2012 - %3, October

Quote of the Day: Leave George Bush Alone!

| Tue Oct. 23, 2012 2:24 PM EDT

From Jennifer Rubin, in a column insisting that Barack Obama has too apologized for America:

Liberals don't even see that Obama’s excoriating his predecessor is apologizing for this nation, but of course it is. George W. Bush wasn't acting as a private citizen, and whatever he actions he took were done in the name of the United States.

This pretty much mocks itself, doesn't it? In any case, Jimmy Carter will certainly be glad to hear that conservatives plan to stop criticizing all the actions he took in the name of the United States. Better late than never, I guess.

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Romney Still Wants to Indict Ahmadinejad for Violating Genocide Convention

| Tue Oct. 23, 2012 1:32 PM EDT

At last night's presidential debate on foreign policy, Mitt Romney repeated one of his signature foreign-policy talking points on Iran:

I'd make sure that [Iranian president Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad is indicted under the Genocide Convention. His words amount to genocide incitation. I would indict him for it.

/Flickr ; /FlickrGage Skidmore/Flickr ; Daniella Zalcman/Flickr

Romney has been saying this since at least the end of 2007. As I noted last year when he brought this up several times in the heat of the Republican primaries, Romney is wading into murky, if not downright implausible, territory here. When he talks about indicting Ahmadinejad, Romney is specifically referring to the the Iranian leader's infamous applause line calling for Israel to "be wiped off the map." That rhetoric was widely condemned when he first said it back in the Bush years. But unless a statement can be taken into direct evidence as proving premeditation and intent to perpetrate mass murder, it would be exceedingly difficult to bring charges under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide against a foreign leader, let alone haul him before the International Criminal Court.

Elizabeth Blackney, an anti-genocide activist and author (and Romney supporter), questioned Romney's plan when we talked about this last November: "There are so many layers to [Romney's] argument that need to be explored [before any potential US support for an indictment] because the implications are very serious...US policy has been to not honor the International Criminal Court; we are not a signatory to the Rome Treaty. So is Romney signaling that he would recommend law enforcement under the [statute]... and fundamentally change American policy toward the ICC and the Genocide Convention? [The governor's comment] was not very well thought out."

Reactions following Monday night's debate were similar: "And as the President of the United States, Romney wouldn't have the power on his own to bring anyone up before the International Criminal Court [ICC]. But it's one of those bits of posturing that nobody, not even his own supporters, actually believes," writes The American Prospect's Paul Waldman.

After the debate, Romney campaign aides clarified Romney's comment to TPM's Benjy Sarlin, suggesting that a Romney administration would support the "World Court" arresting and trying the Iranian president. (While the "World Court" is indeed a nickname for the UN's International Court of Justice, campaign officials most likely meant the ICC, which actually prosecutes crimes against humanity and genocide.) Greg Sargent at the Washington Post was quick to point out that members of Romney's own foreign policy advisory team, particularly John Bolton, cringe at the idea of American leadership deferring to international bodies like the ICC.

In his determination to project more toughness on Tehran during the final weeks of the election, Romney might do well to think of another—and less legally muddled—argument than "arraign Ahmadinejad now!"

Serbia, Belarus, Kazakhstan to Monitor US Elections

| Tue Oct. 23, 2012 1:29 PM EDT

Last week, President Hamid Karzai got snippy with reporters about the possibility of Westerners monitoring his country's election process: "Afghanistan is not interfering in their election, and we are hoping they don't interfere in our election," he said. 

Karzai's right that folks from Afghanistan won't be monitoring US elections. But people from Kazakhstan will.

On November 6, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a United Nations affiliate, has already deployed a team of 57 observers from 23 countries, including Serbia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, to monitor voter suppression and learn about election administration, campaign finance, new voting technologies, and even our media environment.

The 1980s Called, and They're Jealous of Mitt Romney's Defense Budget

| Tue Oct. 23, 2012 1:17 PM EDT

During last night's foreign policy debate, Barack Obama shot a hard zinger at Republican challenger Mitt Romney: "The 1980's called; they want their foreign policy back." Throughout the night, the president argued that Romney treats defense spending as if the US were still in a neck-and-neck arms race with Russia. But in fact, Romney's military budget puts Cold War spending to shame: It's the kind of plan that Gen. Buck Turgidson, the ultranationalist hawk in Dr. Strangelove, could only dream about.

"Romney's plan to spend 4 percent of the GDP on defense sends the budget skyrocketing north of Cold War levels. It's amazingly unprecedented," says defense-budget expert Winslow Wheeler, a former Senate aide who now directs the Straus Military Reform Project at the Project On Government Oversight. Obama doesn't seem to have any new ideas on how to modernize the military, but at least "he's spending the same amount of money," Wheeler says. "If Romney is elected, he'll quickly realize his plan is completely unaffordable."

Wheeler put together the chart below (using sources from the Department of Defense Greenbook, the OMB 2013 budget, and the Romney website as interpreted by Travis Sharp of the Center for New American Security), to show exactly how the Obama and Romney plans compare. The numbers are in billions of dollars, adjusted for 2012 inflation:

    US Military spending: comparing obama, romney and the cold war (in 2012 dollars)

Winslow Wheeler, Straus Military Reform ProjectWinslow Wheeler, Straus Military Reform Project

According to Romney's website, the US should spend freely to update "aging" weapons like tanker aircrafts, strategic bombers, and Navy ships. But instead of proposing new ways to do so, Romney is relying on existing designs. For example, he wants to reopen production of the F-22 Raptor, the most expensive fighter jet in human history, even though the plane has faced numerous technical problems. Romney also would continue production of the $120 billion Littoral Combat Ship, which has its own troubles: One version is corroding, has serious equipment failures, and can hardly stay afloat.

"We certainly need to modernize the inventory with affordable, effective airplanes," Wheeler says. "But Romney's alternative is business as usual: throwing more money at the problem without investing in competition and smart contracting."

The Romney plan, Wheeler adds, should keep one election-year constituency happy: "Defense contractors are drooling."  

Programming Note: Obama Is Expanding His Lead on Romney

| Tue Oct. 23, 2012 12:24 PM EDT

Just a quick update. The press mostly seems to be stuck in its post-first-debate groove of insisting that Mitt Romney has all the momentum and is closing fast on President Obama. And maybe so. But that's not what our best forecasters think. Models from both Sam Wang and Nate Silver show the same thing: Romney surged after the first debate, but by October 12 that started to turn around. Since then, the momentum has mostly been Obama's. Just sayin'.

So Much for That "War on Coal"

| Tue Oct. 23, 2012 12:05 PM EDT

In September, news broke that the Buchanan Mine in southwestern Virginia, owned by Consol Energy, was temporarily laying off most of the its 620 employees. Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) and the rest of the GOP were quick to capitalize on the layoffs as evidence of the Obama administration's "ongoing war on coal." Pat Mullins, the chairman of the Virginia GOP, issued a statement a few days after the layoffs were announced citing the mine shut-downs as the result of the Obama administration's "failed leadership and destructive policies." The Republican National Committee has also cited the Buchanan layoffs as more evidence of Obama's coal-killing agenda.

But last week, Pittsburgh-based Consol issued a press release indicating that it is reopening the Buchanan mine. The mine will reopen during the week of the election.

The announcement has gotten little coverage outside of this story in the local newspaper. Consol's own press release says the temporary shut-down of the mine was in response to "weak markets" for metallurgical coal, which is used to make steel, and that the company was "voluntarily curtailing production." Despite the idling of this mine as well as another in West Virginia, Consol still expects to produce 13.4 to 13.8 million tons of coal in the third quarter. So much for the "war on coal."

Meanwhile, Consol has long been a big backer of Republicans and a few coal-friendly Democrats. The company was a major donor to Rick Santorum when he was in the Senate, and then paid him handsomely for his work a "consultant" after leaving Congress. Consol's political action committee has donated $62,500 to Mitt Romney's campaign this year, according to Open Secrets. The PAC has also given $15,000 to Griffith, the congressman who was quoted last month blaming the Buchanan layoffs on President Obama. 

UPDATE: Consol spokeswoman Lynn Seay notes that while the Buchanan mine will restart, it will be operating at full capacity:

One hundred ninety production and maintenance employees will not return to Buchanan Mine and the company is currently working to reassign those employees, as well as some salaried employees, to other CONSOL Energy mines. Buchanan Mine typically produces approximately 400,000 tons per month on a seven day week schedule; the company anticipates that monthly production will be approximately 293,000 tons per month on the reduced schedule.

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The Triumphant Return of the Hack Gap

| Tue Oct. 23, 2012 11:43 AM EDT

Speaking of the hack gap, can I take a little victory lap on this? Think about what we saw last night: Mitt Romney dispassionately marched through the entire oeuvre of conservative obsessions on foreign policy and rejected virtually every single one of them. He's getting out of Afghanistan with no conditions; he's happy we helped get rid of Hosni Mubarak; he'll take no serious action against Syria; he wants to indict Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the World Court; he didn't even mention Benghazi; and he refused to say straight-up that he'd support Israel if they bombed Iran. It's the kind of performance that should have had a guy like Charles Krauthammer tearing his hair out, but instead we got this:

I think it's unequivocal: Romney won. And he didn't just win tactically, but strategically.

Was there any rending of garments anywhere else? Not for a second. Conservatives just reveled in the fact that Romney apparently made himself acceptable to undecided voters. Yuval Levin: "Romney clearly achieved his aim." Ramesh Ponnuru: "Advantage Romney." Rich Lowry: "Romney executed what must have been his strategy nearly flawlessly." Bill Kristol: "Tonight, Romney seems as fully capable as—probably more capable than—Barack Obama of being the next president." Stanley Kurtz: "Romney has now decisively established himself as a credible alternative to Obama." Erick Erickson: "Mitt Romney won this debate."

On a substantive level, Romney's performance from a conservative point of view was worse than Obama's in the first debate. It was pure rope-a-dope, with Romney abandoning virtually every foreign policy position the right holds dear while utterly refusing to attack President Obama as the weak-kneed appeaser they believe him to be. And yet....no one seemed to mind. As far as the right is concerned, two weeks before an election is no time to get too worried over principle.

Romney Super-PAC Will Carpet-Bomb Swing States With Biggest Blitz Yet

| Tue Oct. 23, 2012 11:32 AM EDT

Paging all TV-watching swing state voters: The campaign ad blitz clogging up your airwaves is about to get worse.

The pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future on Tuesday launched a $17.7 million ad campaign targeting 10 swing states around the country—the super-PAC's single largest buy yet. Restore Our Future's latest campaign will consist of two ads: one featuring a wounded Iraq veteran hailing Mitt Romney as a man who "cares deeply about people who are struggling"; and another spot slamming President Obama for high unemployment, "crushing debt," and declining incomes.

The two ads will run throughout the next week in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Restore Our Future's pro-Romney ad can be viewed above. Here's the anti-Obama ad:

Restore Our Future—run by former Romney aides Carl Forti, Charles Spies, and Larry McCarthy—is arguably the king of the super-PACs. Restore Our Future's sole purpose is to help Romney win the presidency, and the super-PAC has raised a staggering $111.5 million to do that. The super-PAC's donors include casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, Texas homebuilder Bob Perry, Houston Texans owner Robert McNair, and Oxbow Carbon, the energy company run by Bill Koch, brother to Charles and David Koch.

Who Knew? Romney Agrees With Obama on Foreign Policy

| Tue Oct. 23, 2012 10:57 AM EDT

For a presidential election where the choices between two approaches to the economy, health care, and the role of the federal government couldn't be wider, Monday night's final presidential debate featured an unusual amount of agreement between the two candidates. This was in part because Mitt Romney, having taken positions to Obama's right during the Republican primary and in the run up to the election's final weeks, moderated his positions during the debate. It was a startling shift from Romney, who a month ago implied that the president sympathizes with people who kill Americans, and it undermined Romney's argument that recent foreign policy challenges have been little more than the result of the Obama administration displaying "weakness."

Down with Mubarak!
For all Romney's criticism of Obama's handling of the Arab Spring and its aftermath, he emphasized his agreement with the president in ultimately pushing former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to step down. "I believe, as the president indicated, and said at the time that I supported his—his action there," Romney said. "I felt that—I wish we'd have had a better vision of the future."

Let's help the rebels in Syria—but no American boots on the ground.
The Washington Post's Max Fisher has a detailed rundown of how both candidates offered almost exactly the same approach to the ongoing civil war in Syria: Help organize the opposition, arm "responsible parties," and try to turn the new Syria into a US ally—all without direct military intervention. Romney for his part, said he did not intend to invade Syria if elected, saying, "I don't want to have our military involved in Syria."

Sequestration is bad.
Romney and Obama both promised to prevent the forthcoming "fiscal cliff" scenario, in which large cuts in social and defense spending will be triggered in the absence of Congress reaching a deal on the debt. They both pledged not to allow the cuts, known as "sequestration," to happen. "I will not cut our military budget by a trillion dollars, which is a combination of the budget cuts the president has, as well as the sequestration cuts," Romney said. "That, in my view, is making—is making our future less certain and less secure."  Though Romney wants to spend more on defense than Obama, pegging military spending to 4 percent of the overall economy, Obama similarly pledged not to allow sequestration to occur. "It will not happen," Obama said.

Israel is our BFF.
Obama and Romney both took pains to emphasize their support for Israel, with Romney actually hitting Obama from the left for the absence of a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians. Obama never once mentioned the occupation, even when prompted by Romney, but he did promise to back up Israel in the event of war with Iran. "I will stand with Israel if they are attacked," Obama said. "I want to underscore the same point the president made which is that if I'm president of the United States, when I'm president of the United States, we will stand with Israel," Romney said.

Diplomacy can work with Iran; force is a last resort.
Romney's biggest departure from his prior stated positions on foreign policy was on Iran. At his foreign policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute, Romney said, "We must make clear to Iran through actions, not just words, that their nuclear pursuit will not be tolerated." Obama hit Romney on this during the debate, saying that "I always understand that that is the last resort, not the first resort." Romney responded by striking a less belligerent tone. "[O]f course, a military action is the last resort," Romney said, praising Obama's implementation of "crippling sanctions" against Iran and simply saying he'd "tighten them." Both candidates pledged to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon by any means necessary, including force.

It's time to leave Afghanistan.
Romney has previously implied that he could leave troops in Afghanistan past 2014 if military advisers recommended he do so. In his VMI foreign policy speech, he promised to "evaluate conditions on the ground and weigh the best advice of our military commanders." Last night, however, his tone was different, with Romney saying emphatically that "we're going to be finished by 2014, and when I'm president, we'll make sure we bring our troops out by the end of 2014." In doing so, he affirmed what the Obama administration is already planning to do.

China has to "play by the rules."
Obama and Romney, despite actually holding similar views on the inevitability of outsourcing (if not how to deal with it) both emphasized that China has to "play by the rules," a platitude that projects toughness but doesn't mean much. "[W]ith respect to China, China is both an adversary, but also a potential partner in the international community if it's following the rules," Obama said. "They have to understand we want to trade with them," Romney agreed. "We like free enterprise, but you got to play by the rules."  

Let's keep killing people with drones.
Moderator Bob Shieffer started the discussion on drones with a startlingly shallow question—simply asking the candidates' positions on drones without contextualizing their use with the very public criticism of human rights advocates and intelligence experts that their use results in the deaths of innocents or leads to more people being radicalized. While Obama dodged the question (technically the targeted killing program is America's worst-kept secret), Romney praised Obama's use of drones. "We should use any and all means necessary to take out people who pose a threat to us and our friends around the world," Romney said. "And it's widely reported that drones are being used in drone strikes, and I support that entirely." Romney did acknowledge that "we're going to have to do more than just going after leaders and—and killing bad guys, important as that is." What about the part where we're not just killing "bad guys?"

It was a heated debate, mostly because the president kept knocking Romney for having shifted his positions over the course of the election. The president basically summarized Romney's approach when he said, "You know, there have been times, Governor, frankly, during the course of this campaign, where it sounded like you thought that you'd do the same things we did, but you'd say them louder and somehow that—that would make a difference." But despite Obama's attacks, there's an unusual degree of consensus on major issues—something that should probably give both sides pause.

Romney's pitch Monday night was, in a nutshell: If you like Obama's foreign policy, vote for me and you can have it. But you'll also have a job. It's a smart pitch, especially because Romney's lackluster performance at the debate may be overshadowed at the polls by the sluggish recovery.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 23, 2012

Tue Oct. 23, 2012 10:42 AM EDT

Texas National Guard Spc. Isaac Gomez provides security as Provincial Reconstruction Team Kunar engineers conduct a quality assurance check at the Narang Girls School Oct. 13, 2012. US Army photo.