Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

It’s still all about leadership

28/01/2015, 11:29:47 AM

by Rob Marchant

For the last few years, Labour Uncut has been repeating pretty much the same message: the Tories will mainly fight this election on two things: leadership and the economy.

They haven’t disappointed. So far, they seem to have been talking about little else.

Thing is, at this point the argument over the economy is a difficult one. To the politically-attuned, the Tories may just be perceived – even among their own supporters – as having called their last Budget badly and overdone austerity. But among ordinary folk, the reality is that Labour is still not trusted on the economy and that this would tend to trump unease with the Tories.

The logic is not exactly complex: “Labour will borrow more” is the Tory attack line. Labour’s strategy is to reply with the economically correct, and yet politically inept, response that we will leave the door open to borrow, but only to invest.

As if the average voter is likely to distinguish between leaving the door open and doing, or between capital and expense accounting in their feelings about the two main parties.

As if.

No, it is largely too late to try to unscramble that particular omelette. Our economic polling is what it is.

So we turn from economics to leadership. Some things here, too, we can no longer do anything about. It is too late to play the statesman-in-waiting, or gain the support of those world leaders who are both politically like-minded and credible (a category for which François Hollande would clearly struggle to qualify).

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Labour risks being on the wrong side of history over Islamism

13/08/2014, 11:17:44 AM

by Rob Marchant

No-one could exactly accuse President Obama of rushing into military action to deal with the resurgent Islamists of ISIS in Iraq, currently massacring local Christians and Yazidis. No, if there were a perfect illustration for the phrase “dragged kicking and screaming”, this would surely be it.

But Iraq’s apparent political and military meltdown is, ironically, drawing the “troops out” Obama administration – and could yet conceivably draw our own – into some kind of ring-fenced, belated rear-guard action in the Middle East. Whatever the rights and wrongs of any such action might be, the cause is, again, the phenomenon which has dominated the first decade-and-a-half of this century’s foreign policy and may yet come to dominate the rest of it: jihadism, the extreme version of political Islam.

As the years have worn on from 9/11 and 7/7, it has been easy for the world to retreat into the comfortable delusion that the threat has gone. It has not. Taking a bit longer in the airport security queue has not made everyone safe. Islamist terrorism is still happening, just not on our shores. And the fundamental problem is not Islam per se, of course; it is Islam as the basis for an illiberal form of politics and government.

If further evidence were needed of how Islamism seems destined always to end in some kind of madness, then it could certainly be provided by recent events in Gaza, where Hamas has spent recent weeks using civilians as human shields. Or in Nigeria, where Boko Haram is busy kidnapping its schoolgirls for use as slaves, as our politicians take decisive action to fight them via, er, Twitter.

But it’s not just such visibly extreme Islamism; look closer to home, to a “moderate” administration governing a historical ally of the West, where Turkey’s government has been slowly sliding into an increasingly unpleasant authoritarianism. If you want an indication of the current direction of a country which had previously made great strides towards modernisation, try reading recent comments by deputy prime minister Bülent Arınç, who recently opined that “women should not laugh in public”. This from the “acceptable face” of Islamism.

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More fizzle than sizzle, Obama is yesterday’s man

23/07/2014, 04:37:40 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The central assumption underpinning Ed Miliband’s 25 minute meeting with Barack Obama the other day is that an audience with the US President makes a British politician walk taller in the eyes of the voters.

Indeed, it sometimes works the other way too. When candidate Obama was seeking to burnish his credentials as a nascent international statesman he met with Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Tony Blair. He is later said to have described, Brown as having “substance”, while Cameron was all “sizzle” but Blair was “sizzle and substance”.

But Obama himself has turned out to be more fizzle than sizzle. The 44th US president is now a busted flush. A let-down. A talker, not a do-er. Even his flagship achievement in office – state-subsidised healthcare – hit the legal buffers yesterday.

It may be recoverable, but the failure to implement Obamacare effectively is just the latest in a string of flops that have bedevilled his presidency. His famous campaign mantra of “yes we can” has been reduced to, “no we can’t”. Certainly when it comes to closing down Guantanamo Bay, making headway in the Middle East, protecting Christians from Genocide in Iraq and Syria or even, nearer to home, raising US living standards. Obama simply hasn’t delivered.

In fact, if Ed Miliband wanted to visit a world leader to learn about paying the price of promising big and delivering small, then he could have taken the Eurostar to Paris and met with Francois Hollande and saved himself the air fare to Washington.

The most maddening aspect about Obama – habitué of the golf course these days – is that he is content to just coast along, a second term bed-blocker. Like his infamous drones, he seems to operate on auto-pilot, presiding over an unprecedented retrenchment in US influence around the globe and a sluggish economy at home. (Indeed, a brutal editorial in this week’s Economist describes him as the least business-friendly president in decades).

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It’s all about Obamacare in America

07/01/2014, 07:00:34 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Beyond being the first African-American president, an achievement, obviously, secured on day one, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or Obamacare is Barack Obama’s best, perhaps only, hope for a positive, domestic legacy. Opposition to it binds Republicans. While it’s almost 4 years since Obama signed it into law and as a result, as of 1 January 2014, 6 million Americans are receiving insurance that they otherwise wouldn’t, it remains the dominant issue in US politics.

Obama has improved the economy, repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell” and exited the US from unpopular wars, while avoiding others and killing Osama Bin Laden. Largely creditable but not governing prose to match 2008’s poetry, which perhaps was pregnant with disappointment.

Equally, it shouldn’t seem too much to expect more concrete steps to eradicate the causes of the 2008/09 crash, a less dysfunctional DC, and a Middle East strategy that doesn’t cede so much to the regimes of Iran and Syria – especially when coinciding with an intended pivot to the Pacific that is not preventing China and Japan edging toward World War III.

This underwhelming record and the impending inevitability of lame-duck status makes ACA, the most significant US healthcare reform since the 1960s, vital to Obama’s submission to history’s judgment. The pendulum is swinging against his party, however.

In 2014, the Republicans are likely to hold the House and with victory in either North Carolina or Louisiana will probably take the Senate. There is a growing audience for what they have to say. It’s not clear, though, that they have much to say. Except how awful ACA is.

Re-election as governor in a traditionally Democratic state makes Chris Christie the Republican’s presidential frontrunner. To be this candidate, he’ll need to win the support of a party that brings together social conservatives and economic liberals, as well as Wall Street and rural America.

A positive platform to galvanise this eclectic bunch is a tough ask. ACA will loom large in its negative campaigning. That Republicans find it easier to agree on what they oppose, rather than what they support, means their legislative tactics will continue to raise the stakes on ACA.

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The Russians are stalling on Syria, America must be ready to act

12/09/2013, 01:44:26 PM

by Dan McCurry

Sarin is invisible, odourless and deadly in tiny amounts. If it’s in your surroundings, you’ll soon know; typical symptoms include soiling yourself, and choking to death as your throat muscles contract.

The international convention to ban these chemicals came about following the killing of 5,000 Kurds in Iraq. Apart from a bizarre terrorist incident on the Tokyo subway, sarin hasn’t been used since, so the ban had been effective right up until Syria.

The fact that sarin has now been used, without consequence (so far), must have put ideas into the minds of other dictators. After all, it’s somewhat more effective than CS gas. This stuff can stop a riot in a minute and a revolution in a day. For dictators, possession of sarin ensures security of tenure is guaranteed.

No one disputes that this chemical was created by Assad’s regime.

We’ve now got Putin striding the global stage, negotiating to decommission the weapons. Prior to the negotiations Assad had lied for years claiming that he had no such weapons. Immediately prior to the negotiation Putin was claiming that the rebels had used the sarin on themselves.

Let’s be clear about the veracity of that previous claim. Putin now admits that Assad built the stock pile. Sarin doesn’t have any other use on Earth. It is a weapon. There is no dual purpose. It doesn’t come about by accident. It only exists in order to kill people. If Assad built this arsenal he must have been willing to use it.

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Ed gets it: the red line matters – but so does international legitimacy

29/08/2013, 08:34:51 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Daniel Finkelstein in the Times yesterday quoted Andrew Tabler, a Syrian expert, as saying: “What happens (in Syria) will not stay there.” Which makes it imperative that as large an international coalition as possible is built behind the evidence that the Assad regime used chemical weapons against its own people, constituting a violation of international law that must be punished.

This must not be Barack Obama “shooting an elephant” – the George Orwell analogy employed by Stephen Walt: the strong doing something only because it is expected. It must be the world coming together to protect the weak: those that have been gassed by Assad and those who may have WMD used against them by tyrants in future.

It is incontrovertible that an attack has occurred. It also seems highly likely that the Assad regime carried out this attack. Finkelstein is right that if this breach of the established red line passes without consequence, a green light is given to other evils. Iran and all world-be oppressors would note.

Enforcing that red line is vital. But so is enforcing it in the right way. Transparently drawing upon robust evidence, UN process and established precedent, to build both a watertight legal case against Assad and one that motivates wide support for the actions that follow. Failing to do this would degrade international law and weaken the capacity of the UK and our allies to positively influence the future of Syria and the wider region.

Under a scenario where the US and her supporters retaliate against Assad before UN processes have run their course, they would do so without the support of Russia, China and Middle Eastern states that might otherwise be brought on side. Whatever strikes are executed would be unlikely to remove Assad from power – and may do relatively little to undermine his capacities, while fortifying the resolve of his supporters and backers to resist The Great Satan. Hezbollah may well attack Israel. Western interests would crash under the force of the Electronic Syrian Army. Assad would launch further attacks against his own people – whether using WMD or not.

What would the US then do?

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We need to woo women voters to win

17/12/2012, 07:00:49 AM

by Sarah Rabbitts

A few weeks ago, the Labour Women’s Network held it’s political day, looking at how the Labour party can be a more electable party and the importance of women’s votes. As we come to the end of the year, the lessons from that day are worth reflecting on if we are to build on our current poll advantage.

Deborah Mattison, the founder and director of Britain Thinks, explained that Labour needed to target women because they are more likely to be concerned or affected by cuts to local public services and, crucially, are also more likely to switch party.

British elections are very different to the US Presidential elections in terms of scale and funding, but there are lessons in how to engage with women that we can learn from the Democrats. Merici Vinton, a former new media campaigner for the Democrats, advised Labour campaigners to respond to every email and social media post in order to engage with a high number of potential voters. It’s difficult to monitor and reply to everything because we have fewer resources in the UK, but this strategy makes sense.

The next general election will be fought using new media for the first time; we’ll have to embrace it and its ability to generate a two way conversation with voters. Josie Cluer, who’s on the board of North London Cares, acknowledged that the growth of twitter since the 2010 election has been immense: it’s grown from 3.5 million users, to 12 million users. However, Josie rightly argues that Labour’s twitter reach is limited if voters don’t chose to voluntarily follow our twitter campaigns. We need to be more creative with our use of new media. Labour needs to look at all the new media channels in the UK and how we can most effectively talk to different women’s groups through sites like, for example, Mumsnet.

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The Sunday review: the US presidential election

11/11/2012, 08:00:19 AM

by Anthony Painter

Politics is part art, part science. The best campaigns combine artistry and method. US election 2012 was the one in which science won and art was overwhelmed. And what a disappointing election it turned out to be – albeit one with a good outcome.

In his victory speech, president Obama declared:

“You’ll hear the deep patriotism in the voice of a military spouse who’s working the phones late at night to make sure that no one who fights for this country ever has to fight for a job, or a roof over their head when they come home.

That’s why we do this. That’s what politics can be. That’s why elections matter. It’s not small; it’s big. It’s important.”

What a pity that this voice was muffled throughout the campaign. The Washington Post blogger, Ezra Klein, explains why:

“The Obama campaign found that their key voters were turned off by soaring rhetoric and big plans. They’d lowered their expectations, and they responded better when Obama appeared to have lowered his expectations, too. And so he did. The candidate of hope and change became the candidate of modest plans and achievable goals.”

This campaign was driven by focus groups and polls – science. Only, this wasn’t a campaign of modest plans and achievable goals. It was a campaign of attack and vagueness. What on earth has changed? In The Audacity to Win, campaign leader David Plouffe’s take on the 2008 Obama campaign recounts:

“Focus groups … and feedback from the field were two of our most important assets…We did not use them to make policy decisions. We used them to gauge how the arguments in the campaign were being received and digested. It was about communications, no content.”

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Obama must be more ambitious if he wins a second term tomorrow

05/11/2012, 04:30:36 PM

by Jonathan Todd

“Obama is forty-seven years old”, noted Russell Baker prior to the 2008 presidential election. “McCain is seventy-two, old enough to be Obama’s father … In classical mythology the son must kill the father to allow for the earth’s renewal.”

Has Obama’s vanquishing of McCain really brought the renewal that it might have done?

Yes, he arrived in office in the midst of the biggest economic calamity since the Great Depression. But, unlike FDR, he has not reformed Wall Street, often seeming keener to pacify than challenge financial interests.

Yes, Obama became president with America’s moral capital debased. But Guantanamo bay remains open. And his escalating use of drone attacks threatens to recruit violent anti-Americans as effectively as Guantanamo bay. His failure to meaningfully support those who oppose the Assad regime in Syria also seems to be increasingly driving them towards extremism.

Yes, China’s rise is about decisions taken over the past 30 years in Beijing, not anything done in DC or on Wall Street. But the tone and content of Obama’s attacks on Romney has hardly encouraged America to look outward to the great opportunities that are opening up as a consequence of Chinese communists doing capitalism better than American capitalists. Nor has any substantive reform of global institutions been secured to make them more democratic, inclusive and credible in a world where economic and political power shifts ever more south and east.

Yes, the American political system is designed to necessitate compromise and Obama was confronted by a Republican party determined to not compromise. But it took him an age to accept this. And he still struggles to adapt to it. He thinks, for example, that his re-election will sufficiently wipe the slate clean that the fiscal cliff will be averted via a deal somewhere close to the Simpson-Bowles plan. It is unclear, though, why Republicans who have not voted for any tax increases since 1990 will suddenly do so.

Obama misapplied the exhortation of Rahm Emmanuel: Never let a serious crisis go to waste. There are at least two crises that Obama has failed to fully exploit.

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On the frontline for Obama: fear and campaigning in Las Vegas

02/11/2012, 07:00:26 AM

by Fran O’Leary

The first thing that struck me when I walked into the Obama office on East Charleston Boulevard was the friendliness, warmth and inclusiveness, amid the frenetic campaign activity.  It’s hard to put your finger on exactly what generates this buzz, but it’s there in each smile and each wave as grassroots activists congratulate each other on the numbers of doors they’ve knocked on.

It’s there as people trade campaign stories from the streets and volunteers share pizza.  It’s there as activists and their kids sign their names, and write positive messages of support, on the paper that covers the entrance wall.

In stark contrast to Vegas’ lavish casinos, where every element of the experience – from scented air conditioning to security – is tightly controlled, there is a real sense that this place belongs to the grassroots. Everyone here has an important role to play.

The people in this neighbourhood – Clark county state senate district 8 – face a serious threat if Obama loses the election.  This battle is theirs and the stakes are high.  Unemployment stands at around 12% in Clark county as a whole, which is Democrat leaning overall, and the median income in Las Vegas is around $39k.

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