his verbal blunder made the news.

Even more dangerous for Obama and his goal to be viable against John McCain was his remark about negotiating with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. So far, Obama's position was that he was willing to meet with Ahmadinejad. That changed yesterday: "There's no reason why we would necessarily meet with Ahmadinejad before we know that he was actually in power. He's not the most powerful person in Iran", Obama said. Haaretz' Shmuel Rosner calls this a 180 degree change and offers an excellent exploration of the issue. However, I don't share Rosner's final analysis that this episode is merely a case of lesson learned for Obama and the voters.

In my opinion, that would be underestimating the potential Obama's reversal presents for Republicans on an important election topic. Already Senator John Ensign of Nevada accused Barack Obama of a "John Kerry-type" of flip-flop. Republicans will monitor closely media reactions to Obama's changed stance and be on look out for further opportunities to stick the flip-flop label on Obama.
Michael Knigge 28.05.2008, 21:22 # 3 Comments
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McCain And Nukes: Three Key Points
  Everyone has had a different take on the big foreign policy speech by John McCain Tuesday, which was about how he would pursue nuclear non-proliferation as president. With all that the Republican presidential candidate said about nukes today -- and, more discretely, a couple days ago -- it's worthwhile to boil down the most meaningful policy and political ramifications of it all into three key areas:

1. McCain did indeed take a more moderate tack than President Bush has in several areas, although not in any dramatic way. The Los Angeles Times' take on this is particularly sharp. For instance, while Bush has supported the development of "bunker buster" bombs, McCain said he would not do the same. But because Congress has not provided funding for bunker busters, Bush has largely backed away from making a push for them. As with several aspects of McCain's speech, there is a substantial difference in the positions between McCain and Bush on non-proliferation, but the actual, practical difference is tiny to non-existent.

2. However, while Bush has moved toward the middle on North Korea, McCain has veered back toward the more hard line, neoconservative point of view. That's what the Washington Post took out of an op-ed Monday in the Asian Wall Street Journal. The Post's take is correct, which is assuredly why the McCain campaign sought to avoid answering how it feels about the current status of the Bush administration's negotiations with North Korea. McCain wanted to play up his differences with Bush because Bush is unpopular, but in an area where McCain is to the right of Bush, that appeals only to a narrower slice of the electorate.

3. One particularly crucial aspect of McCain's plan -- seeking greater coordination with Russia -- has got to be sending mixed messages to the United States' old Cold War rival. McCain notably said last year that when he looked in Vladimir Putin's eyes, "I saw three letters: K.G.B." McCain has said he would seek to kick Russia out of the G-8. These are both confrontational postures. But Tuesday, McCain toned down his rhetoric about Russia. Per the LA Times: "On Tuesday, McCain argued that the U.S. and Russia still had 'serious differences' but said they were 'no longer mortal enemies' in the post-Cold War era." That said, Democrats are correct to point out that McCain's call to eject Russia from the G-8 is hard to square with his call for greater cooperation with Russia on other matters.
Tim Starks 28.05.2008, 05:20 # 0 Comments
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Risky Business: McCain Separates Himself From Obama And Bush On Iraq
  It looks like John McCain has chosen to pursue an interesting Iraq strategy in his campaign. He is not only distancing himself from President George W. Bush and his presumed Democratic opponent Barack Obama at the same time. McCain also believes that with his foreign policy credentials, he can actually score points on the Iraq issue against Obama.

Clearly separating himself from President Bush, McCain said yesterday in a speech to veterans marking Memorial day, "I, too, have been made sick at heart by the many mistakes made by civilian and military commanders and the terrible price we have paid for them." He added that "we all know, the American people have grown sick and tired of the war in Iraq." (Dispite McCain's statement President Bush will appear at fundraiser with him today.)

On the same day, McCain also took a hefty swipe at Obama: "He really has no experience or knowledge or judgment about the issue of Iraq and he has wanted to surrender for a long time," McCain told the AP. "If there was any other issue before the American people, and you hadn't had anything to do with it in a couple of years, I think the American people would judge that very harshly." McCain went on to attack Obama for not having visited Iraq enough. Asked whether he would take a trip to Iraq with his Democratic rival McCain said yes and offered to "to educate Senator Obama along the way."

McCain's Iraq strategy is bold - and risky. He is correct in his assessment that President Bush's handling of the war in Iraq is very unpopular. But to assume that it's primarily the bungled management of the war and not the war itself that irks people is dicey. Most recent polls indicate that a majority of those questioned think that it was wrong to start the war in the first place and are in favor of bringing it to an end as soon as possible.

Among Republicans however, McCain's assumption holds more water. Many criticize the handling but not the war itself and oppose a quick withdrawal. If McCain hopes to reach out to this voter group, his strategy might work.

But it comes at the risk of alienating independent voters which he also needs for a chance to win in the general election against Obama. And whether non-Republican voters appreciate McCain's paternalistic offer to "educate" Obama is also questionable.
Michael Knigge 27.05.2008, 19:40 # 6 Comments
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"It's No Longer Going To Be That We Are In The Lead And Everyone Follows Us"
  The news out of the U.K. this evening is rather fascinating. The Guardian reported that Barack Obama, in a telephone address to a group of American expatriates in London who were gathered at a fundraiser, called for a fairer relationship between the U.K. and U.S. But what was most compelling was what an unnamed foreign policy adviser to the campaign told the Guardian, a statement that would reflect a rather dramatic shift from the George Bush years.

"We have a chance to recalibrate the relationship and for the United Kingdom to work with America as a full partner," Obama reportedly said. Even more interesting, the Guardian reported that an Obama foreign policy adviser told the paper: "It's no longer going to be that we are in the lead and everyone follows us. Full partners not only listen to each other, they also occasionally follow each other."

On one level, Obama's position placates anxiety in Great Britain toward years of playing loyal second fiddle to the U.S. Tony Blair, regularly derided as "Bush's poodle," suffered politically for supporting the president on the Iraq War. Current prime minister Gordon Brown has indicated he will not be so unconditional in his support of the U.S.

But what of the unnamed Obama adviser? Obama has made plain that he would emphasize diplomacy in his foreign policy as president, so the remark could just be an extension of that. But it comes at a time when there is a discussion in foreign policy circles about whether the U.S. is about to enter into "The Post-American World," the title of a book by noted international affairs writer Fareed Zakaria; the case being that the U.S. will still be a world leader, but other states will rise in influence. Is the Obama adviser tilting in that direction?
Tim Starks 27.05.2008, 04:16 # 2 Comments
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Clinton, Obama And The Media Play The Blame Game
  This story isn't going away fast. On Friday Hillary Clinton - mentioning the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy - made a controversial argument why she believes a long Democratic campaign won't hurt party unity. Today, three days later, what Clinton said or meant, or could have said or meant, and whether her remark had anything to do with Barack Obama or not is still a dominant media topic. You can find my take on Clinton's comment here.

But now the American media as well as the Clinton and Obama campaigns have moved to the next stage of the news cycle. Having discussed the issue at length, it's time for the blame game. Who's fault is it that the story is still alive?

At this phase of the news cycle, the surrogates take over. (While Hillary Clinton in a piece in the New York Daily News tries to explain what she really meant, she doesn't point a finger.) That's Howard Wolfson's and Terry McAuliffe's job. Wolfson, Clinton's communications director, called the Obama camp's reaction to Clinton's statement an attack and inflammatory. McAuliffe, Clinton's campaign chairman, accused the Obama team of keeping the story going over the weekend.

McAuliffe was probably alluding to an e-mail sent out by the Obama campaign on Saturday highlighting Keith Olbermann's blistering comment about Clinton's remark. When asked about it, Obama senior strategist David Axelrod dogded the question.

So is the Obama campaign stoking the fire? Hardly. The campaign's rebuttal after Clinton's statement on Friday was in line and its wording didn't fan the flames. To send out the Olbermann transcript points more in that direction. But if one wanted to incite the issue, there sure are better ways than to send out the manuscript of Olbermann's televisual rage to reporters. Every journalist who has anything to do with campaign coverage has seen or read it before.

So what's next? Well, Obama, Clinton, their surrogates and the media have dissected the remark itself, its historical and current context. Now that we also had a go at the blame game, I would think enough is enough. But who am I to say?
Michael Knigge 26.05.2008, 21:46 # 10 Comments
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Congressional Elections And Their Influence On Foreign Affairs
  There are a handful of areas where Congress' influence on public policy is particularly weak, and foremost among them is foreign affairs. The upcoming congressional elections aren't likely to have much sway over the United States' international posture.

Congress has little authority to alter the day-to-day diplomatic efforts of the executive branch. Within the sphere of foreign relations, Congress' greatest power, as with most matters, is that it assigns funding. For example: Democrats have attempted to alter funding for the Iraq War in a way that would have the effect of ending the engagement in Iraq. In the House, where Democrats have a strong majority, they have routinely succeeded in adding such language to funding bills, since even unanimous Republican opposition cannot overcome Democrats when they are mostly unified. In the Senate, where Democrats hold a one-vote margin of control and procedural differences make it harder for one party to ram its agenda through, unified Republicans can be far more effective. Rather than vote against an unpopular war, they have stood with President Bush.

That dynamic could change somewhat with the next Congress, where Democrats are likely to widen their margin of control in both the House and Senate. Election forecasters believe they are unlikely to pick up enough seats in the Senate to be able to foil a Republican filibuster -- 60 are needed to avoid such a procedural blockade. Should Barack Obama take control of the White House, this point becomes largely moot. To return to the Iraq example, Obama has made clear his plan to withdraw troops. But if John McCain wins the White House, and several Republicans lose their reelection bids and it turns out that Iraq was one of the reasons, McCain will have a bigger problem on his hands than Bush did on the Iraq front. Say Democrats have 57 members in the Senate in 2009. Now only three votes are needed to overcome a Republican filibuster. Some Republicans may be more inclined to break their party unity after watching other Republican senators lose their job over their Iraq votes, and join the Democrats' anti-war efforts.

But because McCain would likely veto any bill that is geared toward ending the Iraq War, Democrats would need to win 70 votes to overturn that veto. There is little chance they would get that many unless Republicans suddenly make a sudden and dramatic shift in their voting patterns.

As American political scientist Larry Sabato told McClatchy: "If it's McCain, he would find his domestic policies dead on arrival. His only real influence with Congress would be in the foreign sphere." In other words, McCain likely wouldn't be able to convince a strong Democratic majority to adopt much of his domestic agenda. But he'd be able to defend his foreign agenda from attack by Democrats. To be accurate, McCain would be better defending against the Democratic agenda on both domestic and foreign policy. But because he has more leeway on foreign policy, he would be more free to do there as he pleased than he would on domestic issues.

Foreign policy issues, like the war in Iraq, may end up having some effect on congressional races. But the outcome of those congressional races are almost certain not to return the favor.
Tim Starks 26.05.2008, 04:44 # 1 Comment
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What Clinton Was Asked And Said And What Some Journalists Make Of It
  Wow. Just yesterday I lauded the U.S. media's coverage of McCain's health records. Today, in my estimation, many American outlets get the controversy over Hillary Clinton's remark about Robert F. Kennedy wrong.

This is what Clinton said in an interview with a South Dakota paper when asked about whether the long race could hurt the Democratic party: "My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. I don't understand it."

Sure, to bring up RFK's assassination at a time when the Kennedy family is dealing with a serious healh issue is insensitive and in bad taste. And true, any talk about assassination in conjunction with American presidential elections understandably is dangerous territory, especially when there have been concerns about the safety of her Democratic opponent, Barack Obama.

But that still doesn't justify what many outlets made of her remarks, which by the way she had stated before. Let's look at the facts: First, Clinton' s answer was in response to a question whether the drawn out campaign could damage party unity and not – as was widely reported – a reponse to a question why she was staying in the race. Second, she didn't mention Barack Obama by name at all in her answer. Third, the RFK remark made up only half of her argument why party unity was not hurt by a long campaign in the past. The other half consisted of a reference to her husband's campaign in 1992.

So in essence, Hillary Clinton said – in a stupid way - that Democratic primaries have gone into June before and it didn't damage the party. Of course everyone is free to interpret what Clinton really meant or insinuated like Bob Cesca of the Huffington Post or Keith Olbermann.

But if a one really believes or fears that Hillary Clinton is somehow hoping for a climactic event - such as an assassination - that could win her the nomination after all, one should get her to say exactly that in an interview. And if one really considers her remark as part of a pernicious plan to steal the nomination and invoke fears about Obama's safety, there is an easy way to spoil those efforts: Don't write about it.
Michael Knigge 25.05.2008, 13:30 # 14 Comments
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McCain's Health: Of Bladder Stones, Basal Cells And Prostate Tissue
  -Cholesterol Level: 192
-Resting Pulse Rate: 88 per minute
-Weight: 163 pounds (6 pounds less than last year)
-Blood Pressure: 122/78
-Four malignant melanomas removed since 1993
-Some basal cell and squamous cell cancers removed
-Small kidney stones and benign cysts in both kidneys
-Four bladder stones removed by laser in 2001
-Benign enlarged prostate tissue removed in 2001

This, of course, is John McCain's health status in a nutshell. To get more, a lot more, click here or here. There has been much media focus on the timing of the health facts release and of the limitations set by the campaign.

But what strikes me the most is the sheer depth and detail of the candidates personal health that are made public. Probably most Americans now know a lot more about John McCain's medical status than about their own or their spouses.

I know that health issues have always been an important aspect in American presidential races. And yet, as a German, I still find it fascinating how the release of very personal details of a candidate is simply part of what is required if one wants to get in the White House. What is also astonishing to me – in a positive way – is how the majority of media outlets deal with the issue. Most of the coverage is analytical, serious and fair.

In Germany, this whole process is inconceivable. First, the right to privacy - even for top politicans - trumps the public's right to know. Second, an important part of the media, the tabloids, would sensationalize the issue and dig merely for juicy details.

My guess is that this is true for most other countries as well. If you know of countries that are closer to the U.S. model, I'd be interested to find out about it.

So which model is better? Hard to say. Probably most people wouldn't want the world to know their entire medical history. And is it really necessary and helpful to publicize how many bladder stones were removed at what time and by which method?

On the other hand, most people also don't run for the highest office in the country. If you want the responsibilty to be president, chancellor or prime minister, I think it is fair that the people you want to govern know in advance whether you're fit for the office. If that requires listing every single bladder stone is another issue.
Michael Knigge 24.05.2008, 12:53 # 0 Comments
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McCain's Double Pastor Problem
  Let's hope that Barack Obama and John McCain have a better sense for selecting running mates and cabinet positions than for picking pastors they associate themselves with. Usually what one hopes to gain from religious leaders is spiritual or moral support and guidance on how to deal with life's difficult issues. For some reason, this doesn't seem to work out with Obama's and McCain's pastoral affiliations. Instead of providing support and guidance, they mainly cause trouble for their prominent followers.

While Obama had one problem pastor, McCain bests him with two. One of them, John Hagee, has stated that God sent Adolph Hitler to help the Jews reach the promised land. He also characterized the Catholic Church as a "great whore," a remark for which he apologized later. The other pastor, Rod Parsley, according to ABC News, has called Islam "the mouthpiece of a conspiracy of spiritual evil," and an "anti-Christ religion that intends through violence to conquer the world." After the remarks received a lot of media attention, McCain distanced himself from Parsley and rejected Hagee's endorsement.

To be sure, as McCain was quick to point out, Hagee and Parsley were not his pastors and he didn't belong to their churches. But McCain accepted Hagee's endorsement in February at a time when the teleevangelist's statements about Catholicism were already causing ripples. As for Parsley, McCain didn't seek his endorsement. But, as Tim pointed out earlier, applying McCain's own flawed logic of association ties him to Parsley even though he never officially supported his positions.

It is understandable that McCain who has had difficulties with Christian Conservatives wants to bolster his credentials with this important voting block through the support of prominent preachers who represent that group. It was also understandable that Obama didn't want to cut his ties with a prominent preacher in the African-American community.

However, this attitude is very shortsighted. Over the duration of a long campaign, every potentially controversial statement or affiliation will be vetted either by the opposite side or by the media. Obama and McCain would be prudent to do some serious vetting themselves. Better to fess up about a problem early on and steer the process than do damage control later.
Michael Knigge 23.05.2008, 19:27 # 1 Comment
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A Little-Noticed Item On Each Campaign's Views On Israel-Syria Peace Talks
  The Jerusalem Post managed to get the U.S. presidential campaigns to weigh in on the Israel-Syria peace talks. The results mirror the divide between the candidates themselves on a central foreign policy argument they've been having over the value of diplomacy and what form it should take.

Barack Obama: "'I am encouraged that Israel and Syria have renewed peace talks and fully support Israel's efforts to advance peace with all its neighbors,' he said in statement e-mailed to the Post. 'I have consistently said that the United States must stand ready to help Israel achieve peace with its neighbors and should not block Israel from the negotiating table, nor force it to negotiate.'"

John McCain: "'Senator McCain's view is that the sovereign government of Israel should be free to make its own decisions on how best to defend Israel and whether to engage in negotiations,' said Randy Scheunemann, the campaign's director of foreign policy and national security, who wouldn't comment on the potential for an American role in the talks."

But in some ways what their anonymous surrogates said in the story was more interesting.

The announcement of the Israel-Syria talks came after President Bush made a remark in Israel that implied meeting with controversial leaders like those in Iran constituted "appeasement." The Post writes: "Some political analysts have viewed Israel's announcement of indirect talks with Syria just days after the political controversy of Bush's Knesset remarks as a vindication for Obama's position. 'He has said many times that he thinks diplomacy is a very useful tool for achieving our national interests and goals. It's a tool that has been underutilized by this administration,' said an Obama campaign adviser. 'But he's not citing these developments to prove a point.'"

McCain's team, which backed up Bush's "appeasement" remark, dismissed the usefulness of talks with Syria. Per the Post: "The McCain camp pointed out that talks can be more than difficult - they can be pointless. 'It's clear that it takes more than just talking and meeting up with countries like Syria to achieve a resolution of differences,' someone close to the campaign told the Post, saying that former US secretary of state Warren Christopher 'practically had a second home in Damascus' but came up empty-handed."
Tim Starks 23.05.2008, 03:07 # 0 Comments
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Slow Campaign Money Flow From Foreign Companies
  It was that time again: The presidential candidates filed their monthly fundraising statements with the Federal Election Commission. And again, no surprise. In April, Barack Obama easily beat his two competitors in the money race raking in $31 million.

So let's look at a more interesting aspect of that race. Foreigners are by law barred from donating money to federal, local, and state elections in the U.S. It is, however, possible for foreign companies to contribute to political causes through Political Action Committees (PAC) set up by their American subsidiaries.

And some international corporations are doing just that. According to Opensecrets.org, one of the best political money tracking sites, foreign-connected PACs in the current election cycle so far have contributed roughly $7.3 million to Democrats and Republicans, with both parties basically splitting the money.

With almost $6.7 million, the overwhelming majority of donations stem from companies headquartered in Europe. Of those, most are based in Britain ($2.4 million) and Germany ($871,000). Among those listed are well known firms such as Deutsche Bank, SAP, GlaxoSmithKline and Rolls-Royce, but also lesser known companies such as Lehigh Cement or Kennecott Holdings. According to Opensecrets.org, the largest contribution from a German headquartered corporation came from T-Mobile USA with $220,000, the largest contribution from a British headquartered company came from GlaxoSmithKline with $478,000.

By the way, most of the money doesn't go towards presidential but to state and congressional candidates. What do foreign-connected PACs hope to gain from their donations? The same as domestic PACs: access and influence to candidates. So the big question is: Why aren't more foreign companies with business interests in the U.S. pouring money into the campaigns?
Michael Knigge 22.05.2008, 10:39 # 1 Comment
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Cool Tool III: Fact-Checking Foreign Policy Claims
  I'll do my best in this space to point out factual inaccuracies and false claims by candidates and their surrogates on foreign policy. But there are a variety of organizations that regularly fact-check the candidates on a variety of issues, including foreign policy, that I can recommend.

For starters, my own non-DW World employer, CQ, has a relatively new fact-checking wing: Politifact. (Recent fact check on: John McCain saying "Senator Obama has declared, and repeatedly reaffirmed his intention to meet the president of Iran without any preconditions.")

The most established of the fact-checking operations is the Annenberg Public Policy Center's FactCheck.org. (Recent fact check on: "Two Democratic Party TV ads hit McCain on Iraq and the economy. We supply context and corrections.")

And The Washington Post has their own fact-checkers monitoring the campaign. (Recent fact check on: "McCain, Obama and kissing dictators.")
Tim Starks 22.05.2008, 02:44 # 0 Comments
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Cuba: Isolate Or Negotiate
  It looks like the question whether the U.S. should engage or isolate hostile states is here to stay. First it was Iran, now it's Cuba. John McCain attacked Barack Obama for stating that he would negotiate with the Cuban government if necessary. McCain vowed to keep the American trade embargo in place, if elected. Obama fired back that McCain was merely continuing President George W. Bush's failed policy.

Who's right? Probably both candidates would say that their goal is to topple the Castro-led regime and to establish a democratic Cuba with free and fair elections. The U.S. trade embargo has been in effect now for almost 50 years. During that time no negotiations between a U.S. president and Fidel, or now Raul, Castro took place. In essence, John McCain's current stance toward Cuba has been carried out for almost five decades. The result? The Castro clan still rules the island, democracy is still absent, as are freedom of the press and other basic human rights.

So Barack Obama is correct that the policy of economic embargo and political isolation has failed to achieve its intended goal. What he conveniently left out is that it's not all George W. Bush's fault, but that this stance has been a pillar of American foreign policy for close to 50 years regardless whether a Democrat or Republican was in the White House.

What's more, if Obama believes that this policy has failed, one would think he would reverse the course. But all that he has said on the issue until now is that he would allow Cuban-Americans to send money and visit relatives, and that he would be willing to meet with Cuba's leaders. Letting people wire money and visit Cuba is a far cry from lifting the economic embargo. Today, President Bush announced that he would allow Cuban-Americans to mail cell phones to relatives. It seems like Obama – despite his rhetoric – may be continuing Bush's Cuba policy after all.
Michael Knigge 21.05.2008, 21:04 # 3 Comments
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McCain Wants To Imitate U.K., India; More On Obama And Islam
  --John McCain just made a great number of fans out of the kind of nerds who watch C-SPAN at odd hours. C-SPAN broadcasts the floor action of the U.S. House and Senate, but has, on occasion, broadcast the British tradition alternately called "Question Time," "Prime Minister's Questions" or something else, where the prime minister engages in a rapid fire exchange with the legislative body. The tradition is also found in India, Israel and a number of other countries, and has a cult following here in the States. McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, said last week he would like to subject himself to the same treatment, which is often marked by hollering and quick-witted insults.

Because the proposal was buried in a more far-ranging policy speech, it only recently started getting any attention of note. An unscientific sampling of responses suggests it could help McCain win over some of his skeptics. When I mentioned it to one friend, he replied, half-joking: "I almost want to vote for him for that alone." Christopher Hitchens, a British-American writer who sometimes defends the Iraq War but whose politics have moved to the left, wrote some gushing praise of McCain's idea. CQ, linked above, found a mixed reaction from members of Congress themselves.

--A follow-up on yesterday's post about Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and whether he would be shunned in the Muslim world:

The Council on American-Islamic Relations has weighed in on this as of today. Where the group has received criticism, it has been from groups or individuals who argue CAIR has promoted extremist views. So that would seem to lend added weight to its interpretation, since the most extreme strain of Islam would seem to be the one most likely to consider Obama an apostate.

CAIR concludes that the New York Times op-ed is inaccurate. The group's own op-ed states: "Obama is neither a convert nor an apostate for the simple fact that he never declared himself a Muslim to begin with. The fact that his father and grandfather were Muslims does not itself determine his own faith status."

Reasonable people differ on this. But much of the evidence seems to favor the view that, at least for the majority of the Muslim world, including some extreme elements, Obama would not be considered an apostate.
Tim Starks 21.05.2008, 01:38 # 3 Comments
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Contradictory Claims On Obama And Islam
  I'd seen this article not long ago, alleging that Barack Obama would be unpopular in the Muslim world because of his background, and thought it was interesting, especially since it was in The New York Times. But something about it wasn't quite right.

First, its author, Edward Luttwak, is not some detached observer. He is widely referred to as a neoconservative. Second, I am no expert in Islamic law. So I wasn't sure whether it was accurate, and since it was an op-ed instead of a news article, there was no counter point of view. I certainly had to wonder: If the leader of Hamas said Obama was his preferred candidate, surely Obama's conversion to Christianity wasn't that big a deal, right?

As it happens, there is a great deal wrong with the op-ed. This author -- writing for the liberal Huffington Post, so take that into account -- makes a persuasive case nonetheless that the op-ed is factually incorrect.

So, just to summarize, here are all the things that are wrong with Obama on this front according to his opponents, accurate or no:
1. He is secretly a Muslim.
2. He is affiliated with his crazy Christian ex-minister.
3. Even though he was born a Muslim, that won't make him popular with Muslims because his conversion to Christianity will make him a heretic to them, undermining one of his foreign policy claims.
4. He is the favorite candidate of Hamas, an organization rooted in Islam.

It can't be all of them, right? It all adds up, as this writer states, to "dangerous nonsense."
Tim Starks 20.05.2008, 01:12 # 3 Comments
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Chavez And Ahmadinejad Mum On Preferred Presidential Candidate
  What a shame: Venezulean President Hugo Chavez - always good for outrageous oratory - chose the high road in an interview with a group of American journalists by declining to take a position on the U.S. presidential election. He ventured only so far as to say that he has a preference. That leaves the world guessing. Does Chavez favor Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton or John McCain?

But would that be Chavez-style? My hunch is that Hugo Chavez (click here for a collection of the best Chavez quotes) is a secret admirer of Ron Paul, who despite John McCain's insurmountable lead still hasn't officially ended his campaign. Paul's strict anti-interventionist/isolationist foreign policy agenda, his opposition to NAFTA as well as his tendency towards rhetorical outbursts could have won over Chavez' heart.

Another outspoken orator of our time also hasn't publicly endorsed a candidate, at least not to my knowledge. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is keeping his cards close to his chest. He probably wants to make his preference known when it will have the biggest impact, which is close to the election. Or maybe he is just too busy. He hasn't gotten around to posting any new entries in his blog since December 2007.
Michael Knigge 19.05.2008, 19:44 # 1 Comment
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Democrats Growing Confident On National Security
  Earlier this year, I wrote part of a cover story for CQ Weekly about Democrats challenging President Bush on national security. In particular, what struck me was how Democrats who had just months earlier gave Bush every bit of warrantless wiretapping authority he wanted suddenly turned around when it was time to make that authority permanent and said, "No more."

What, I wondered, had gotten into them? What I found was this: Democrats looked at the polls and found that they were closer than they had been in a long time to Republicans on national security, who have a historical advantage with voters on that topic. Democrats also found that by offering a compelling defense of themselves instead of just trying to change the topic to the economy or some other area where they had an advantage, they were able to, in this case, have some success winning the argument with the public.

It is now exceedingly clear that the model Democrats used there will be their formula in the presidential campaign, too. The dispute over Barack Obama's willingness to meet with controversial foreign leaders shows it. Democrats quickly jumped to Obama's defense and stood firm. On Sunday, they also tried to win the argument. In a televised interview, Democratic Sen. Joe Biden explained how Republicans have done the very same thing Obama would do: "Let’s talk about talking. President Bush, the White House, called me, several years ago, told me Air Force Two was waiting for me at Andrews Air Force Base; would I get on the plane and go meet with (Libyan President Muammar al-) Gadhafi, a real known terrorist, personally, a terrorist — personally responsible for killing kids at the school I went to, Syracuse University, blowing up that Pan Am flight,” Sen. Joe Biden said on ABC’s “This Week." “The president of the United States asked me to go. He cut a deal with Gadhafi, directly. It was a smart thing to do. He gave up his nuclear weapons, Gadhafi.”

There's something strange about Democrats simultaneously saying that 1. the Bush and John McCain attacks on Obama for meeting with controversial foreign leaders shows the need for change, since Bush's approach hasn't worked; and 2. Republicans do meet with controversial foreign leaders, too. There are other counter-arguments as well. And maybe it all plays into Republicans' hands in the end, since the amount of time spent on national security arguments could favor them by keeping the focus where they want it. What's interesting is that Democrats are even making the argument at all.
Tim Starks 18.05.2008, 21:41 # 0 Comments
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How They'd Meet With Controversial Foreign Leaders: Trivial No More
  Not long ago, I wrote about how the manner in which the two Democratic presidential candidates would meet with controversial foreign leaders had become a major campaign issue. It had become a major campaign issue despite the fact that Barack Obama and his team had fuzzed up their position (would meet with controversial leaders "without preconditions," but with "preparation") to the point that it was hard to distinguish from Hillary Clinton's (would only meet with controversial leaders with preconditions). Many had originally dismissed the divide as trivial.

After President Bush's veiled attack on Obama, comparing his position without mentioning his name to the appeasement of Hitler -- an attack Republican John McCain seconded -- it's now the story that's dominating the campaign headlines in the U.S.

CNN has it right: This is a preview of the general election campaign. McCain thinks the issue plays to his image as strong and firm on national security. Obama thinks it will help him link McCain to Bush's foreign policy.
Tim Starks 18.05.2008, 02:44 # 3 Comments
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Barack for Bavaria
  Barack Obama is an inspiration – to the Bavarian Social Democratic Party (SPD). The Social Democrats want to apply Obama's successful method of online fundraising to the state election in Bavaria this fall, German news agency ddp reported. According to ddp, Parlamentarian Thomas Beyer said during a party delegation visit to Washington the SPD hopes to raise a large number of small donations through an internet campaign like Obama did in the primary campaign. The Alpine states' Social Democrats also hope to increase the identification of donors with the party.

The Bavarian SPD needs all the help it can get. In all state elections since the founding of Bavaria as a German state in 1945, the SPD was the strongest party only once – in 1950. The last time an SPD governor (Ministerpräsident) ruled Bavaria was in 1957. In the last election in 2003, the Social Democrats received 20 percent of the vote, the Christian Social Party (CSU), which has been ruling non-stop since 1957, scored 61 percent of the vote.

So there is room for improvement and copying Obama's internet fundraising success may just be applicable to Bavaria's SPD. However, looking at the Social Democrats dismal election record in this state, it seems to me the Bavarian Social Democrats may have missed the more important lesson from Obama's success: You need an inspiring candidate to have a chance of winning.
Michael Knigge 16.05.2008, 20:27 # 1 Comment
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Bush's Failed Nazi Comparison
  Should the U.S. negotiate with unsavory regimes, terrorist organizations or autocratic rulers? President George W. Bush used his visit to Jerusalem to mark Israel's 60th anniversary to talk about this politically charged topic. "Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along," he said. "We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: ""Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided."" We have an obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history." Bush's remark was generally interpreted as a slap in the face for Democratic candidate Barack Obama who had stated that he would negotiate with Iran.

As a German, I am sensitive to Nazi comparisons. Actually, I generally think that Nazi analogies are made far too often and far to easily which tends to minimize the holocaust. What's more, most comparisons between Hitler and other political figures are ahistorical and don't work. That goes for Bush's remark as well. It is so unspecific and vague that it defeats the intended purpose of warning the public about the perceived or real dangers of appeasement.

What does President Bush mean when he warns of negotiating with terrorists and radicals? In the 1980's and 1990's, most people would have classified the PLO and Sinn Fein as radical organizations to say the least. That didn't prevent the U.S. from negotiating with them. Most people would have considered the Communist Party in the Soviet Union a radical entity. That didn't prevent the U.S. from negotiating with its leaders. Most people today would consider North Korea's dictatorial dynasty a radical regime. That doesn't prevent the U.S. from negotiating with it.

If President Bush wanted to say that Obama's approach to directly negotiate with the Iranian regime is wrong and dangerous because of repeated statements by its president to wipe Israel off the map, he should do just that. To merely lump the words radicals, terrorists, Nazis, Poland, Hitler and appeasement together undermines a serious discussion of the issue.
Michael Knigge 15.05.2008, 20:48 # 4 Comments
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Obama As Foreign Policy Revolutionary
  Quite by accident, I find myself following closely on the point of my colleague Michael's latest post.

John McCain has drawn plenty of attention in the 2008 presidential campaign as the candidate bucking traditional foreign policy wisdom in key areas... some of it positive, as Michael finds, although certainly not all of it. But is it the Republican's expected Democratic rival, Barack Obama, the real foreign policy revolutionary?

That's the view of liberal writer Matthew Yglesias, who argues the lengthy primary battle against Hillary Clinton has sharpened Obama's foreign policy views. I quote Yglesias extensively: "As the campaign stretched on and Clinton sharpened her attacks on Obama’s commander-in-chief credentials, he began to counter by questioning her whole approach to foreign policy—the establishment approach. Today, Obama calls not only for direct negotiations with leaders of rogue states, but also for an American commitment to eventual global nuclear disarmament (in part to reinvigorate nonproliferation efforts); a substantial rebalancing of American military priorities toward Afghanistan (and away from Iraq); a softening of the embargo on Cuba; and a widening of the current, single-minded focus on democracy promotion to include other development goals that might more effectively prevent terrorist recruitment. Many think that there’s little difference between the Democrats on policy grounds. That may once have been true, but over time—and largely in response to Clinton’s barbs—Obama’s foreign-policy approach has evolved into something substantially different from either Clinton’s or McCain’s."

The Guardian's Jonathan Steele is less hopeful. He sees potential in some of Obama's unconventional views listed above, and his approach toward viewing the United States as the rest of the world does. But he finds retreat in Obama's positions on Iran and Israel of late: "So the big questions remain: does Obama really want to change US foreign policy and can he, if he does? Having a black person in the Oval Office, and especially one with an understanding of US imperialism, would have a colossal international impact in itself. But would this merely result in even greater disappointment once the months go by and US policy stays the same? In my kishkas I feel Obama is our best hope. In my mind I prepare for business as usual."
Tim Starks 14.05.2008, 22:48 # 0 Comments
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Europeans Would Be Crazy To Wish For A President Obama Writes German Editorialist
  In an interesting editorial for the German business daily Financial Times Deutschland, Wolfgang Münchau argues that Europeans would fare better with Republican John McCain as President than with his Democratic rivals. Headlined "McCain for President", Münchau writes that, as usual with U.S. presidential elections, Germans and other Europeans are hoping for a Democratic victory. "We dream of a Kennedy and are disappointed when we end up with a Nixon, Reagan, or Bush…And we celebrate every time when the Americans elect a Clinton, Gore, or Obama because their politics most closely reflect our nebulous European sentiments."

Münchau astutely points out that Germans and Europeans on a whole often underestimated the larger trends in American politics, such as the conservative revolution. And he says they are doing it again by underestimating the current trend of American protectionism. (which for an export-driven Germany spells bad news.)

Of all the candidates, no one symbolizes the trend toward protectionsim more than Barack Obama, writes Münchau with reference to Obama's "Invest in America" policy. According to Münchau, the presumptive Democratic candidate's "Fair Trade" policy will lead to restrictions on global trade, but it will be cloaked under the banner social justice for his clientele.

Adding to his list why Obama is bad for Europe, Münchau says that Obama is a mostly reactive politician and not a policy wonk.

For those reasons, Münchau thinks Europeans would be crazy if they wished for a President Obama. He points out that - contrary to Obama - until now McCain has clearly supported free trade, even though he is generally not very interested in economic issues. For Münchau, Hillary Clinton is also preferable to Obama since her economic policies probably would be pretty much in line with her husband's, which he calls a big exception among Democrats.

Is Münchau right? Should Europeans be afraid of a protectionist America under an Obama administration and thus wish for a President McCain?

While it is true that both Obama and Clinton have struck a protectionist tone in their campaigns while McCain has not, we all know that campaign rhetoric doesn't always translate into political action. Secondly, can a single country - even a superpower such as the U.S. - in a globalized economy pull up the drawbridge on world trade without negative consequences for its own people? Not really. And thirdly, Münchau doesn't really sound all that convinced about McCain himself. In Münchau's entire editorial, McCain is mentioned but four times. Let's hope that there are more reasons to support a candidate than because he is the least worst alternative.
Michael Knigge 14.05.2008, 19:27 # 1 Comment
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Obama's Israel Views -- Better With The Left, Bad With The Right
  Barack Obama's tour to win the hearts of Jewish voters has had the intended effect with some -- approval. It has had the opposite effect with people he never had a chance of winning over -- condemnation. The rest? That may yet take time to sort out.

Obama won over the editor of The New Republic, a hawkish but predominantly moderate Democratic publication. That editor, Marty Peretz, is among the "more vocal U.S. backers of Israel" I talked about yesterday. He won over Jeffrey Goldberg, the interviewer.

Those on the right? They pounced on what they could, which many dubbed dishonest. At the very minimum, conservatives didn't give Obama the benefit of the doubt. In one sense, what those on the right say about Obama and Israel doesn't matter much, because they aren't the people he hoped to convince. But if their interpretation makes it into the broader debate, it might be able to poison the well for the larger audience Obama does want to reach.

It is those voters we haven't heard from much -- most of the response thus far has been from opinion-makers on one side or the other. Again, Obama's potential problems with Jews may be overstated and based more, as I said yesterday, on the fact that the Democratic race remains unsettled. One key Jewish supporter of Obama told the New York Times that his poll numbers, already climbing with Jews, would assuredly continue to inch up after Obama's nomination is locked up.
Tim Starks 13.05.2008, 23:02 # 2 Comments
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McCain To World: Global Warming Is A Problem
  In a move that will be welcomed by Europeans and especially by environmentally conscious Germans, John McCain vowed to take action against global warming and distanced himself from President George Bush. In a speech at the Oregon plant of Danish wind turbine producer Vestas, he pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 60 percent by 2050 and to make the U.S. the leader in the fight against global warming.

In a jab at the current administration's reluctance to take climate change serious and agree to the Kyoto protocol McCain said: "I will not shirk the mantle of leadership that the United States bears. I will not permit eight long years to pass without serious action on serious challenges. I will not accept the same dead-end of failed diplomacy that claimed Kyoto."

He also vowed to push China and India to agree to international solutions to curb greenhouse gases. But he stressed - again distancing himself form President Bush -that the United States has an obligation to act even if efforts to include China and India in an international settlement fail.

Reactions to his proposal from experts were mixed at best. Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly lauds McCain for facing the issue, but calls his cap-and-trade-solution "pretty weak tea." Bradford Plummer of the New Republic writes that Obama's stance on the issue is a lot stronger. The environmental organization Sierra Club went even further and in a press release called McCain's proposal bound to fail.

Never mind the actual merits of his plan, which are hard for non-experts to analyse. On a psychological level, McCain's speech will have an impact. To Europeans, his proposal signals that the presumed Republican candidate is part of the political mainstream on this important global issue. Bush's long resistance to even acknowledge that there might be a problem convinced many European that his administration was on the fringe bordering on kooky where environmental issues are concerned.

For the conservative wing of the Republican party, it will reinforce the conviction that McCain is too moderate. Larry Kudlow in the National Review probably speaks for many conservatives by calling the plan a "huge government command-and-control operation that taxes, spends, and regulates on a grand scale."

So the key question is: Will McCain's environmental position win him enough independent and moderate votes to offset losses from conservative Republicans?
Michael Knigge 13.05.2008, 19:54 # 0 Comments
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Obama, Israel
  Barack Obama has been having a devil of a time with some of the United States' more vocal backers of Israel, who have been critical of him for, among other things, his willingness to have talks with the president of Iran, who has been very threatening toward the Jewish state. "Some of the United States' more vocal backers of Israel" is not necessarily the same as "Jewish voters," as this writer points out. But there's sufficient overlap to make one wonder about this poll, which shows that Jews back Obama over Republican John McCain but not as overwhelmingly as they did the 2004 Democratic candidate, John Kerry. Whether that is because of the problem Obama is having with his Israel position or something else -- like the still-unsettled Democratic primary, where voters are divided between Obama and Hillary Clinton -- is unclear.

Still, Obama tried to spotlight his commitment to Israel and affinity with Jews in this interview with The Atlantic. (The interviewer wrote a very interesting piece, which he linked to in the interview with Obama, about the "existential dread" in Israel these days.) Obama's general commitment is fairly standard for American politicians. To put it another way, as this writer did, being "pro-Israel" is not much different than being "pro-food" among U.S. pols. If his goal was to put questions about his views to rest, the interview probably didn't do the trick by itself; this writer, admittedly not Obama's target audience because he writes for a conservative publication, still has plenty. But Politico's Ben Smith, who writes for a non-partisan publication, also noticed Obama was trying to walk a bit of a tightrope. It's difficult political terrain Obama is traversing here.
Tim Starks 12.05.2008, 22:58 # 1 Comment
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Lesson Learned: McCain's Convention Manager Steps Down
  Whoever said that politicians never learn their lessons? After Barack Obama's enduring trials and tribulations due to his reluctance to cut himself loose from pastor Jeremiah Wright, all candidates are now trying to sever ties swiftly with controversial aides and staff. As we wrote earlier, an Obama advsior who had met with Hamas has resigned.

Now it was John McCain's turn. After Newsweek revealed that Doug Goodyear, the organizer of the Republican convention and a fellow Arizonan, had lobbied for Burma's military junta through his company, DCI, the McCain campaign wasted no time. Goodyear resigned shortly after the story broke. In a mail to Politico, Goodyear said it was his decision and the right thing to do. He is definitely correct on the latter point. His representation of the military regime not only clashed with McCain's stark rhetoric against Burma's authoritarian ruler General Than Shwe. The horrible failure and negligence of the junta to help its people would have ensured continuous negative media coverage of McCain's choice for convention manager.

Whether the first point – Goodyear's statement that it was his decision to step down – is entirely true, or whether there was a hint from the McCain team, is water under the bridge. More important is the fact that there is a learning curve in the presidential campaign 2008.
Michael Knigge 12.05.2008, 20:04 # 1 Comment
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No Matter Who Wins: No More Guantanamo Bay
  The Boston Globe penned this thoughtful piece about each of the remaining candidates' stance on Guantanamo Bay. All three have said they want to close it.

There are subtle differences between all three candidates on the issue, and Republican John McCain has left the door open to some Guantanamo Bay-like replacement. But his position is at odds with President Bush -- even though administration officials have talked of closing the facility eventually -- something that could help McCain make the case that his administration will not "a third term for Bush," as Democrats have been trying to convince voters.
Tim Starks 12.05.2008, 05:45 # 0 Comments
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Cool Tool II: Political Trends
  Earlier I wrote about the US Election 2008 Web Monitor, a project that tracks the international coverage that presidential candidates receive. Another great tool for reviewing the trends of the current campaign is PoliticalTrends.info.

It tracks political blogs according to various topics and candidates. Want to know the dominant foreign policy topic of the last two weeks? If you read this blog regularly, you probably already know what it is. If not, click here and find out.
Michael Knigge 11.05.2008, 20:44 # 0 Comments
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A Costly Mistake On Hamas
  Pretend that you're an adviser to the Barack Obama campaign. A Hamas leader speaks complimentary words about your candidate. The Republican candidate, John McCain, however faulty the logic, makes a point of associating your candidate with Hamas because of the leader's remarks. Other Republicans, meanwhile, try to tie Obama to former president Jimmy Carter's meetings with Hamas. Obama's position has always been that those meetings were a bad idea. Do you, as an adviser to the Obama campaign, then proceed to meet with Hamas yourself?

One such adviser, Robert Malley, did. He either left or was fired from the campaign because of it. Now, it may be that he is but one of "hundreds" of informal advisers, as the Obama campaign stated. It may be, in the end, a tempest in a teapot. But this has been a sensitive issue in the campaign, and every little bit of tempest adds ammo to the attack.

Malley said the Obama camp knew generally about his meetings with "all kinds of people" in his job at a conflict-resolution think tank, but may not have known about the meetings with Hamas specifically. But shouldn't Malley have mentioned it to them? Or, is the fault of Obama's "inexperience," as a McCain spokesperson said?
Tim Starks 10.05.2008, 18:19 # 0 Comments
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Web Tip For Election Afficionados: Real Clear Politics
  If you are someone who just can't get enough news and information about the campaign, there is one site you shouldn't go without: Real Clear Politics is probably the best one-stop-shop for all the latest news about the presidential election.

Whether it's polls, commentary, videos or analysis, if it's worth while, you probably find it at this great aggregator portal. And if you're looking for some distraction, hey they even have a Fantasy 08 Game available.
Michael Knigge 10.05.2008, 08:35 # 0 Comments
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An International Affairs VP?
  Mining a theme from a previous post, we're starting to get in the ballpark in this presidential race where talk turns to who will serve in the next administration. Noteworthy in this talk? The question of whether the Democratic nominee will pick someone as his or her running mate who has a foreign policy or national security background.

Speculation is speculation, of course, and McClatchy clearly subscribes to "truth in labeling" with the headline on this story, about who Barack Obama might choose as his vice president. But it's informed speculation -- it quotes both party officials and outside experts. Four of the eight people on McClatchy's have resumes that feature national security or foreign policy experience. They are Senator Joe Biden, the Foreign Relations Committee chairman (whose potential I already discussed here); retired Army General and former NATO commander Wesley Clark; former Governor Bill Richardson; and Senator Jim Webb, a former Navy secretary. Each have pluses and minuses separate from their international or security credentials, and other factors may play into the selection; the list also includes four minorities.

Foreign policy doesn't figure as heavily into the speculation on the Republican side about who might run alongside John McCain. Of the 32 hypothetical candidates picked by CQ, fewer than 10 can be said to offer international credentials as one of their main selling points.

Some Democrats, such as these, may be feeling confident that they can win the argument over national security in the general election. But it's clear to others that they might want a little insurance.
Tim Starks 10.05.2008, 06:21 # 1 Comment
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American Expert Warns Germans: Beware Of Friend Across The Pond
  There are American experts on foreign policy and the U.S. who are probably more familiar to Germans than to Americans. Marcia Pally might be one of them. She teaches at New York University, is a regular contributor to German newspapers (see the English versions here) and has just published a new book.

As far as I can discern, at the moment it is only available in German under the title "Warnung vor dem Freunde: Tradition und Zukunft amerikanischer Außenpolitik" which translates: "Beware of the friend: Tradition and future of American Foreign Policy". However, the translation offered on Pally's home page sounds quite different: "The Religion, Values, and Foreign Policy of the Country with the Biggest Guns".

Why the pun on "Beware of the dog" for the German book title? Well, according to a recent BBC poll, Germans overwhelmingly have a negative view of U.S. influence in the world. The publishers surely are aware of this perception and hope to capitalize on it. They are probably right.
Michael Knigge 09.05.2008, 19:34 # 0 Comments
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Bittergate Reloaded: Clinton’s Remark About White Americans
  Hillary Clinton's campaign is over. At least that was the verdict of international and U.S. media right after the North Carolina and Indiana primaries on Tuesday. Of course the media is not always right. So it is perfectly fine that Senator Clinton vowed to press on with her campaign.

However, the way she has chosen to justify it smacks of bitterness to many commentators. In an interview with USA Today she cited an Associated Press article "that found how Sen. Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me."

"This won't go over well at all" writes Kyle E. More in Comments from Left Field: "In the end, this is not what any of us needs. It's not what Clinton needs as, even if she is holding hope of winning the nomination, she can hardly be helped by a racially charged gaffe. It's not what Obama needs, as I've outlined in my post linked above. We know there are regional struggles with white voters he has ahead of him, but he needs a comment like this like he needs a baseball bat to the head. And it's not what the party needs, not at a time when the focus should be on repairing unity and gearing up for the fight against McCain."

"How bad was Clinton's remark", asks Isaac Chotiner at The Plank. His answer is that she should be able to state her opinion. But, he adds, she is saying these things about the Democratic candidate and not in a vacuum. "And if she really cares about electing a Democrat in November, she probably should not be saying such things."

The Roland Report points out that in order to win the election the candidates need to build a broad coalition instead of focusing on narrow constituencies. With her remarks about hard-working white Americans Hillary Clinton alienated many in the Democratic Party. Unnecessarily so. It won't bring her any closer to the nomination. In fact it will only increase the pressure on her to quit the campaign. Until that happens, John McCain and the Republicans can relax and enjoy.
Michael Knigge 08.05.2008, 18:28 # 0 Comments
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The Pivot To The General Election
  Usually by now in the United States, the presidential campaign would have spawned a great number of articles like this one: "An in-tray full of foreign policy problems," reads the headline, and the author lays out any number of challenges ahead for the candidate who wins the race. That is: articles that spell out, issue by issue, the topics that the next president will have to address, what each candidate might do with those issues and who might help them do it.

The prolonged Democratic primary has prevented a good number of them -- it has been the focus of almost all of the reportorial energy out there. But I think they're about to start flowing after yesterday's setbacks for Hillary Clinton. Today came this one, about who might serve in a Barack Obama cabinet, as well as a John McCain cabinet, and, oh, by the way, just in case, a Clinton cabinet.

I expect to contribute my share of those kind of pieces at Congressional Quarterly, which I will link here when appropriate. This week, I wrote the cover story for CQ Weekly, about the dramatic reorganization of the U.S. intelligence community. I found that many experts, whether they were in favor of it or not, found it to be a disappointment. What progress has been made, they said, has not been so much because of the reorganization but because of the personalities in all of the top jobs now. Unfortunately, few experts are hopeful that the cooperation in place now would last into the next administration, when Obama, McCain, or, remotely, Clinton take office. It's going to take a concentrated effort -- or as one former Sept. 11 commissioner noted, leadership to go back to Congress and change the flaws in the 2004 law that created the reorganization -- to make more progress. U.S. intelligence obviously plays a major role in its foreign policy, from the Iraq War to the Syria/North Korea situation to all the rest.

(In a rare bit of convergence, it turns out that an entry that I did for a boxing blog has an dual U.S. presidential/international affairs angle -- former presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani is trying to help former heavyweight champ Vitali Klitschko become mayor of Kiev, Ukraine. You can read it here. It's not related to the topic of this blog entry, but if I'm going to cross-promote, I might as well REALLY cross-promote.)
Tim Starks 08.05.2008, 03:22 # 0 Comments
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Obama's Strong Showing Means Clinton Needs A Miracle
  Now we know. Hillary Clinton lost decisively in North Carolina and barely won in Indiana. For the international media the case is clear. Clinton is out, Obama will be the nominee. Whether its Germany's Die Welt headlining "Hillary Clinton's ultimate defeat", Austria's Tirol Online leading with "Hillary Clinton's defeat is definite" or Britan's Daily Telegraph writing "Barack Obama tightens his grip as Hillary Clinton falters": Most commentators agree that the Democratic race is all but decided.

Up until the primaries Obama has been hammered by the press about his relationship with his controversial former pastor. The fact that he won North Carolina handily and lost Indiana by a slim margin shows political stamina and resilience. "Bittergate" and his dealings with Jeremiah Wright were the first serious threats for his candidacy. In the end, he came out pretty much unblemished.

Hillary Clinton on the other hand didn't profit from Obama's recent political troubles. One wonders how she would have fared without them.

Despite her poor showing, she vows to stay in the race. Why? A German paper wrote "Now Hillary needs a miracle". Perhaps that really is her only rationale for continuing with her campaign.
Michael Knigge 07.05.2008, 20:58 # 0 Comments
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U.S. Presidential Campaign "News Of The Weird," African Edition
  As of this writing, the votes in North Carolina and Indiana are still rolling in, so we won't find out for a day or two whether the aforementioned foreign policy differences between Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were influential to the outcome. The networks are calling North Carolina for Obama and Indiana for Clinton, and early exit polls, while notoriously unreliable, suggest the economy was central.

But worlds away in recent weeks, the race itself was having a huge impact.

In Nigeria, rebels were considering a ceasefire because of an appeal from Obama. The best part about this? Until after the news broke, Obama hadn't urged a ceasefire anytime recently.

Nigeria is not the only African country that seems to be paying very close attention to the Democratic primary. A couple weeks ago, this news surfaced: In Kenya, "Hillary" and "Barack" are now two of the most popular baby names. (Hat tip to Foreign Policy.)

What this all means, I won't even try to guess. But it's awfully interesting.
Tim Starks 07.05.2008, 01:33 # 0 Comments
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Foreign Policy Once Again Front And Center At A Crucial Moment In The Democratic Primary
  Whether the general election this year turns on foreign policy issues, as it did in 2004, we cannot know now.

But in the Democratic primary, at least for now, foreign policy is once again taking on a prominent role at a key moment, in the waning days before Tuesday's votes in North Carolina and Indiana. It is an issue where voters can decide on policy differences, as opposed to more trivial matters. Consider this writer's viewpoint, rendered after watching separate television appearances by the candidates: "In a primary race where the differences between the two candidates are sometimes hard to discern, there were two vivid ones on display Sunday morning as Barack Obama did Meet the Press and Hillary Clinton did This Week in a town hall setting in Indiana. The first is temperamental... Second, their foreign policy perspectives are markedly different. From his point of view, threatening Iran is 'George Bush foreign policy.' From hers, it's making clear to our most menacing adversary that we mean business. Yes, they have merged views on Iraq (if you take them at their word), but the similarity ends there." [Commentary magazine, because it is thought of as a neoconservative publication, has a tint of ideology to its other characterizations of the candidates in the same blog entry.]

Those foreign policy differences have been prominently on display, with most headlines in the last couple days reading something like this one: "Clinton and Obama spar on gas tax and Iran policy." Iran is, by definition, a foreign policy story. The gas tax feud, because of the questions it raises about U.S. energy policy and its relation to overseas oil -- and because of less-covered components of Clinton's plan -- is also heavily a foreign policy story.
Tim Starks 06.05.2008, 02:42 # 0 Comments
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Russia: Energy Giant Under New Leadership Is Hardly A Campaign Topic
  When foreign policy becomes a topic in the presidential campaign, candidates talk mainly about Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and sometimes China. One country is strangely absent in the debates and in media coverage: Russia. As the world's largest gas exporter and second largest oil exporter the country plays a leading role in the energy market. With energy prices soaring and a new Russian president taking office one would think that the candidates policies toward Russia would be an important topic in this election.

They aren't. So far the candidates haven't really focused their attention on Russia, so it is no wonder that their stance toward it is defined largely by a few strong one- liners. John McCain famously quipped: "I looked into his eyes and saw three letters: a K, a G and a B", refering of course to President Bush's well known remark that he saw President Putin's soul. Hillary Clinton, refering to the same remark, proclaimed that Putin doesn't have a soul. Only Barack Obama so far hasn't come up with a memorable one-liner on the subject.

But beyond bashing Bush and Putin and brief comments on issues such as the missile defense shield and the expansion of NATO the candidates have not laid out a Russia strategy. So it was up to the Moscow Times to try and paint a broader picture of how the candidates view Russia. To do that the paper interviewed the Russia policy advisers for John McCain and Barack Obama. And yes, they have more to say than one-liners. You can find the article here. For a brief summary of the candidates positions toward Russia you may also want to go to the Council on Foreign Relations website.
Michael Knigge 06.05.2008, 01:01 # 0 Comments
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McCain Foreign Policy Concepts That Europe May Undo
  Republican presidential nominee has proposed two foreign policy ideas that are certainly bold, and, in the words of some, "radical." One of them is his League of Democracies, which I touched on here. Another is his plan to ejected Russia from the G-8.

Whatever the value of these two proposals -- both have more detractors than fans, it seems -- they are both marked by one thing: They appear to be impossible. They both rely on foreign cooperation that, in the current environment, at least, doesn't appear to be in abundance.

McClatchy's Washington bureau has examined the proposal to eject Russia from the G-8. The main problem, they found, is that the G-7 won't let him. "'In Europe, there's very little support . . . for a policy like that,' said Stephen Larrabee, an expert on Europe and Russia at the RAND think tank. 'It's too late in the game to try and oust Russia.'"

The lack of interest in Europe so far for a League of Democracies, too, makes the idea for that less feasible.

To their credit, the McCain foreign policy team recognizes the difficulty of the G-8 idea. "Randy Scheunemann, the foreign-policy director for McCain's campaign, acknowledged that 'there would be very vigorous discussion' within the G-8 of a proposal to exclude Russia. He said Russia was 'on a different political and economic trajectory' when it joined the group a decade ago, and he said it's unlikely that the same invitation would be extended today."

In some ways, the value of the Russia proposal may be separate from whether it's feasible. The goal may have more to do with putting pressure on Russia. But that's a separate question that will require more examination as the campaign goes on.
Tim Starks 04.05.2008, 17:41 # 0 Comments
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Core Question About Iran Remains Unanswered
  There wasn't really anything new to be learned from Hillary Clinton's and Barack Obama's appearance on different Sunday talk shows on U.S. televison. From a foreign policy perspective the most interesting aspect was a virtual exchange about Clinton's recent comments that as President she would obliterate Iran if that country launched a nuclear attack against Israel. When asked about it Obama critized his opponent for using the language of George Bush and engaging in saber rattling. When confronted with Obama's statement Clinton defended her remarks.

Obama went on to say that his goal was to not let Iran acquire nuclear weapons. But that goal is not the issue. Everyone agrees that it's better to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons in the first place than to deal with the consequences later. The issue is how to achieve that goal.

Unfortunately, on that most important aspect Obama remained rather vague, mentioning three points. He said he wants to engage the international community. He stated that he wants to apply a carrots and stick approach. And he again called for direct talks with the Iranians.

The first and second points are not new. In fact, the international community has been engaged with Iran both through the IAEA, the group of the UN security council members and Germany and the EU. The sticks and carrots approach has been discussed for a long time as well and is actually making progress. The Europeans and especially the Germans have fulfilled their committment and increased the economic sanctions against Iran. (But China has to some extent stepped in and taken over the business the Europeans left behind.)

So the only point really worth discussing is the suggestion of direct talks. But again, the Europeans have held and are still open to direct talks with Iran. The question is: What do you talk about with Iran that has not been adressed within the other frameworks mentioned above? What could the U.S. offer through direct talks that could make Iran rethink its strategy? Would lifting the sanctions and restoring diplomatic relations be enough to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions?

Which brings us to the core question for the presidential candidates: What would you do if Iran has decided that it in fact wants to continue its nuclear program and when do we know that this is the case?
Michael Knigge 04.05.2008, 17:25 # 0 Comments
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Whether Obama And Clinton Want European-Style Health Care
  New York Times fact check of John McCain claims says, "No."

(And, according to FactCheck.org, McCain's complaint about Democrat groups saying he's in favor of a 100-year war in Iraq -- mentioned in the Times piece -- is valid.)

Tim Starks 03.05.2008, 04:33 # 0 Comments
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McCain As Neocon, Realist, Multilateralist, Unilateralist
  If there is any use in political labels at all, one is in their predictive power. A self-declared foreign policy "realist" -- or someone who has consistently behaved as one -- is going to be pretty cautious about invading Iraq to begin with, as Colin Powell was. A foreign policy "neoconservative" is going to think more about the ideals of the movement and achieving them by invading Iraq, as Paul Wolfowitz did.

John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, is playing havoc with a variety of labels that might be applied to his foreign policy. I've already addressed one: whether McCain is a "true" foreign policy conservative. But the last several weeks have brought scrutiny of what labels best fit his foreign policy views. I won't try to solve it, like I did last time. I'll just put the scrutiny on display, as food for thought, for now. (If you're not hungry, pretend it's a fun multiple choice game.)

Is McCain a realist, a neocon or would he try to be both?

Is he a multilateralist or unilateralist?

Does his proposal for a League of Democracies reflect the viewpoint of a liberal internationalist or neoconservative, or both? (If it still matters.)
Tim Starks 02.05.2008, 05:01 # 1 Comment
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Two Quick Addenda: Gas Prices, Iran
  --Yesterday, I dipped into one less-covered portion of Hillary Clinton’s gas price plan that had an international component. With gas prices still heavily in the news, why not discuss another?

This part of the plan would allow OPEC members to be sued under U.S. antitrust law. Like her proposal to file a complaint to the WTO about OPEC, this one has also been around before. Unlike the complaint proposal, the antitrust proposal has not been greeted so skeptically. At first, in 2000, according to the Wall Street Journal (subscription required), it had little support. It had a catchy name, "NOPEC," but little else. But by last year, the proposal from Sen. Herb Kohl, a Democrat from Wisconsin, had generated some momentum. The White House had threatened to veto it, but the House voted to approve it by a wide, veto-proof margin, and the Senate added it to a larger energy bill by a similarly wide margin. Clinton and Barack Obama both voted for it. However, it was left out of the final energy bill sent to President Bush, presumably because of the White House veto threat, but the reason, whatever it is, has gone unreported.

The problem with suing OPEC had been thus, per the Journal: "Under existing U.S. court opinions, the dozen members of the oil cartel act as sovereign governments when they limit oil supplies and are thus immune from U.S. antitrust laws. Under U.S. law, a sovereign can't be sued without its consent. NOPEC would fix that by allowing the Justice Department to sue OPEC members for price fixing in U.S. courts under the Sherman Act, and to seize foreign-owned property in the U.S. to pay for any resulting damages."

The White House opposed the bill on the grounds that foreign governments might retaliate by cutting back on oil shipments, something that an OPEC official appeared to suggest would happen. Antitrust experts quoted by the Journal differed on whether that would happen, with one suggesting it would give the administration leverage to put pressure on OPEC.

--A couple days ago, I mentioned that, substantively, both Barack Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s positions on Iran appeared to be the same, only the rhetoric was different. It must be said that in the world of foreign affairs, different rhetoric IS different policy.
Tim Starks 01.05.2008, 01:50 # 0 Comments
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