Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Job Numbers REVISED

So... the NER job numbers have been revised. Apparently the statistical analysis being used was wildly inaccurate They now show that private sector job additions in September were not in fact 162,000, but instead were 88,200. That is one hell of a difference. Further, the job additions for August were not the originally reported figure of 189,000 but instead 76,400. These numbers are significant. They indicate two things. 1) The economic recovery is no where near as strong as previously reported. 2) Obama has failed on the economy. And he has failed badly. He has purchased a sputtering economy at the cost of trillions in new debt.

So far most media outlets are not reporting the above. We shall see what happens on Friday when the October numbers are released..

Thoughts on CBS/NYTimes Polls

CBS/NYT have just released their latest polling data. From an objective standpoint, I don't believe that the data is accurately reflective of the race as it stands at the moment. These new poll results show Obama leading in Florida by 48-47%, in Ohio by 50-45% and in Virginia by 49-47%.

My issues with the results are as follows.

1) The polls also suggest that Romney is leading with Independent voters. The Virginia poll indicates Romney's lead with this voting block is significant. If this is the case, Obama cannot be ahead. Voter affiliation is broadly split about 30-35%/total affiliation- for both the Democratic Party and the GOP. Independent affiliation is estimated at around 35%/total affiliation. So... it doesn't take a genius to work out that the support of a credible majority of independent voters will lead to an overall poll majority. For me, this issue alone renders these latest polls as weak data sets.

2) Obama leading in Florida? The trends in Florida poll data over the last three weeks have shown systematic and robust movement in Romney's favor. For Obama to have retaken a lead seems to me a highly unlikely prospect. I am highly confident that Florida will go Republican on November 6th. The significant amount of time that Obama has spent in Florida recently provides a clear indication of his campaign's concern over the state.

3) The Ohio data is broadly reflective of poll data over the past few weeks. This data has indicated Obama holding a confident base margin of 3-5% points advantage over Romney. My personal belief is that Obama currently has a 1-2% point lead with likely voters who have not yet voted, but a 2-3% lead when early voters are included in a grand tally. I believe that many Ohio voters have given up answering the phone seriously when the pollsters call. It gets tedious when you get 3-4 calls a day.

CONCLUSION- Speaking to friends (both Democrat and Republican) who are engaged with ground level politics, the feeling remains that Romney has the momentum but that Obama retains a lead in Ohio. My personal belief is that Romney has a reasonable opportunity to win Ohio- but that this outcome will require the few remaining as yet undecided likely voters to join his camp. However, I also believe that Romney has a good chance at winning Wisconsin (where the GOP ground game is formidable) and Iowa (which is rural conservative). In addition, I think that Romney will win Colorado, Virginia and Florida. Having considered the polling trends over the last few weeks and having spoken to a lot of skilled politicos, I now genuinely believe that Romney has a route to the White House that does not involve Ohio. Is this route tough? Yes. Does it afford Romney room for error? No. But... is it possible? Yes.

UPDATE 11/04 - Wisconsin and Iowa look to be consolidated behind the President now. I was too optimistic about trend data vs union capacity to GOTV.

Democrat, Republican or Independent, we should all be grateful for the Secret Service

As we enter the final week of the campaign, it's easy to be wearied by the relentless partisanship that absorbs the airwaves.

And yet, amidst the rancor of endless attack ads, there is one permanent campaign fixture from which we should take great pride- The Secret Service agents and officers working selflessly to protect our democratic process.

Certainly it would be a mistake to ignore the Service's recent prostitution scandal and its ongoing fallout. These failings are serious and need cognizant recognition as such. But having taken this scandal into account, the larger story of the Secret Service this year shouldn't be defined Colombian prostitutes and drunken antics. Instead, it should be defined by truth. The truth of long periods away from home, of endless campaign stops, of the complex and often conflicting imperatives between effective protection and effective politics, and of the ultimate work of shielding candidates against a threat spectrum of varied characters and capabilities.

Without the Secret Service, our democratic process would be subject to violent extremists and our candidates left open to intimidation or coercion. There should be little doubt, we are lucky to have the Secret Service at our candidates sides.

While most Americans respect the Secret Service, this respect rarely extends to a more than a cursory understanding of how the organization operates. As such, if the Service is to receive fair analysis going forwards, much greater attention must be given to the extraordinary skill and discretion (the two crucial facets of executive protection) which underpin the conduct of the majority of Service employees.

Let's consider the record.

With reference to professional skill, the Secret Service holds a hard earned reputation as the world's finest protective force. This reputation hasn't simply been purchased with money- though it is true that protection isn't cheap. Truly comprehensive (and thus effective) protection is a difficult, time consuming venture. Ultimately it requires aggressive training, comprehensive preparation and honing rapid reactions. While it is easy to label these measures as excessive, they are (for the most part) necessary. Assassins especially in the modern era, can take many forms. Whether facing a suicide bomber, a group of gunmen, a lone gunman, a car bomb, a chemical attack. or a combination of attacks, protecting America's national leaders is not an easy business. Further, given America's tradition of close candidate-crowd proximity and our celebrity obsessed media culture, the Secret Service confronts a protection environment far more challenging than that facing most other protective agencies.  In essence, while a campaign team wants their candidate as close to the crowd as possible, agents want the opposite. Effective navigation of the protection-politics tight rope is neither an easy nor enviable task. Yet, agents do it every day.

On the second element - discretion, the Secret Service holds another praiseworthy reputation. To ensure that protectees trust the agents assigned to them and will allow those agents to remain close by, protectees must be able to rely upon agents discretion. In this regard, it is a tribute to the Secret Service that first families including the Obamas' and the Bush family hold the agency in such high personal opinion. With the especially partisan political environment of recent years, the Service's retained reputation in this area deserves great credit. Embarrassing leaks about protectees are exceptionally rare. In addition, major agency corruption scandals involving bribery etc. are effectively non-existent. Again, while the Colombia prostitution scandal is serious, it must not be taken as a defining incident.

The Secret Service has faced a lot of bad publicity in the last year. Some deserved. However, a fair consideration of the record and the conduct of its employees paints a different picture to the standard media narrative. Standing post at campaign stops might not be glamorous work, but is integral to American democracy. That the Secret Service is able to perform its role in the most political of environments and simultaneously in the least partisan of ways, is a tribute to the men and women who form its ranks.

UPDATE - If you liked this piece, please check out my op-ed for The Guardian on politics and the protection of the first family.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

San Diego Mayoral Race and the GOP

Among the many electoral races this year, the competition to become the next Mayor of San Diego is one of the most interesting and important. At least for Republicans. Why? Because the Republican candidate is a homosexual. 

As regular readers will know, I have previously spoken about my ideational and political concern over the medium-long term future of the Republican Party. Put simply - While I'm not gay, I worry that if we don't stand for freedom we won't stand for anything. And that if we don't stand for anything we won't win votes. And if we don't win votes we won't win power. 

Fortunately, the San Diego race is showing Republicans a path towards future electoral success. In Carl DeMaio, Republicans have a candidate who is charismatic, energetic and intelligent. Because DeMaio is running 'on fiscal reforms and prosperity to create jobs' he has been able to win support from Republicans across San Diego. While it is true that some Republican groups may have had initial hesitation in providing their endorsements, the fact that the party is now firmly behind DeMaio, represents a significant and highly positive moment. I hope Mr. DeMaio is elected. Not because he is gay, but because I believe that he is the best candidate for Mayor of San Diego. Which is all that should matter.

When the Republican Party is defined by policies that replace soaring deficits and unemployment with solvency, growth and jobs, rather than defined by policies that attack freedom with ideologically fundamentalist intrusions, both our party and the American people prosper alike.
           When Jackie Robinson began his career in Major League Baseball, fans ultimately had to decide whether they derived greater satisfaction from racism or from sporting excellence. Republicans face a similar choice. What do we value more? Tolerance of anti-homosexual bigotry? Or leaders who can restore our communities?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Citizens United was correctly decided

The last two weeks of the presidential campaign are (at least to me) providing the most certain proof as to why Citizens United v FEC was correctly decided. In the end, it is intellectually, morally and constitutionally bankrupt to argue for a system of tiered speech. And pre-Citizens United, that is exactly what the law provided for. 

As Justice Kennedy noted in his opinion for the majority,

The law before us is an outright ban, backed by criminal sanctions. [The law] makes it a felony for all corporations—including nonprofit advocacy corporations—either to expressly advocate the election or defeat of candidates or to broadcast electioneering communications within 30 days of a primary election and 60 days of a general election. Thus, the following acts would all be felonies under §441b: The Sierra Club runs an ad, within the crucial phase of 60 days before the general election, that exhorts the public to disapprove of a Congressman who favors logging in national forests; the National Rifle Association publishes a book urging the public to vote for the challenger because the incumbent U. S. Senator supports a handgun ban; and the American Civil Liberties Union creates a Web site telling the public to vote for a Presidential candidate in light of that candidate’s defense of free speech. These prohibitions are classic examples of censorship. 

In essence, the great flaw of the pre- Citizens United law was that (as they did this week) The New York Times could write this and the Washington Post this, but other corporate entities were restricted from making their own political speech. The situation was intolerable.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Mourdock's comments represent a growing problem for my party

First there was Craig, then there was Vitter. Who was followed by Akin, now supported by Mourdock.

Craig and Vitter broke the law. Senate candidates Akin and Mourdock have an apparent sympathy for rape.

Taken together, these scandals speak to a serious and growing problem for the Republican Party.

While our party has many impressive, honorable national leaders - Romney-Ryan, Boehner, McCain, Portman etc, we also have a minority of officials who fall below the standards deserving of the American people. The problem here isn't just Craig/Vitter style ethics violations- the Democrats have their own affinity for electing representatives of flexible integrity - Jefferson, Rangel, Jackson Jnr, Calvert providing a few examples. Instead for the GOP, the deeper problem is the manner in which a small but substantial number of Republican candidates/officials are left un-restrained to purvey our party as a perceived bastion of hypocrisy and fundamentalism.

            First, where does the GOP's perception failure come from? To start, let's consider the examples above. Senators Craig and Vitter subscribed to aggressive government measures to restrict law abiding homosexuals from greater rights. These same officials then engaged in criminal personal conduct. The perceptive implication stemming from these highly publicized scandals was all too clear; that Republicans believe in utterly hypocritical intrusions into the private lives of law abiding Americans. Sadly, Craig and Vitter are far from lone examples. If this was simply an issue of hypocrisy, it could be written off as the result of a raw pursuit for votes. But then, we also have candidates Rick Santorum. In contrast to some, I believe that Rick Santorum is a decent, honorable man who means well for his country - I believe he is misguided but not without integrity. However, what is unquestionable is that Santorum subscribes to an extreme and highly aggressive understanding of state-individual interactions. Thus, where Craig and Vitter are simple hypocrites, Santorum is a committed fundamentalist. All found (and find) places at the highest levels of the Republican Party.

The central problem for the Republican Party is therefore clear-
In this apparent mixing of stunning hypocrisy and un-repentant fundamentalism, the GOP appears to many Americans as a faux moral police. A party more interested in restricting gay rights than increasing individual freedoms. More interested in lecturing and litigating against certain Americans than responding to their concerns. More interested in winning elections than serving Lincoln's enduring cause of social justice. As I have noted, I believe this perception is ultimately unfair. I know that the vast majority of Republican officials care far more about the economy than they do about gay sex. However in politics, perception is as important as reality. And it is evident that for many Americans, perceptions of the GOP are not good.

At the moment, this perception-dynamic has some political insulation. The social conservative movement offers political candidates a well organized and highly reliable voting block. However in the longer term, the impact of our fundamentalist flirtation will be far less positive. In appearing to stand for both the protection of individual freedom and the simultaneous restriction of individual freedom, too many Americans are coming to believe that Republicans are their enemy. Too many Americans, whether hispanics, women, homosexuals or others, believe that the Republican Party regards them as second class citizens. Again, while I do not believe that this perception accurately reflects reality, the fact that it exists at all should be of great concern to Republicans concerned about future electoral success. When it's personal, voters tend to remember.

As the social conservative movement increasingly cedes supporters to growing currents of libertarian social tolerance, the Republican Party will face a challenge in persuading voters to alter their perceptions of our party. In this regard, statements by Mourdock and co. will have a lasting, negative impact for the future of the GOP. 

For the sake of our identity and our political future, Republicans must more actively condemn those who celebrate the fringe of American politics.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Biden BS

Typical absurdity from Vice President Biden. He simply doesn't get the stunning hypocrisy that characterizes nearly every statement that he makes. Obama-Biden love running from the truth (Benghazi), have no record (just check the last four years) and have no affordable policy suggestions for a second term (money doesn't grow on trees). It's a sad joke.

Debate 3# - Analysis

I believe that Mitt Romney won last night's debate.

 I make this assessment on the basis of what each candidate had set out to achieve before the debate began and the manner by which Romney successfully pursued his particular objectives. For Romney, the objectives were clear. 1) Increase his likeability numbers with the American people. 2) Increase the comfort level that American voters have with him re-foreign policy (can he take the 3AM call etc.) but also re-domestic policy 3) Provide a final attack on the President's record over the past four years. 
         On each of these counts, Romney succeeded. Where the President appeared angry and at times highly condescending, Romney appeared composed and at times even complementary. On the big issues - China, Iran, Russia and terrorism, Romney came across as assured of what he would do as President. Romney ended the debate on an especially strong note, issuing a stinging rebuke of the President's first term and then following that rebuke by delivering a warm, confident closing appeal to American voters.

I felt that the President came across as far too angry and condescending. He made some especially idiotic remarks with reference to the US Military. For example when he responded to Romney's Navy ship numbers comment by saying that the US also doesn't use 'horses' and that 'we have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines'. Obama obviously forgot about the use of horses as an instrumental tool for our Special Forces during the opening stages of operations in Afghanistan. I also thought the President was out of line when he said that he was happy Romney viewed Al Qa'ida as a threat. These were silly statements.

Ultimately, I believe that the opinion polls will continue to trend in Romney's favor. The former Governor showed that he has a grasp of the issues, a clear foreign policy agenda and a comfortable demeanor that will enable him to be an effective President. Once again, he asserted a positive contrast to the angry, record redundant President. The tightening polls show that voters are crying out for a change that they can believe in. 

Mitt Romney has showed and is showing that he represents that change.
PS- For a more in depth look at my reasons for supporting Romney's foreign policy, check out my latest op/ed for The Daily Caller

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Iran Talks?

It appears that the Obama Administration is planning to talk to Iran if the President is re-elected in November. Of course, the Obama Administration is now denying that the reports are true. I don't believe them.

 I have no problem with any President discussing Iran's nuclear program in one on one talks. However, I would add two caveats to that. First, that the President or his representatives go into the discussion with the understanding that no sanctions are lifted or delayed until Iran accepts full, verifiable inspections of an ended nuclear program. Two, that there is clarity on the part of the President that Iran has a long record of using negotiations as a tool to buy time and divide alliances against them. Iran last tried this in February 2012. It was a joke then and it is probably a joke now. But... the cause of peace and the horror of war demand that we extinguish all diplomatic avenues before resorting to the use of force. Let me emphasize again - no concessions until a full solution is reached.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Beirut Explosion

The bombing in Beirut earlier today is a firm reminder of the intense political dynamics that are at contest in Lebanon and Syria. A contest in which Syria-Iran-Hizballah are at war with regional forces of liberation. I believe that today's attack was carried out by agents of the Syrian government and perhaps also with the co-ordination or support of the Lebanese Hizballah. While I have no specific evidence to back up this assertion, I would point to a number of indicators. Also some analysis...

1) The attack took place in a predominantly Christian neighborhood of eastern Beirut and killed a senior Lebanese civil servant who was an outspoken critic of the Assad regime. In addition, Assad has previously warned that he would seek to push the conflict in Syria into a broadened external struggle.

2) Syria and Hizballah have a clear track record of support for violence against those who challenge their political power. This has involved recent, previous attacks on both major Lebanese officials and foreign entities. Iran also shares this preference for using covert force against those who oppose them.

3) Hizballah is increasingly concerned by the serious damage that their continued support for Assad is inflicting on their broader ideational legitimacy. Instigating further currents of regional instability (as today's attack would suggest) offers Hizballah a method by which they believe that they can distract world attention. I would argue that Hizballah's recent UAV flight over Israel provides another timely example of this dynamic. I have previously suggested that Hizballah would begin to abandon Assad once they came to believe that his regime was doomed. While I expected that this would have occurred before now, I remain confident of that belief. Ultimately, it is my opinion that Hizballah still believes that Assad can be saved. If evidence shows that today's attack (and the future instability that it foreshadows) is linked to Syria, it should serve to re-emphasize the need for the United States to take more concrete action to help Syrians liberate their country.

4) Faced with the EU tightened oil sanctions last week and Iran's continuing economic implosion, I believe (as I have previously argued) that Iran is likely to respond with more acts of aggression in the near future. Again, the United States must be prepared to respond to any attacks that take place.

Latest Polling Data Analysis

My internet now appears to be fixed.

The latest polling data is a mixed bag. However, I think the trends remain firmly in Romney's favor (even if the President remains the overall slight favorite)
I have a number of observations.

1) The second Presidential debate does not seem to have stopped Romney's ascent in the polls. I think that there is a critical reason for this. While Obama may be seen as the slight winner of the debate, Romney has been able to establish a firm position as the better candidate on the deficit, debt and unemployment/the economy. Crucially also, as I predicted, Romney's likability ratings are now level or greater than the President's. Put simply, winning a debate is not the same as winning the debate.

2) Romney must secure either Wisconsin or Ohio in order to win the election. Using this site you can see the prospective effect of variable state wins on the larger electoral college. Using this site you can see the polling data for each state (hovering over a state will show you the latest polling data, while clicking on a state will show you trend polling). Taken together, the two websites paint a very interesting polling picture. Having seen other polling data in addition to these two websites, I believe that Romney now holds increasingly firm leads in Florida, North Carolina and Colorado. I also believe that Romney has slight but statistically significant leads in Virginia and New Hampshire. However, the President remains ahead in Wisconsin, Iowa and Ohio (albeit by 2 point margins). Because of the electoral college points available, Romney must win either Ohio or Wisconsin. So expect his campaign to allocate a huge amount of final resources to those states in the coming days.

3) The final debate on Monday night will be crucial. Voter interest in this year's debates has been unusually high, so both candidates still have a major opportunity to persuade the last undecided voters to come into their corners. Romney needs to slightly adapt his second debate game plan for the final debate. First, he needs to be more aggressive with the President. When the President starts misrepresenting him, Romney needs to say 'Mr. President, these kind of deliberate untruths are unbecoming of your office.' Second, Romney needs to focus his argument on 'jobs, deficit and debt' - the key issues at stake. Obama has 0 record on these issues and is extremely weak in his available defenses. Third, as the final debate is focused on foreign policy, Romney must point out the Administration's continuing absurdity on Benghazi as an indication of their larger foreign policy confusion. The Obama Administration tried to misrepresent the attack as a mob incident, so as to avoid the negative domestic political fallout of successful terrorist attack on their watch. The President neglected his intelligence briefings in the run up to, as well as (and extraordinarily) in the aftermath of the attack. I have previously written more in depth about why I believe Obama's foreign policy is weak.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

2nd Debate - Thoughts

My broadband has gone completely crazy today. I am trying to sort it out. Briefly (before my internet cancels out) I will outline my thoughts on last night.

1) Obama did much better - obviously. However, Romney also had a strong performance.

2) Because he doesn't have a record worthy of praise- Obama is trying to paint Romney as an extremist. 'Hope and Change' are long forgotten slogans. President Obama's 2012 slogan is 'Demagoguery and Fear'.

3) While the President is viewed to have won the debate (by slight margins), CBS polling shows that undecided voters believe (following the debate) that Romney is in a far stronger position to resolve the challenges with reference to deficit, debt and economy.

4) Obama was not honest on Benghazi. The Benghazi incident and the Obama Administration's response stink. I have written about why, here and here.

5) The election will be exceptionally close.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Debate #2

Tonight's second presidential debate will be centered around a town hall format. Both candidates have major objectives to pursue.

For Romney, the key will be to continue to shine a light on the President's record. Romney has the momentum in the race but he still needs to close Obama's lead in Ohio. By attacking the President on policy, providing his alternate proposals and maintaining a calm, friendly demeanor, I believe that Romney can win. 

For the President, the key is to provide a better performance. I expect Obama will be far more aggressive and will attempt to go after Romney's record at Bain etc. He will try to paint Romney as a candidate who is fundamentally divorced from the middle class.

          Personally, I think the President is going to have another tough night (though probably not as tough as the first debate). I believe that Romney has the facts on his side and Obama has only a record of failure/a distinct lack of new ideas. Further, I seriously doubt that if the President attempts to wage a class warfare based attack on Romney he will be successful. In fact, I believe that Romney would relish the opportunity to have that discussion. As a final point, the town hall setting for tonight's debate will make it difficult for either candidate to be too aggressive. 

It's a big night. If Romney achieves another convincing win he will chip away the President's lead even further. In that scenario, the run up to Nov. 6 will be very tight.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Romney - Defense Proposals

I am a supporter of Mitt Romney. I largely agree with his foreign policy proposals. However, I disagree with his approach on defense spending. There are two reasons why.

1) The US Military can meet America's defense requirements with Obama's proposed 10yr defense budget. While the January sequester cuts would be catastrophic and must be avoided, Obama's proposed ten year/$450 bn cuts are effectively designed to maximize core force capabilities while taking into account the challenging fiscal environment that the US faces. These cuts are supported by current and former Secretaries of Defense and the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. This budget tool shows how the US Military could remain its flexible capabilities even after significant spending cuts. For me, building more ships will not equal more security (increased ship building is the cornerstone of Romney's defense plan). It will simply mean more debt.

2) If we Republicans want to honestly assert fiscal conservatism, we must be willing to recognize that our current defense expenditures are unaffordable. As the Joint Chiefs Chairman frequently states, the national debt has become the greatest threat to US security. We cannot continue to spend money that we do not have. America's defense spending must be rooted in strategic requirements and not corporate hand outs to the defense industry nor in feeding the pet projects of lawmakers. We cannot absolve the DoD from sharing its part in restoring our nation's finances.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Benghazi and the Obama Administration

The Benghazi security scandal has become a major problem for the Obama Administration. Not just in a political sense, but also in terms of honesty. After the attack that killed Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans, the Administration was quick to suggest that the assault had simply been a mob reaction to the 'Innocence of Muslims' youtube video. Incidentally - the fact that the 'Innocence of Muslims' is still on youtube and yet the protests have now halted, provides strong evidence to support the suggestion that the video was not the underlying factor in the protesters motivation.

In reference to Benghazi, the problem with the Obama Administration is clear. In the aftermath of the attack, Administration officials ran to affirm that the attack was not a terrorist attack. Susan Rice, Obama's UN Ambassador, was the most senior official to do so. Even after intelligence sources were pointing to an prior organized attack, Rice persisted in arguing that the intelligence she had seen suggested that a random mob was responsible. There is a serious problem inherent in accepting the full veracity of this proposition.

As former CIA Director, Michael Hayden, explains, faced with a full scale armed attack on a high threat environment US diplomatic facility on 9/11, it is almost inconceivable to believe that the intelligence community would have been comfortable with the easy labeling of the act as video rather than terrorist connected. As Haden notes, the Obama Administration had an obvious political interest in purveying confidence of mob rather than terrorist responsibility. 

As anyone with knowledge of the intelligence process understands, intelligence assessments are predicated on the 'intelligence cycle'. This cycle relies upon a comprehensive process of collection, evaluation, analysis and application. In essence, intelligence officers seek to maximize their range of sources and conduct a varied, intensive analysis of any material available. In this sense, it seems almost certain that in the immediate aftermath of the attack, intelligence briefers would have disclosed to their consumers (senior Administration officials) at least the possibility that the Benghazi attack was far more than a mob action. Indeed, the fact that we now know the attack was terrorist related, provides strong circumstantial evidence that any original intelligence briefings which suggested a possible mob reaction as responsible, would have been graded as 'low confidence' assessments. 

I would submit that it is evident that Obama Administration officials mischaracterized the original intelligence.
      Sadly the story doesn't end here. In the Debate earlier this week, Vice President Biden stated that the Administration had not been made aware of cable requests from Libya for greater security. Security requests that were turned down. It is true that the President and Vice-President may not have been aware of these concerns. However, if there was any doubt about authorizing more security, the requests should have been pushed up the chain of authority. Again in the least worst scenario, the Administration was incompetent.

The reason that the Benghazi attack is so important is obvious and profound. Americans serving their country requested more security and didn't get it. And then they were killed. From the first days following the attack, the Obama Administration has reacted with false certainty, confusion and attempts at distraction (Biden changing Benghazi topic to Iraq during VP debate). The questions that need to be answered are clear. What did senior Administration officials (including the President/Vice President) know? When did they know? Was/is there a deliberate attempt to hide the full truth as it became/becomes clear? 

We know that the President has a flexible attention to his intelligence briefings, he didn't attend a single one in the week before the attack. Thus, the simple question remains- has the Administration behaved with incompetence or deception? The American people deserve honest answers.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Post VP Debate analysis

Last night's debate went broadly as I had expected. The Vice President was far more aggressive than Ryan, frequently launching emotionally laden attacks on the Romney-Ryan platform. Biden also sought to clearly assert himself as the spokesman for Mr. 'Average Joe'. In contrast, Ryan tried to keep  his statements to policy details while attacking the Obama-Biden record.

A few things stood out for me.

1) Biden's innate grinning was relentless and made him look ridiculous while Ryan was speaking. Biden came across rude and arrogant - just look at the focus group data.

2) Biden was unable to articulate an Obama-Biden plan for deficit/debt reduction. There's a simple reason why, their plan doesn't exist. This failure formed part of a trend in which Biden sought to demagogue against Ryan instead of articulating counter proposals. The absurdity of Obama's 'change' narrative was on full display last night. In four short years, we have traveled from the pursuit of 'a new tone in Washington', to a celebration of unrepentant partisanship.

3) Obama-Biden's policy on Afghanistan is nuts. Biden aka 'the GRINch' resorted to constant repetitions of the Obama Administration's fundamental withdrawal timeline. Where Ryan talked about paying attention to ground conditions and military advice, for Biden it was clear that domestic politics came first. For me, Afghanistan represents the most stunning example of this President's hypocrisy. 2008 Obama claimed that 'he would win the right war, the war that 'Bush neglected', instead, success in Afghanistan has been subordinated to pleasing the Democratic base. There can be few strategic errors as profound as that of announcing a timeline for withdrawal to your enemy.

4) Ryan's answer to the abortion question gave a clear indication of the difficulty that Republicans have on this issue. On the one hand, Romney-Ryan understand that they must attract more female voters to the party. On the other, the candidates also understand that social conservatives are a highly reliable voting block that are concerned about a few key issues - abortion being one such issue. Ultimately, I do not believe that Romney-Ryan would have any interest in overturning Roe v Wade. They understand that most Americans (especially women) do not want the government engaged on such a controversial issue. I also think that many people misinterpret where the Supreme Court stands on abortion (Biden played to this misunderstanding). Yes, Justices like Scalia might oppose Roe v Wade, but they oppose it because they do not believe that there is a constitutional right to abortion. Scalia has stated explicitly that he believes abortion law is an issue for legislatures rather than for the courts. If Congress wants to legalize abortion - fine. If they want to restrict abortion - fine. Personally, I tend to take a more UK style approach to abortion - that the law should be rooted in science and the capacity for functioning life, rather than in culture battles over Privacy vs God. We should be focused on the economy and foreign policy.

5) From my perspective, Ryan was very strong on the economy. He quoted facts and suggested reforms. Biden applied scare tactics. I also find it interesting that Obama-Biden attack Romney-Ryan for not giving itemized details on their tax plan. Obama-Biden's tax plan is a complete joke. Obama-Biden's sums don't add up and their tax proposals would reinforce the worst elements of our complex, loophole laden tax code.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Vice Presidential Debate

Apologies for my absence from the blog over the past few days - I have been busy with some other work.

Tonight will see the first and only 2012 Vice-Presidential debate. The meeting between Biden and Ryan should bring some compelling insights concerning the state of the campaign and the divergent benefits (and costs) that Biden and Ryan bring to their respective running mates.

There will be a number of dyanmics at play tonight.

1) In the aftermath of the President's debate performance last week, the Obama campaign will be looking to Biden to make a strong showing. The Obama campaign team understand that if Ryan wins convincingly against Biden, the political consequences will likely be profound. Having Romney and Ryan comfortably win the first two debates would most certainly fuel further negative media attention on the incumbent ticket. In addition, a clear Ryan win would move more independents into the Republican bracket. Both these outcomes would dramatically increase pressure on Obama's re-election prospects.

2) There will be an interesting 'contest of style' tonight. In a similar manner to the first Presidential debate in which Romney tried to claim the mantle of a less-populist, more-CEO style leader, Ryan will seek to assert that narrative even further. Ryan will be focused on appearing as a determined, passionate policy wonk. The Romney campaign are wagering (I believe correctly) that because of the economy, voters are far more interested in politicians who offer policy solutions, rather than warm populism. In contrast to Ryan, Biden will want to come across as a literal 'average joe'. Biden's greatest political talent is his ability to appeal to the instinctive emotions of voters. Biden will want to make people feel good about him and by association, also feel good about the President. The Obama campaign remain convinced that increased enthusiasm from their base will go along way to helping them achieve re-election. It will be interesting to see how these two styles interact.

3) The policy debate tonight will probably center on three issues - Medicare, tax reform and the Benghazi intelligence scandal (that Obama's foreign policy is weak and struggles with the truth). Biden will attempt to launch an emotionally charged attack on the Romney-Ryan medicare and tax reform proposals. Expect Biden to bring out lines like this one (I have made this up) - 'In the midst of an economy in which middle class families across America are suffering, Romney and Ryan want to cut taxes on millionaires and turn medicare into a voucher system where seniors have to fight for the medical care they are owed.' In contrast, Ryan will attempt to counter Biden with the logical argument that Medicare is going bankrupt and that America's national leadership owe voters serious solutions rather than populist games. Expect Ryan to blow holes in the absurd Obama-Biden argument that the rich can pay down the national debt. Ryan will also make the case that tax reform is crucial to American economic growth and effective revenue generation. I expect these policy debates will become heated. 

What do I think will happen? While I don't expect a win on the scale of Romney's last week, I do feel that Ryan will win tonight's debate. With the exception of foreign policy, I don't believe that Biden has the policy-wonk strength to seriously debate Ryan on the issues. Ryan's passion for the Romney-Ryan proposals and crucially, Ryan's ability to articulate the seriousness of the issues at stake will be clear to voters. I believe that Biden will struggle to defend an Administration lacking in serious policy solutions for the great challenges of our time.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Monday, October 8, 2012

Romney's VMI Speech

Earlier today Mitt Romney made a key-note foreign policy address. As with my recent analysis of President Obama's foreign policy, I thought it would be appropriate to analyze Romney's speech.

Here's what I liked.

First, I thought it was good that Romney went out of his way to pay tribute to the VMI. The Virginia Military Institute represents the enduring center of the South's contribution to American military service. And southern US states make the primary contribution to the US Military's personnel base.

Second, I thought Romney provided an articulate and persuasive argument concerning the political dynamics in the Middle East at the moment. I share Romney's belief that the Middle East is in the midst of a pivotal battle for its future. This is a struggle between forces of oppression and ideological tyranny, and between citizens who wish for greater freedom, greater opportunity and a better future for their children. There should be no question of where America stands.

Third, I thought that Romney laid out robust alternatives to Obama's policies on Afghanistan and Syria. Where Obama announced and laid down in stone an early artificial timetable to end America's military engagement in Afghanistan ('on schedule'), in contrast Romney today said that he would ensure that military advice and conditions on the ground would be at the core of his decision making process. On Syria, I feel that Romney was bold (and correct) to state that he would provide arms to the rebels. This is a proposition not without risk - those arms might ultimately fall into the hands of adversaries of the United States. However, for both moral and strategic reasons the US must support the liberation of Syria with greater tangible support.

Fourth, I thought Romney laid out a credible alternative to Obama's policy on Iran. Romney brought a poignant clarity to Obama's policy re-Iran. This President has preferred a small chance of detente with Iran's leaders rather than supporting the basic rights of the Iranian people. This is immoral and unbecoming of America. As a second albeit equally important point, I also believe that a President Romney would have a much greater likelihood of persuading Iran's leadership to give up their pursuit of nuclear weapons. Why? Because I believe that Iran regards Romney's threats as far more credible than Obama's. For diplomacy to work, Iran must fear the consequences of diplomatic failure.

Fifth, I agreed with Romney's position that US aid to Egypt should be contingent on the protection of our diplomatic facilities and the surety of Egyptian-Israeli peace. This is an obvious demand that Obama has not made openly.

However, there were areas where I disagreed with Romney.

First, I think Romney was wrong to say that the world should 'never see any daylight' between Israel and the US. While I believe that a strong and positive US relationship with Israel is a moral necessity, we must be willing to articulate our differences with the Israeli Govt. as and when they occur. It is not for example in the interests of the US that settlement construction in the West Bank continues unabated. While Romney is right to argue that the world must understand that the US will always ensure Israel's security, an intellectually robust and honest American policy requires that the US will not always agree with the Israeli standpoint. This is nothing to be afraid of. The US relationship with its closest ally, the UK, often faces points of disagreement. Yet, the special relationship always endures.

Second, I disagree with Romney's defense spending plans. While the January defense sequester would be a disaster that must be avoided, I believe that Obama's proposed $450bn/10yr defense cuts strike an achievable and realistic balance between fiscal austerity and strategic necessity. As the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is fond of arguing, our national debt is our greatest enemy. Building a greatly increased number of ships is unjustifiably expensive. This budget simulator illustrates the strong defense savings that could be made without damaging US security. While I disagree with Romney's defense spending proposals, I support his focus on greater submarine procurement as part of the Navy's existing construction choices. Submarines will be crucial in ensuring continued US naval supremacy into the future.

Overall though, a strong speech which presented a clear and bold counter to the incumbent's foreign policy. Romney is looking stronger every day.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The realist in idealist clothing - The confused foreign policy of President Obama

 The next Presidential debate will cover foreign policy. In advance of the debate I wanted to outline some of my thoughts about Obama's foreign policy.

Taking his recent UN speech at face value, you would think that the President's foreign policy pursues the advance of global freedom as its central raison d'etre. This is not born out in reality. Ultimately, for this President, the idealist 'freedom agenda' takes a back seat to a more traditional realist approach to international affairs. My concern is that this approach lacks a broad narrative of clarity and sacrifices long term interests in pursuit of vague, short term objectives.

After only a few months in office, President Obama faced an Iranian protest movement angered by endemic electoral fraud. While protesters demanding freedom were brutally suppressed by ideological extremists, Obama remained quiet. In the President's words, he did not want to be seen as 'meddling'. For Obama, the pursuit of an improbable detente with Iran's leaders was more important than the protection of basic individual freedom. It was evident that freedom had suffered a serious relegation in American foreign policy.

Another example of the declining importance of freedom was seen in the President's early policy towards Egypt. Just prior to the aforementioned protests in Iran, Obama addressed university students in Cairo to offer his support for eventual Egyptian democracy. Taken alone, Obama's words suggested a bold idealist narrative in his foreign policy. In fact, the reality was far different. The same year as his Cairo speech, Obama cut Egyptian democracy aid from the US by 60% and Civil Society/NGO support aid by 80%. For the President, words provided a cheap alternative to substantive assistance. Indeed, when Egyptians later revolted against the Mubarak government, Obama only shifted support to their revolution when it became apparent that Mubarak was doomed. For the President, Egyptian democracy was preferable only so far as it was cheap, easy and uncomplicated. As the recent embassy protests illustrated, Egyptian democracy has been far from uncomplicated. With words as well as action, Obama should have supported Egyptian freedom from the start.

The confusion in Obama's foreign policy has been most pronounced in his administration's variant responses to the revolutions in Libya and Syria. Where (under European pressure) Obama reluctantly signed on to the overthrow of Gaddafi's relatively weak regime, in Syria, US policy has been very different. Faced with Assad's military power and his alliance with Hezbollah and Iran, Obama has been reluctant to provide either direct or indirect military aid to the Syrian rebel movement. Obama's short term realist hesitancy has restrained American policy. The President could and should be taking greater steps to help Syrians win their freedom.

The President's realist sympathies are also evident in his conduct of grand power politics. Where a major element of President GW Bush's Russia policy was focused on support for eastern European democracy, Obama has instead favored a 'reset' designed to balance US-Russia relations into greater stability. Although this effort seems to have produced little tangible success, Obama has recently suggested that he would make even greater compromises to Putin if he wins re-election in November.

What about counter-terrorism policy under Obama?

In 2008, the President campaigned on a platform to close Guantanamo and reform the CIA's interrogation program. However, today's reality bears little resemblance to those now distant words. Under Obama, predator drone strikes against suspected terrorists are being authorized at unprecedented levels. Guantanamo remains open and military commissions have been re-authorized. Rendition remains part of the CIA tool kit. While I personally agree with the President's decisions in these areas, I also believe that they indicate the distance between 'Obama the liberal idealist' and 'Obama the realist'.

Considering Afghanistan, while during the 2008 campaign Obama called Afghanistan 'the right war'  that he would win, the President has now decided that Afghanistan is no longer worth fighting. Although recent gains towards greater local security and local political sovereignty have been achieved, Obama has decided that Afghan freedom must be subjugated to domestic political expediency. The 'right war' worthy of continued sacrifice is now simply the war that will 'end on schedule'.

    Since January 2009, the President's idealist narrative has acted as a cloak for a traditional, short term realist rooted foreign policy. For me this is problematic. In a world where competing forces are struggling for freedom and justice, American foreign policy needs a sustaining clarity. Without such a clarity, America's enemies are emboldened and our allies (both real and potential) are alienated and discouraged. American foreign policy should never just be about navigating difficult storms abroad. Instead, it should be about bold ideas and confident resolve.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

BBC Daily Politics

Although US (or Iraq...) based readers won't be able to view - for those in the UK, I will be on BBC 2 'The Daily Politics' show at 12 PM tomorrow (Thursday). I will be talking about the first Presidential debate.