Negative Ads: Hate ‘Em, Love ‘Em, Nuke ‘Em

The president, any president, should go negative early, often, and without apology if the goal is victory. The notion that negative campaigning is some toxic modern aberration in American democracy is bogus. No campaign may ever top the Andrew Jackson–John Quincy Adams race of 1828, in which Jackson was accused of murder, drunkenness, cockfighting, slave-trading, and, most delicious of all, cannibalism. His wife and his mother, for good measure, were branded a bigamist and a whore, respectively. (Jackson won nonetheless.) In the last national campaign before the advent of political television ads, lovable Harry Truman didn’t just give hell to the “do nothing” Congress, as roseate memory has it. In a major speech in Chicago in late October 1948, he revisited still-raw World War II memories to imply that the “powerful reactionary forces which are silently undermining our democratic institutions”—that would be the Republicans— and their chosen front man, Thomas Dewey, were analogous to the Nazis and Hitler. Over-the-top? Dewey was a liberal by the standards of the postwar GOP and had more in common with a department-store mannequin than with a Fascist dictator.

That’s why he would be wise to seriously reexamine the history of a spot so effective that it’s the only aspect of the entire LBJ-Goldwater race that anyone remembers. The latest volume of Robert Caro’s epic life of Lyndon Johnson stops just short of the 1964 election. But last fall, Robert Mann, a journalist and historian with a relevant previous career seeped in the cauldron of Louisiana politics, got there first with Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds, an enterprising book meticulously reconstructing the genesis and impact of this very brief, very devastating piece of film. Mann’s account is all the more instructive when read in the context of 2012. Paradoxically, the most famous attack ad in history stands apart from many of those that followed it—including most produced today—by containing no facts or even factoids, no quotes, no argument, no image of either candidate, and not even a mention of the target’s name. And yet its power remains awesome to behold. It finished Goldwater even though Americans in 1964 tilted slightly more conservative than liberal (37 to 35 percent, according to Gallup) and even though the Goldwater campaign outspent LBJ’s on television advertising by some 40 percent, including for an attack ad of its own linking the president to graft, “swindle,” juvenile delinquency, crime, and riots.

Frank Rich, Nuke ‘Em: Why negative advertisements are powerful, essential, and sometimes (see “Daisy”) even artistic. New York Magazine, June 17, 2012

Read the entire article by Frank Rich and tell me, do you think that we moralize too much about negative versus positive political campaign ads?  Is all fair in love and political war?  Do ads turns off the people from voting or fire them up to participate in the political process?

Barackaganda: Where Hollywood Meets Washington

Just weeks ago President Obama was hard at work delivering his Washington Correspondents’ Dinner stand-up routine and now we find him on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for what is being dubbed his “Checks and the City” tour, a play on words for actress Sarah Jessica Parker’s $40,000 a plate soiree featuring Michelle and Barack Obama.  Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine and screaming diva in the documentary film, The September Issue, will also be at the Thursday gathering.  For $40,000, that plate should come with a new Prius c.

The AP author of the article says that Obama has no choice but to hook his falling star status onto the ready cash of multimillionaire Hollywood actors and actresses like George Clooney, Cher, Matthew Broderick, Ellen Degeneres, among many others.  There is great potential for this money-raising tete-a-tete to backfire.  Americans have an ongoing love/hate relationship with Hollywood.  While we may like the product that comes out of the industry, we don’t think much of the lifestyles of many of the rich and famous.  These are not the Go Go 1980s anymore nor are these the “Yes, we can!” feelings of just a few years ago.  Granted, anyone who hates Hollywood isn’t going to vote for Barack Obama anyway, but he needs the Independents to beat Mitt Romney.

Is President Obama looking too closely aligned with Hollywood?  Do you think this close alliance between Hollywood and Washington will make any difference in the presidential election?  Or do you just want to know what they are serving for $40,000 a plate? 

Obama, the Rock Star? No More

Many American reports are out today, including this article in the Christian Science Monitor, citing the just released Pew Global Attitudes Survey that President Obama’s rock star status in the world has severely declined.  I could have told you this, as it comes as no surprise to this American, but some of the data in the report is quite revealing.  Obama’s support for deadly drone strikes has all but evaporated any goodwill he had in Muslim majority countries.  (Anyone remember his famous Cairo speech in 2009?)  The world’s majority does not support the Obama drone campaign, with the American people (62%) still mostly in support of such actions to take out extremists and Al Qaeda supporters.

Not only has Obama’s popularity waned, but also the perception that the United States is the leading economy in the world.

The Obama era has coincided with major changes in international perceptions of American power – especially U.S. economic power. The global financial crisis and the steady rise of China have led many to declare China the world’s economic leader, and this trend is especially strong among some of America’s major European allies.

Four years ago, a plurality of 45 percent in the 14 countries also surveyed in this year’s poll named the US as the king of the global economic hill, as opposed to 22 percent who picked China. Today 42 percent place China in the throne, while the percentage naming the US has slipped to 36.

In European countries especially, China is viewed as the leading economic power: About two-thirds of Germans hold this opinion, while nearly 60 percent of Britons, French, and Spaniards do as well.

Thanks a lot, Europe, especially you, Germany, where nearly four years ago in August 2008 several hundred thousand of your own citizens cheered on the American presidential candidate Obama as he spoke in Berlin.  Check out this Associated Press photo of Obama’s fans in Berlin.

“Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end,”goes the old song made popular by Welsh singer, Mary Hopkin.  Seriously, this China economic power number one ranking is a somewhat shocking perception, but I recall telling many a listener when I lived in Beijing in 2007 that this century would not be called “The American Century,” but rather “The China Century,” thanks to not only China’s growing economy but also its super culture power status (Confucius Institutes, for example).  Little did I know then that a mere five years later many parts of the world would view China the greater economic power over the United States.  Interestingly, 48% of the Chinese people surveyed by Pew still consider the United States the world’s economic leader versus just 29% citing China.  For the record, the United States is still the world’s strongest economy.  Most of the US slippage is due to the perception that the dollar is not the leading economic indicator it once was.

The US president, much less the United States, may not hold rock star status in Europe these days, but we can cast our eyes across the Pacific to our Northeast Asian treasured ally.  Here is what the Pew Global Attitudes Survey had to say, and I thank you in advance:

In Japan, 72% currently express a favorable opinion of the U.S., up from 50% four years ago. America’s image in Japan improved dramatically in 2011, due in part to American relief efforts following the devastating March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Fully 85% of Japanese respondents expressed a positive view of the U.S. in last year’s poll.

Is there anything about this drop in Obama’s popularity that surprises you?  How about the United States?  Do you think we obsess over our position in the world more than other countries?  I think we do.  After all, we are the nation of celebrity, and just like actress Sally Field once said after winning her second Oscar® for Best Actress, “you like me right now,  you like me,” America really wants to be liked, not just in the Facebook sense.

Sushi Diplomacy: Japan in the World

The following is a prepared text of my May 30th speech to the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.  I was asked to discuss Japanese Public Diplomacy as part of a panel on Public Diplomacy in Northeast Asia.

History

In 1923, the Japanese Diet created a Special Account from Japan’s share of the Boxer indemnities to fund cultural activities to China.  That same year a China Cultural Affairs Bureau was established within MOFA.  This cultural bridge between China and Japan was severed with Japan’s invasion and occupation of Manchuria in 1931 and the Marco Polo Bridge incident that led to the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945).  Japan’s defeat in World War II led to almost thirty years of focus on economic reconstruction and recovery.  By the 1970s when Japan had become an economic superpower, it began to channel more of its resources into cultural diplomacy.  The Japan Foundation was established in 1972 for this sole purpose.

In the last 40 years, Tokyo’s cultural diplomacy has been focused mostly on the United States and its ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) neighbors.  The US –Japan Alliance is Japan’s foreign policy cornerstone and ASEAN involves expanding markets and energy security issues.  The Fukuda Doctrine pledged “heart to heart relations” between Japan and Southeast Asia after anti-Japanese protests occurred in Bangkok and Jakarta.  Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda’s 1977 speech in Manila, Philippines reasserted that Japan was a peaceful nation that would never become a military power and would show mutual respect, fairness and equality to its ASEAN members.  Japan asserts a peaceful approach because it cannot exercise hard power according to the no-war clause of Article 9 in its constitution.  Hence, Japan’s soft approach in the post-Meiji and post-WWII era is two-fold: cultural diplomacy (CD) and developmental assistance, official and nongovernmental through Japanese NGOs.  Institutions involved include the Japan Foundation, Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program, Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteer (JOCV) Program, founded in 1965 and modeled on the US Peace Corps, Global 30, and the Office of Global Communications, Prime Minister’s Office.

Cool Culture

Japan is playing catch-up with other nations in the region in making public diplomacy an integral part of its foreign relations.  It has always had a “soft power” agenda in the aftermath of WWII when Japan’s new constitution (Article 9) forbade any military aims.  Japan’s core strength is in cultural diplomacy, Cool Japan (manga, anime, J-Pop, J-Fashion) as well as traditional Japanese culture (rock garden, Zen architecture, tea ceremony, Kimono culture).   The global appeal of manga and anime has everything to do with globalization and global consumer tastes and nothing to do with the Japanese state.  So the challenge remains: how does the state expand and exploit its new “hip and cool” soft power image and reconcile that positive image with Japan’s East Asian mixed reputation.

Before 3.11, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) was working with the Japan Foundation to expand cultural exchange programs.  In April 2006, Foreign Minister Aso Taro linked manga and anime with a hearts and minds campaign to China’s youth in a speech to the University of Digital Content located in the Akihabara district (electronics Mecca) of Tokyo.  He wondered what pictures emerge in the heads of foreigners when they hear the name, Japan.  The more positive, the easier it is for Japan to get across its long-term views.  That same year, the head of Toyota Motor Corporation, Cho Fujio, who was also head of the MOFA-advisory Council on the Movement of People Across Borders, recommended a “Japan Manga Grand Prize.”  Its purpose was two-fold: (1) target foreign artists of manga and anime; and (2) appoint Japanese artists as cultural ambassadors to help promote J-Pop overseas.

In January 2007, Aso Taro gave a policy speech to the Diet that officially called for J-pop to be used as a public diplomacy tool.  “What is important is to be able to induce other countries to listen to Japan.  If the use of pop culture or various subcultures can be useful in this process, we certainly should make the most of them.”  A natural offspring of this vision is the AKB48 girl group (Akihabara 48), not only in Japan but also through spin-off versions throughout the region.  The popular song and dance act is now being enlisted in the sale of “reconstruction bonds.”  Japan has held cultural appeal for quite some time.  Before Hello Kitty, Doraemon (the earless robot cat), or Pokemon, there was Astro Boy and Godzilla.  The difference between then and now is that the J-state is finally taking notice that J-pop has J-policy links.

Cool Japan has its problems.  What it means to be cool is ephemeral.  Today’s Cool Japan is tomorrow’s (or today’s) Cool Korea or Cool India.  The Japanese government and institutions like the Japan Foundation recognize that being a cultural superpower isn’t enough, especially against the backdrop of the lost decades.  Nevertheless, the emphasis on culture continues in a region where China, Korea and Taiwan assert their own cultural features, China with its global Confucian Institutes in particular.  The question remains: Is culture power in the East Asian region just politics by other means?

Whither JPD after 3.11

Everything has changed with 3.11.  It is no longer exclusively Cool Japan but rather Gratitude Relations (Yamato spirit) that is driving Japan’s soft power.  Disaster pictures spoke 1,000 words, with long lines of people politely lined up and waiting for hours for water and food.  What started out as neighbors helping neighbors in Japan after the quake and tsunami was quickly appreciated globally and donations poured in.  Pray for Japan, the Lady Gaga effect in 2011, became Japan thanks you in 2012.

Japan’s image today is on the rise with its recovery.  But there is another side to this coin that is a major concern.  JPD holds opportunity for person-to-person diplomacy but public suspicion persists related to the Fukushima nuclear fallout and the Japanese government’s lack of transparency.  There is a huge loss of trust in government and corporate institutions.  Will this be a nuclear Japan, a post-nuclear Japan or something in between?  Mass anti-nuclear sentiments challenge the government’s efforts to link nuclear power with the Japan nation branding campaign of the Future City.  Former PM Naoto Kan told the Diet on Monday, May 28 that Japan should give up nuclear power, while Noda will decide soon whether or not to start the Oi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture.  (Coincidentally I’m meeting the mayor of Fukui city June 7th as part of a sister-city goodwill exchange.  Fukui is the sister city to my university employer home city, Fullerton.)

Another concern involves the persistent lack of internationalization in Japanese higher education.  Internationalization has always been linked more with economic and business issues.  To address this concern, the Japanese government formed the Global 30 project, which was originally slated to involve 30 universities but stands at 13.  These 13 Japanese institutions of higher learning are using government funds to internationalize their curriculum, increase foreign student percentages and offer more English-language instruction.  The program’s goal is to attract 300,000 international students by 2020. (The 13 member institutions had 21,429 international students in 2011.) Most coursework is offered in English so that the Japanese language requirement is not an impediment, but the hurdles are high for other universities to participate because of strict Ministry of Education standards.

Foreign student numbers in Japan were just over 138,000 in 2011, with nearly 90,000 coming from China and the rest from Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam and Malaysia.  USA student numbers were 1,400.  Global interest in the Japanese language is on a significant rise, in part because of great love and affection for manga and anime more than for economic reasons, but Japan has no equivalent to the Confucian Institutes outside the Japan Foundation.  Less than 4 percent of Japan’s university students are from overseas (133,000) compared to China’s 223,000 and the US with over 672,000.  Five percent of faculty is foreign and most are hired to teach in English or as ESL instructors.  Today fewer Japanese students are going abroad to the US and Europe.  South Korea, half the size of Japan, sends twice the number of its students to America.  All of this is causing angst about Japan’s ability to compete globally, but with the worse public debt among industrialized nations, change will be slow.

It is also plainly obvious that Japan’s public diplomacy suffers from the lack of a CNN International or BBC-like global media presence.  The Prime Minister’s Office recently opened an Office of Global Communications to strengthen its presence with international media and to reestablish the credibility of the Japan brand. But a closed society image persists.  Japan’s government policies favor ethnic homogeneity to maintain social order over a more open immigrant policy.  If you add in the fact that Japanese is not a global language either in business or diplomacy, then you have a recipe for a more sluggish soft power nation.

Japan’s future public diplomacy agenda will likely expand its Gratitude Relations through ODA and ORC (Open Reconstruction Collaboration).  A recent boost is that Japan has 18 months to convince the IOC that it would be a better host for the summer Olympics in 2020 than either Istanbul or Madrid.  The publicity surrounding this Olympic bid is driven by the rhetoric of thanks and acknowledgment to the world for helping Japan after 3/11.   The Japan Foundation is celebrating its 40th anniversary.  Some, but not all of its staff, prefer a more human touch and less statist touch approach to cultural diplomacy, what might be called “The Personal (Kizuna) is Public Diplomacy.”  JF’s Hideki Hara cites the Israeli Association for Japanese Studies (http://www.japan-studies.org) launched at Hebrew, Haifa and Tel Aviv universities this year to commemorate the 60th anniversary of ties between the two countries or the sponsorship of Japanese-Brazilian artist Hamilton Yokota (Titi Freak) colorful fish murals on temporary houses in Ishinomaki.  Hara says,

The worst thing that can happen to scholars or people like me is to have set prejudices about my country versus other country’s uniqueness.  The cultural diplomacy based on uniqueness, superiority or inferiority for that matter is over.  Now it’s all about compassion.  It’s all about getting nods from other countries.

The US-Japan Tomodachi Initiative to support more interpersonal artist and student ties into the Japan recovery.  (The Lady Gaga Teacup from which she drank during a news conference in June 2011 was auctioned off in early May for $75,000 to support Tomodachi efforts.)  In the Kizuna and Tomodachi spirit, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko attended the 60th anniversary of the Japan-US Educational Commission (Fulbright) at the Imperial Palace Hotel on May 25, 2012.  What was striking was to see so few young people at the reception.  Attendees were mostly the Japanese Fulbright students from the 1950s and 1960s.  Who will replace them?

2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the gift of 3,000 cherry blossom tree saplings by then mayor Ozaki of Tokyo City to Washington, DC.  A recent Gallup rating showed a slight majority of Americans considers Japan “the most important partner of the US in Asia.” The challenge for Japan is this: Does clicking “like” on the Sushi page of Facebook translate into state and foreign policy goals?        

Barack “George W.” Obama & Counterterrorism

The New York Times interviewed three dozen of President Barack Obama’s advisers about the president’s record on counterterrorism for its article, “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will.”  Many of Obama’s strongest supporters are greatly disappointed and puzzled by his George W. Bush-like continuation of unpopular policies like a secret kill list of terror suspects (some as young as 17) and the drone strike program against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Yemen.

Mr. Obama is the liberal law professor who campaigned against the Iraq war and torture, and then insisted on approving every new name on an expanding “kill list,” poring over terrorist suspects’ biographies on what one official calls the macabre “baseball cards” of an unconventional war. When a rare opportunity for a drone strike at a top terrorist arises — but his family is with him — it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation.

Nothing else in Mr. Obama’s first term has baffled liberal supporters and confounded conservative critics alike as his aggressive counterterrorism record.  His actions have often remained inscrutable, obscured by awkward secrecy rules, polarized political commentary and the president’s own deep reserve.

Justly or not, drones have become a provocative symbol of American power, running roughshod over national sovereignty and killing innocents. With China and Russia watching, the United States has set an international precedent for sending drones over borders to kill enemies.

Critics say that when drones strike, they don’t distinguish first between children and adults.  They are aimed at the guilty but many hit the innocent.  Drones have now replaced Guantanamo, Cuba as the rallying cry for recruiting militant terrorists.  This is the same president who signed executive orders his second day in office pledging the closure of Guantanamo (it is still open) and the ending of the worst counterterrorism interrogation techniques (they are banned.)

Does this profile in The New York Times prove that Barack Obama is a realist more than an idealist in foreign policy?

What Is Government’s Proper Role in Our Lives?

I must share a secret that few know.  I can trace my family heritage on my mother’s side to Alexander Hamilton.  Hamilton is a co-author of The Federalist Papers, which prescribed a centralized role for the American federal government.  (You can read more about Hamilton’s legacy here.)  A Founding Father and first Secretary of the Treasury of the United States, Hamilton’s philosophy of economic nationalism is, according to columnist David Brooks, all but abandoned today.  We’ve gone too far with government intervention.  We have a federal government that caters to the have-nots and demonizes the haves.  Hamilton’s vision was for the long haul, not catering to the short-term whim to win voters.  Here is an excerpt from Brooks’ column, The Role of Uncle Sam, in the Tuesday, May 29, 2012 issue of The New York Times:

This version of economic nationalism meant that he [Hamilton] and the people who followed in his path–focused on long-term structural development, not on providing jobs right now. They had their sights on the horizon, building the infrastructure, education and research facilities required for future greatness. This nationalism also led generations of leaders to assume that there is a rough harmony of interests between capital and labor. People in this tradition reject efforts to divide the country between haves and have-nots.

Finally, this nationalism meant that policy emphasized dynamism, and opportunity more than security, equality and comfort. While European governments in the 19th and early 20th centuries focused on protecting producers and workers, the U.S. government focused more on innovation and education.

Because of these priorities, and these restrictions on the federal role, the government could be energetic without ever becoming gigantic. Through the 19th century, the federal government consumed about 4 percent of the national gross domestic product in peacetime. Even through the New Deal, it consumed less than 10 percent.

Meanwhile, America prospered.

But this Hamiltonian approach has been largely abandoned.

What do you think the proper role of government is for the Japanese people?

A Night to Remember: 60th Anniversary of Fulbright and Meeting Royalty

On Friday, May 25, I took a few train stops over to the Imperial Hotel of Tokyo.  As one of just a few Fulbright professors to Japan, I was invited as a guest of the Japan-US Educational Commission that oversees the Fulbright international exchange program.  2012 marks the 60th anniversary of this esteemed program. I did not know that my evening would be a lifetime memory.  More on that later.

The Fulbright Program has been a major part of my cultural identity since the mid-1980s when I set out on a year’s stay to the Federal Republic of Germany.  (If you know nothing or very little about the program, please check out JUSEC.)  I had never even heard of the program until I had a meeting with the director of off-campus housing at Clemson University in South Carolina.  He wore two coordinator hats: one for housing and one for the Fulbright program.  As we talked about my off-campus housing options, he mentioned if I ever thought about applying for a Fulbright.  I asked, “What’s a Fulbright?”  Well I think I’m quite up on the program now. I wrote a doctoral dissertation on “Fulbright Scholars as Cultural Mediators,” so I’d say that I’ve come a long way since my Clemson Tiger days.  Which leads me back to Friday night.

As the guests walked into the Peacock Room of the Imperial Hotel, I looked to my left and saw a stage for the large contingent of media in attendance.  I thought to myself, they sure do love the Fulbright Program here in Japan.  But alas, there was more to the media’s interest.  I heard an announcement in Japanese and then saw people form two lines in waiting.  This was not a crowd lined up to do a Soul Train dance number.  An English-speaking attendee turned to me and solved the mystery: the emperor and empress were on their way.  Of course, that meant that we were about to see Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko.  I was ripe with anticipation.  We waited a few more minutes.  We were told no pictures but I noted a few stealthy iPhones at hand.  And then the doors were slowly opened to reveal the royal couple.  We applauded as they made their way very royal-like (to be expected) between the two lines of gleeful admirers.  Whatever you think about royalty and imperial government, I wasn’t thinking such lofty thoughts.  Here I am a political science and international relations major and all I could feel were goosebumps.  I recalled my first visit to Japan in 1993 when, as a participant in a Japanese government program called International Youth Village, we got to attend a reception featuring Prince and Princess Akishino.  (I later found out that Prince Akishino is a Beatles fan.  His hairdo is at times a bit Beatles-like.)

I realize that our celebration of 60 years of Fulbright was truly a night to remember.  I am so thankful to have a Fulbright grant to teach undergraduate students at Sophia University in Tokyo.  As part of the festivities, I also met Ambassador John Roos and shared my recent experiences giving embassy-sponsored talks on “The Lady Gaga Effect.” He actually put me on the spot and asked, “What is the Lady Gaga effect?”  I told him, “You should know.  Weren’t you are her Tokyo concert?” (We both were, but on separate nights.)

Photo of Harriet Fulbright at 60th Anniversary

I also spent time with someone I’ve know for twenty years, Harriet Mayor Fulbright, a true champion of her husband J. William Fulbright’s vision for the program.  Harriet has worked tirelessly on behalf of the senator and his commitment to mutual understanding between individuals from all nations.  I reminded Harriet of my foot-in-mouth experience when I called her shortly after Senator Fulbright’s passing at age 89 in 1995.  I called their Washington residence, thinking that an assistant would answer and I could just give my condolences.  To my surprise, Harriet took the call directly.  I told her how sorry I was and offered to say a few words about what the Fulbright program has meant to me at the senator’s upcoming state funeral at Washington’s National Cathedral.  She, in all her gracious dignity, didn’t miss a beat.  She said, “Nancy, that is so kind of you to offer.  President Clinton is giving the eulogy.”  Indeed he did, and that was the first and only time I met an American president at the reception that followed.

Here is the picture from Fulbright’s state funeral at which Bill Clinton, and not Nancy Snow, gave the eulogy.

Now back to our gathering at the Imperial Hotel.

Toward the end of the gathering and long after the emperor and empress had left, an embassy friend said, “Do you realize that you get to experience things here in Japan that many Japanese may never experience?”  I do realize my privileges.  And with privilege comes a duty to serve.  I hope that I can fulfill my goal of being a positive representative for the United States in Japan and both a teacher and learner with my Japanese students.

P.S.  I was able to tell Empress Michiko that I’m a Fulbright professor at Sophia University.  I’m sure she won’t forget that!

President Obama’s “American Century” speech

Read this excerpt from President Barack Obama’s commencement address to the Air Force Academy on Wednesday, May 23. 

Does it sound like American Exceptionalism? Do you agree that the U.S. is still the world’s leader or is this just election year cheerleading to potential voters?  What American values are emphasized? Henry Luce, founding publisher of Time magazine, referred to the last century as the American Century.  A recent poll shows that only a third (33%) of the American people think that the country is moving in the right direction.

Around the world, the United States is leading once more.  From Europe to Asia, our alliances are stronger than ever.  Our ties with the Americas are deeper.  We’re setting the agenda in the region that will shape our long-term security and prosperity like no other — the Asia Pacific.

We’re leading on global security — reducing our nuclear arsenal with Russia, even as we maintain a strong nuclear deterrent; mobilizing dozens of nations to secure nuclear materials so they never fall into the hands of terrorists; rallying the world to put the strongest sanctions ever on Iran and North Korea, which cannot be allowed to threaten the world with nuclear weapons.

We are leading economically — forging trade pacts to create new markets for our goods; boosting our exports, stamped with three proud words — Made in America.  We’re expanding exchanges and collaborations in areas that people often admire most about America — our innovation, our science, our technology.

We’re leading on behalf of human dignity and on behalf of freedom — standing with the people of the Middle East and North Africa as they seek their rights; preventing a massacre in Libya with an international mission in which the United States — and our Air Force — led from the front.  We’re leading global efforts against hunger and disease.  And we’ve shown our compassion, as so many airmen did in delivering relief to our neighbors in Haiti when they were in need and to our Japanese allies after the earthquake and tsunami.

Because of this progress, around the world there is a new feeling about America.  I see it everywhere I go, from London and Prague, to Tokyo and Seoul, to Rio and Jakarta.  There’s a new confidence in our leadership.  And when people around the world are asked, which country do you most admire, one nation comes out on top — the United States of America.

Of course, the world stage is not a popularity contest.  As a nation, we have vital interests, and we will do what is necessary always to defend this country we love — even if it’s unpopular.  But make no mistake, how we’re viewed in the world has consequences — for our national security and for your lives.

See, when other countries and people see us as partners, they’re more willing to work with us.  It’s why more countries joined us in Afghanistan and Libya.  It’s why nations like Australia are welcoming our forces who stand side by side with allies and partners in the South Pacific.  It’s why Uganda and its African neighbors have welcomed our trainers to help defeat a brutal army that slaughters its citizens.

I think of the Japanese man in the disaster zone who, upon seeing our airmen delivering relief, said, “I never imagined they could help us so much.”  I think of the Libyans who protected our airman when he ejected over their town, because they knew America was there to protect them.  And in a region where we’ve seen burning of American flags, I think of all the Libyans who were waving American flags.

Today, we can say with confidence and pride the United States is stronger and safer and more respected in the world, because even as we’ve done the work of ending these wars, we’ve laid the foundation for a new era of American leadership.  And now, cadets, we have to build it.  We have to build on it.  You have to build on it.

Let’s start by putting aside the tired notion that says our influence has waned or that America is in decline.  We’ve heard that talk before.  During the Great Depression, when millions were unemployed and some believed that other economic models offered a better way, there were those who predicted the end of American capitalism.  Guess what, they were wrong.  We fought our way back.  We created the largest middle class in history and the most prosperous economy the world has ever known.

After Pearl Harbor some said, the United States has been reduced to a third-rate power.  Well, we rallied.  We flew over The Hump and took island after island.  We stormed the beaches and liberated nations.  And we emerged from that war as the strongest power on the face of the Earth.

After Vietnam and the energy crisis of the 1970s, some said America had passed its high point.  But the very next decade, because of our fidelity to the values we stand for, the Berlin Wall came tumbling down and liberty prevailed over the tyranny of the Cold War.

As recently as the 1980s with the rise of Japan and the Asian tigers, there were those who said we had lost our economic edge.  But we retooled.  We invested in new technologies.  We launched an Information Revolution that changed the world.

After all this, you would think folks understand a basic truth — never bet against the United States of America.   And one of the reasons is that the United States has been, and will always be, the one indispensable nation in world affairs.  It’s one of the many examples of why America is exceptional.  It’s why I firmly believe that if we rise to this moment in history, if we meet our responsibilities, then — just like the 20th century — the 21st century will be another great American Century.  That’s the future I see.  That’s the future you can build.

I see an American Century because we have the resilience to make it through these tough economic times.  We’re going to put America back to work by investing in the things that keep us competitive — education and high-tech manufacturing, science and innovation.  We’ll pay down our deficits, reform our tax code and keep reducing our dependence on foreign oil.  We need to get on with nation-building here at home.  And I know we can, because we’re still the largest, most dynamic, most innovative economy in the world.  And no matter what challenges we may face, we wouldn’t trade places with any other nation on Earth.

I see an American Century because you are part of the finest, most capable military the world has ever known.  No other nation even comes close.  Yes, as today’s wars end, our military — and our Air Force — will be leaner.  But as Commander-in-Chief, I will not allow us to make the mistakes of the past.  We still face very serious threats.  As we’ve seen in recent weeks, with al Qaeda in Yemen, there are still terrorists who seek to kill our citizens.  So we need you to be ready for the full range of threats.  From the conventional to the unconventional, from nations seeking weapons of mass destruction to the cell of terrorists planning the next attack, from the old danger of piracy to the new threat of cyber, we must be vigilant.

And so, guided by our new defense strategy, we’ll keep our military — and our Air Force — fast and flexible and versatile. We will maintain our military superiority in all areas — air, land, sea, space and cyber.  And we will keep faith with our forces and our military families.

And as our newest veterans rejoin civilian life, we will never stop working to give them the benefits and opportunities that they have earned — because our veterans have the skills to help us rebuild America, and we have to serve them as well as they have served us.

I see an American Century because we have the strongest alliances of any nation.  From Europe to Asia, our alliances are the foundation of global security.  In Libya, all 28 NATO allies played a role and we were joined by partners in the air from Sweden to the Gulf states.  In Afghanistan, we’re in a coalition of 50 allies and partners.  Today, Air Force personnel are serving in 135 nations — partnering, training, building their capacity.  This is how peace and security will be upheld in the 21st century — more nations bearing the costs and responsibilities of leadership.  And that’s good for America.  It’s good for the world.  And we’re at the hub of it, making it happen.

I see an American Century because no other nation seeks the role that we play in global affairs, and no other nation can play the role that we play in global affairs.  That includes shaping the global institutions of the 20th century to meet the challenges of the 21st.  As President, I’ve made it clear the United States does not fear the rise of peaceful, responsible emerging powers — we welcome them.  Because when more nations step up and contribute to peace and security, that doesn’t undermine American power, it enhances it.

And when other people in other countries see that we’re rooting for their success, it builds trust and partnerships that can advance our interests for generations.  It makes it easier to meet common challenges, from preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to combating climate change.  And so we seek an international order where the rights and responsibilities of all nations and peoples are upheld, and where counties thrive by meeting their obligations and they face consequences when they don’t.

I see an American Century because more and more people are reaching toward the freedoms and values that we share.  No other nation has sacrificed more — in treasure, in the lives of our sons and daughters — so that these freedoms could take root and flourish around the world.  And no other nation has made the advancement of human rights and dignity so central to its foreign policy.  And that’s because it’s central to who we are, as Americans.  It’s also in our self-interest, because democracies become our closest allies and partners.

Sure, there will always be some governments that try to resist the tide of democracy, who claim theirs is a better way.  But around the world, people know the difference between us.  We welcome freedom —- to speak, to assemble, to worship, to choose your leaders.  They don’t.  We welcome the chance to compete for jobs and markets freely and fairly.  They don’t.  When fundamental human rights are threatened around the world, we stand up and speak out.  And they don’t.

We know that the sovereignty of nations cannot strangle the liberty of individuals.  And so we stand with the student in the street who demands a life of dignity and opportunity.  We stand with women everywhere who deserve the same rights as men.  We stand with the activists unbowed in their prison cells, and the leaders in parliament who’s moving her country towards democracy. We stand with the dissident who seeks the freedom to say what he pleases, and the entrepreneur who wants to start a business without paying a bribe, and all those who strive for justice and dignity.  For they know, as we do, that history is on the side of freedom.

And finally, I see an American Century because of the character of our country — the spirit that has always made us exceptional.  That simple yet revolutionary idea — there at our founding and in our hearts ever since — that we have it in our power to make the world anew, to make the future what we will.  It is that fundamental faith — that American optimism — which says no challenge is too great, no mission is too hard.  It’s the spirit that guides your class:  “Never falter, never fail.”

That is the essence of America, and there’s nothing else like it anywhere in the world.  It’s what’s inspired the oppressed in every corner of the world to demand the same freedoms for themselves.  It’s what’s inspired generations to come to our shores, renewing us with their energy and their hopes.  And that includes a fellow cadet, a cadet graduating today, who grew up in Venezuela, got on a plane with a one-way ticket to America, and today is closer to his dream of becoming an Air Force pilot — Edward Camacho.  Edward said what we all know to be true:  “I’m convinced that America is the land of opportunity.”

You’re right, Edward.  That is who we are.  That’s the America we love.  Always young, always looking ahead to that light of a new day on the horizon.  And, cadets, as I look into your eyes — as you join that Long Blue Line — I know you will carry us even farther, and even higher.  And with your proud service, I’m absolutely confident that the United States of America will meet the tests of our time.  We will remain the land of opportunity.  And we will stay strong as the greatest force for freedom and human dignity that the world has ever known.

May God bless you.  May God bless the Class of 2012.  And may God bless the United States of America.

American Politics is a Billionaire Business

American Politics is a Billionaire Business

In the 1970s we had The Six Million Dollar Man television series starring Lee Majors.  As of April 2012, President Barack Obama can claim the title of “The One Billion Dollar Man.”  My, the cost of inflation these days.  In eight short years of his political career, Obama has amassed over $1 billion in political campaign donations, a sure sign to some of his harshest critics that he is the political antichrist.

As reported by The Daily Caller, a conservative online news site, Obama’s big campaign donors are from those who share his background and vision.  “His top sources of funding are the sectors and companies that employ people like him — people with post-graduate degrees form elite universities.  The top sources are the University of California, Goldman Sachs, Microsoft Corp., Harvard University and Google, each of which provided him with $1 million or more. The University of California topped the list at $1.98 million.”

Obama’s presidency is proving that whether it’s a Democrat or Republican temporary occupant, White House fundraising is a bipartisan money machine.  Ask many Americans and they will tell you that we aren’t getting the best politics money can buy.

 

Japan is Critical to U.S. National Security

A new article by Leslie Gelb in The Daily Beast states the following:

Europe Plus, i.e., Europe along with Japan, Australia, Canada, and Israel, should—on the merits—remain the rock of U.S. national-security strategy. To me, it is plain common sense to see that Europe Plus (the bulk of G8 and NATO members) is the group of nations that most closely share U.S. values and interests.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that these values and interests are not widely shared elsewhere—or at least that other nations are not nearly as ready as the Europe Plus group to act on those interests and values.  If the United States were to be in trouble or require help, it is unimaginable that India, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Turkey, or whatever country would actively back Washington with money and arms.  The U.S. can count on only the Europe Plus group.  When America needs military help abroad, it comes essentially from European NATO countries, Canada, and Australia.  When it comes to providing economic aid to poor and needy nations, Europeans and Japan almost always are our principal partners.

Never to be forgotten: the great bulk of U.S. trade and investments comes to and from Europe and Canada, to say nothing of Japan.  For all the economic difficulties of Europe and Japan, America’s economic fate over the next decade and beyond is still tied more with these nations than to China or the other emerging powers like India, Brazil, and Turkey.

Gelb is past president of the Council on Foreign Relations, a former New York Times columnist and senior government official, and author of Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy (HarperCollins, 2009).

Do you agree with Leslie Gelb that Europe Plus, i.e., Europe along with Japan, Australia, Canada, and Israel, should remain the rock of U.S. national-security strategy?  What economic and political leadership role do you see Japan taking in the future?  Could Japan take leadership on global anti-poverty or environmental measures?

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G8 leaders, from front to back: European Council President Herman van Rompuy, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, US President Barack Obama, French President Francois Hollande, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiro Noda, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso arrive to pose for a photo during the G8 summit at Camp David. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP-Getty Images)