Executive Summary Sample

Executive Summary for the Week of 16/5/2012 – 23/5/2012

Egypt: Elections

All of the Think Tanks summarized below hold very different viewpoints concerning the same issue, the Egyptian elections; although, there are some statements that hold true throughout all of the think tanks. All believe that this is a very important time for Egypt and that the outcome of this election is very detrimental, possibly even predictive of the future of Egypt. The pieces primarily examine parliament and the role of the Islamists in Egypt. The Brookings Institution conducted a poll that is telling of what Egyptians want and see in their future, which shown alongside the Gallup poll can be disconcerting. The Gallup poll shows a more pessimistic view of the current political climate, whereas The Brookings Institution is more optimistic, this however can be attributed to the types of questions asked, as well as the depth of the questions. Both the Center for American Progress and Washington Institute for Near East Policy examined the role America can play in the transition process. The Center for American Progress, being more progressive, took a centrist approach to reinstating ties with the new Egyptian government; it was also the only report to provide more detailed background knowledge about the candidates. In contrast, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, under the guise of fostering stability, took a very American Exceptionalist approach to the elections, assuming the worst and even regretting the inability for the Obama administration to get involved. The second report from WINEP also indicates concern with the ability of Egyptians to monitor the elections for fairness and vote rigging. The Plofchan report from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, although not the first to talk about the Salafis and The Muslim Brotherhood, it was the first to chronicle, however briefly, the beginnings of the split between the two groups, as well as state some of the differences in beliefs amongst the two. Lastly, the Council on Foreign Relations report was the only report to put a face to a people, speaking of the obstacles Egypt may face and providing a more in depth look at what many Egyptians may be feeling.

Think Tank: Brookings Institution

Topic: Egyptian Elections

Date: 21/5/2012

Author: Shibley Telhami

Type: Report

Title: What Do Egyptians Want? Key Findings from the Egyptian Public Opinion Poll

Address: http://www.brookings.edu/research/reports/2012/05/21-egyptian-election-poll-telhami

The Brookings Institution has conducted a poll surveying the Egyptian public about political preferences, leaders and regional issues, during May 4-10, 2012 in light of the first presidential election. The Brookings Institution places great emphasis on the importance of the inaccuracies of probable predictions, as there is no analytical model of voting behaviour as of yet. Egyptian voters have also shown a difference in criteria by which they judge parliamentary and presidential candidates.

Poll Results:

  • Abul-Fotouh led the polls with 32%, followed by Mousa (28%) then Shafiq (14%), Morsi and Sabahi at (8%).
  • In parliamentary elections, 24% a favoured political party determined their vote, whereas in presidential elections, personal trust is a determining factor for 31%.
  • Christians supported Mousa the most, with 43%, as well as voters outside of cities with 31% of the vote.
  • Abul-Fotouh led among university graduates with 35% and among youth, under age 25, with 36%.
  • 54% believe Turkey to be the model reflection in terms of Islam in politics, followed by Saudi Arabia with 32%
  • A majority of those polled hold very unfavourable views of the U.S., with 68% and 73% support Mitt Romney over Barack Obama.
  • 66% of Egyptians support Sharia as the basis of Egyptian law, but 83% believe Sharia should be adapted to modern times.
  • A majority of Egyptians admired the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, with 63%. When asked to include Egyptian leaders, Erdogan fell to 15%, with Sadat at 35% and Abdel Nasser at 26%.
  • Brokering Middle East peace and establishing a Palestinian State ranked highest (66%) in regards improving U.S. favourability, followed by stopping military and economic aid to Israel as 46%.
  • While 55% believe there will be no lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis, 46% would like to maintain the peace treaty with Israel and 44% would like to see it cancelled.
  • The two countries that pose the biggest nuclear threat are Israel (97%) and the U.S. (80%).
  • Egyptians have been in support of the rebels against Assad and the Syrian government, but only 18% wish to see external military interventions, 15% support a Turkish Arab military intervention and 43% wish to see no military intervention.

Think Tank: Center for American Progress

Topic: Egyptian Elections

Date: 23/5/2012

Author: Brian Katulis

Type: Brief

Title: Previewing Egypt’s 2012 Presidential Elections

Address:  http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2012/05/egypt_elections.h tml/#1

This report by the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank dedicated to public policy research, provides a brief description of Egypt’s first democratic presidential election since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, as well as recommendations for the American government to restore and reinforce ties with the new Egyptian government. In addition, the brief lists and describes the presidential candidates.

According to the report, it is believed that “no candidate will receive more than 50% of the vote,” which would lead to run-off elections in mid-June between the two top candidates. By June’s end a new president will be sworn in for a four-year term and military rulers will hand over power to the new government. However, the transition is still incomplete as a new constitution is to be written and their remains questions over:

  • The economy- Candidates have addressed unemployment and inflation, but have yet to address public-sector debt, the currency crisis, and energy and food subsidies.
  • Security, Law and Order- The drafting of the new constitution has been halted due to Egypt’s disunities over the identity of their new political system; ie. The role of Islam in the government and legislation.

The drafting of the constitution is set to take six-months to draft, although it could take longer to get approved and gain public support. The new constitution may also address a checks and balances system, as well as the role of parliament. The role Egypt is to take in the Arab-Israeli conflict and regional security is also a source of debate amongst the candidates.

The report suggests that the American government conduct a “major interagency review of its Egypt policy.” This review will prepare the U.S. administration for dialogue with the new Egyptian administration later this year. The dialogue should consist of:

  • A renegotiation of “basic terms of the relationship.”
  • Enhance bilateral relationship through common interests.
  • “Build a more stable foundation for U.S.-Egyptian bilateral ties.”

Results of these dialogues would redefine ties and include more parts of the Egyptian government that were not included in past years.

Egypt Presidential Candidate Profiles

  • Amr Moussa- He served under the Mubarak regime as Egypt’s Foreign minister, as well as the secretary general of the Arab League. His platform consists of a centrist political strategy. He has been labelled as a remnant of the Mubarak regime. He is known for his anti-Israel and America statements and has campaigned as the “alternative to Islamist candidates.”
  • Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh- His candidacy is opposed by the Muslim Brotherhood. He is an Islamist activist and “would implement Sharia as a formal legal code.” His platforms are “populist economics and “people first” economics.” He served on the Muslim Brotherhoods decision-making council for twenty-two years. He has the support of leaders from the Salafi Nour Party.
  • Ahmad Shafiq- He has served as prime minister, and air force commander under Mubarak, causing him speculation amongst “revolution minded voters.” His platform is to “restore law and order within 30 days of being elected.” Public perception of him has been negative. He is running as an “alternative to Islamist candidates. “
  • Hamdeen Sabbahi- He has nationalist ideologies, basing his campaign on criticism of the U.S. and Israel. He founded social and political organizations and worked as a journalist, in which he was arrested for his “public confrontation” with former President Sadat concerning “rising food prices.” He did not serve under the Mubarak regime and is not an Islamist. He has proposed an alliance with Iran and Turkey and severing ties with Israel and Saudi Arabia.
  • Muhammad Mursi- He is the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party Leader. He has served in Egypt’s Parliament and is the Brotherhood’s leading spokesman. He plans to amend the peace treaty with Israel “to create a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital and have Israel recognize the “right of return” of Palestinian refugees.”

Think Tank: Council on Foreign Relations

Topic: Egyptian Elections

Date: 21/5/2012

Author: Steven A. Cook, Hasib J. Sabbagh

Type: Expert Brief

Title: A New Presidential Authority in Egypt

Address: http://www.cfr.org/egypt/new-presidential-authority-egypt/p28308

This brief takes a more optimistic approach to the Egyptian elections, summarizing the possible obstacles for the newly elected official, obstacles pertaining to religion in politics, and while also providing a look at the voters’ demands and desire for dignity.

While Egypt has witnessed violence, protests and authority turnover in the last sixteen months, it has empowered Egyptians to take part in their political system. Current polls show “a clear majority of Egyptians continue to hold the military in high regard,” although not nearly as many Egyptians “support a military-dominated political system.” The SCAF has been contested by the public for the “Selmi principles,” granting “autonomy from elected civilian officials,” as well as for their “application of the State of Emergency.”

The Muslim Brotherhood votes are split between two candidates, Aboul Fotouh, who was expelled from the Brotherhood, and Morsi, who has been behind in the polls. Despite the parliament being a Brotherhood majority, the Brotherhood is not leading in the presidential polls, possibly due to a Brotherhood announcement against running in the presidential race, that was later followed by Morsi’s presidential bid.

Egyptians demand more accountability of politicians. Although economic strife “helped create an environment of misery,” in years prior to the uprising, “Egyptians were demanding freedom, justice, and dignity when they brought Hosni Mubarak down.”

One thing that may delay the transition process will be the role of Islam in politics. Within that lies the issue of whether the Salafis or the Islamists are to speak for Islam. It is anticipated that whomever wins the election must negotiate between different religious groups. If the organised labour parties can emerge in large-scale, they can be very influential in the economic and social policymaking.

Think Tank: Gallup World via The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

Topic: Egyptian Elections

Date: 18/5/2012

Author: Mohamed Younis and Ahmed Younis

Type: Report

Title: Support for Islamists Declines as Egypt’s Election Nears

Address: http://www.gallup.com/poll/154706/Support-Islamists-Declines-Egypt-Election-Nears.aspx?utm_source=alert&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=syndication&utm_content=morelink&utm_term=World

According to the Gallup poll, spanning from July 2011 until April 2012 the Islamists have seen a steady increase, followed by a sharp decline in overall support as well as in the areas of prime minister appointment and constitution drafting.

  • July 2011 saw Muslim Brotherhood support at 17%, steadily increasing and peaking at 63% in February, then sharply declining to 42% in April.
  • In July 2011 Salafi support was at 5%, steadily increasing and peaking at 37% in February, then sharply declining to 25% in April.
  • The Nour Party saw 5% support in July, peaking at 40% in February and declining to 30% in April.
  • The Freedom and Justice Party saw 15% support in July, peaking at 67% in February and declining to 43% in April.
  • In February 2012, 62% of Egyptians felt comfortable with parliament writing the constitution, in April 2012 that percentage fell to 44.
  • In February 2012, 46% of Egyptians believed the party that wins the most seats in the parliament should appoint the prime ministers. Egyptians supporting the newly elected president appointing the prime minister next summer was 27%.
  • In April 2012, 27% of Egyptians believed the party that wins the most seats in the parliament should appoint the prime ministers. Egyptians supporting the newly elected president appointing the prime minister next summer was 44%.
  • In February 2012, 62% of Egyptians thought a parliament influenced by the Brotherhood was a good thing; 27% thought it was a bad thing.
  • In April 2012, 36% of Egyptians thought a parliament influenced by the Brotherhood was a good thing; 47% thought it was a bad thing.

This dissatisfaction can be attributed to the economic decline and bouts of violence. The transition has been twisted by power struggles within parliament, as opposed to reversing “financial decline and working to hold former regime members accountable.”

Think Tank: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy

Topic: Egyptian Elections

Date: 22/5/2012

Author: Eric Trager

Type: Policy Analysis

Title: Presidential Elections Will Not End Egyptian Instability

Address: http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/presidential-elections-will-not-end-egyptian-instability

This WINEP analysis focuses on American interests within the Egyptian elections and states that given the economic situation of Egypt and the lack of clarity in the role of a new president, the elections will not provide stability in Egypt, but could further instability. Trager states that Sabahi is considered a favourite amongst expatriate voters, and while Mousa appears to be leading in the polls, there is no anticipated winner. With 75% of the parliament being Islamists, “ongoing instability has damaged the Islamists’ popularity and raised the profile of former regime candidates,” such as Shafiq, who has sought the votes of former Mubarak supporters.

The analysis concentrates on the shift from an American friendly regime to the current stance of the candidates that express anti-Western platforms, with the exception of Shafiq who is the only candidate who is not anti-Western or pro-Sharia. 

Fair elections will not likely cause stability as the parameters of the role of the newly elected president are undefined, as the new constitution has not been drafted. The proposals to allow the SCAF “to retain absolute powers in reviewing its internal affairs, including its budget,” and the ability of the president’s power to dissolve parliament, are likely to “ignite a severe confrontation between the military and the Islamists.”

The Obama administration has not declared support for any candidate. Washington should insist the SCAF conduct the elections fairly and to “follow a credible constitutional process,” otherwise mass protests could occur. Such protests could suppress stability restoration. Concerned that Islamists may play a role in an uprising against the SCAF, Washington should “use its $1.3 billion in military aid as leverage,” to ensure proper SCAF administration.

Think Tank: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy

Topic: Egyptian Elections

Date: 22/5/2012

Author: David Schenker

Type: Policy Analysis

Title: Egyptian Elections: Beyond Winning

Address: http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/egyptian-elections-beyond-winning

This policy analysis of the Egyptian elections by WINEP, often criticised for being pro-Israel, discusses the credibility and speculation surrounding the actual voting process in Egypt. Concern is raised over an Islamist sweep within the new government, as Islamists are the majority of the new parliament. WINEP believes that regardless of the election process, a group of Egyptians may not accept the results if their candidate does not win.

Egyptians have been to the voting polls four times in fifteen months, causing concern that Egyptians may be losing their enthusiasm to vote. The constitutional referendum in March 2011 saw 41.2% of eligible voters vote, but Shura Council elections in January and February 2012 saw only 6.5% of voters in the first round and 12.2% voters in the second. About 54% of voters cast their ballots for the People’s Assembly elections. The high turn out rate is thought to be because some Egyptians believed the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces would fine them for not voting. The threat of SCAF imposing an “interim constitution” could discourage voters or encourage voters to vote.

The Carter Center, the only American based democracy promotion organisation currently in Egypt  “will not be allowed to observe any single polling station for more than thirty minutes.” Thousands of Egyptians have volunteered to monitor the polling stations.

WINEP believes that in the event Shafiq or Mousa win, there may be “claims of SCAF fraud,” accompanied by mass protests. The key to stabilizing Egypt is in the credibility of the voting process.

Think Tank: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

Topic: Egyptian Elections

Date: 16/5/2012

Author: Thomas K. Plofchan III

Type: Report

Title: Egypt’s Islamists: A Growing Divide

Address: http://www.wilsoncenter.org/islamists/egypt’s-islamists-growing-divide

This report chronicles and examines the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi rivalry from the fall of Hosni Mubarak until more recently into the elections. The two organisations originally held similar positions on issues after the fall of Mubarak, although began to divide mid-2011.

Three Salafi organisations, The Nour Party, being the biggest, joined the Brotherhood led Democratic Alliance that soon dissolved afterwards. The Salafis then formed the Islamic Bloc that won approximately 27% of the parliament vote, despite political inexperience. “The Nour Party won 111 of the 508 parliamentary seats, making it the second largest part in the People’s Assembly, the lower house of parliament.” The Brotherhood won 40% of the vote. Both parties have stated little interest in forming an Islamist alliance in the parliament.

The media has recently depicted the Brotherhood in a negative light due to entering the presidential candidacy after stating they wouldn’t. The Salafi party supports Aboul Fotouh, an expelled Brotherhood leader, while the Brotherhood’s Morsi is behind in the polls.

Salafis “oppose the use of alcohol and exposure of women’s bodies,” in regards to tourism standards; The Nour Party encourages cultural tourism contrasting to resort tourism and the Brotherhood “have distinguished between Egyptians and foreigners traveling in the country.” The biggest contrast deals with the role of Sharia in the new political system. The Brotherhood supports the principles of Sharia in legislation, whereas the Salafis support Sharia judgment.

Remembering Rachel Corrie on the anniversary of her death

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Dear Friend,

On this day 13 years ago, American peace activist Rachel Corrie was crushed to death by Israeli soldiers driving a military bulldozer. She was trying to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian family’s home. According to numerous witnesses and photographic documentation, she was killed intentionally.

Representative Brian Baird from Washington State introduced a resolution in Congress calling on the federal government to “undertake a full, fair, and expeditious investigation” into Rachel’s death. The bill was co-sponsored by 77 representatives, but Congress took no action. 

The Corrie family then filed a lawsuit against Caterpillar Inc in 2005, alleging that Caterpillar supplied Israelis with bulldozers even though they knew they were being used to commit war crimes. The lawsuit was dismissed.

The Corrie family’s appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit was also dismissed. The court acknowledged that the U.S. government paid for the bulldozer that killed Rachel, but said that they didn’t have the jurisdiction to rule on the “political question” of U.S. military aid to Israel. 

In 2010, the Corrie family filed a lawsuit in Israel against the Israeli Defense Forces. Israeli officials prevented the physician who had examined Rachel’s wounds from testifying in the case. The court ruled that Rachel was responsible for her own death. In 2014, the Corrie family’s appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court of Israel, and the IDF was absolved of any wrongdoing.

Keep Rachel’s message alive by sharing her story with your community. We have cards, a booklet of Rachel’s letters, and posters available for download and order.

#SupportPalestineInDC2016

U.S. taxpayers send Israel over $3 billion a year in military aid with virtually no strings attached, and now the prime minister of Israel wants $5 billion a year.

The majority of Americans oppose taking sides in the Israel-Palestine conflict, but virtually all Democratic and Republican members of Congress continue to supply Israel with more and more weapons each year (Palestinians do not receive military aid).

American taxpayer dollars have enabled Israel to continue its decades-long illegal occupation of Palestinian land and deny Palestinians basic legal and human rights. With our money, Israeli forces have killed over 9,200 Palestinians as well as numerous international journalists and peace activists since 2000.

We are driving the violence in this region, and we must stop it.

This weekend, AIPAC kicks off its annual policy conference in Washington, D.C., with Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump scheduled to give speeches. We hope you will join us this Sunday at noon at the White House to protest AIPAC’s influence on American politics and support Palestinian human rights. Your voice is urgently needed!

As always, thank for your commitment to peace, justice, and equality for all people.

The If Americans Knew team

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Towards Coexistence: An Analysis of Resolutions of the Palestine National Council

A presentation of the Muhammad Muslih Article from 1990 can be found here

 

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TRANSCRIPT: Foreign Press Center Briefing with Professor Allan Lichtman, “State of the Race 2016: An overview of the 2016 Elections for foreign correspondents covering their first U.S. election”

FOREIGN PRESS CENTER BRIEFING WITH ALLAN LICHTMAN, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR OF HISTORY AND FREQUENT POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND ELECTORAL FORECASTER

TOPIC:  STATE OF THE RACE 2016: AN OVERVIEW OF THE 2016 ELECTIONS FOR FOREIGN CORRESPONDENTS COVERING THEIR FIRST U.S. ELECTION

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 28, 2015, 11:00 A.M. EDT

THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.

MODERATOR:  Hello and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center.  Today I would like to welcome Professor Allan Lichtman, American University professor of history and frequent political commentator and electoral forecaster, back to the Washington Foreign Press Center for another in his series of elections and political briefings.  This briefing is titled “The State of the Race, 2016:  An Overview of the 2016 Elections for Foreign Correspondents Covering Their First U.S. Election.”  Professor Lichtman’s views are his own and do not represent the U.S. Department of State. 

Without further ado, here is Professor Lichtman.

MR LICHTMAN:  In fact, my views don’t represent anyone except me, so don’t attribute it to American University, the federal government, the United States, or anyone else except Allan Lichtman. 

How many of you were here for my 2014 briefing?  A few of you.  Remember I said three things mattered in midterm elections, right?  Turnout, turnout, and turnout, and I predicted if the turnout was low, the Republicans were going to win the 2014 midterms, and that’s exactly what happened. Turnout was low and it was a very good year for Republicans.  However, things change in presidential election years.  The turnout is something along the lines of 50 percent higher than it is in midterm elections and doesn’t tend to vary quite as much from election to election. 

And obviously, unlike midterm elections where turnout can be highly dependent on what’s going on in an individual state – do you have a real tight race in that state – in a presidential year, of course, turnout is determined by the top of the ticket, the presidential contest.  But the basic dynamic is still very much the same:  High turnout tends to benefit Democrats and low turnout tends to benefit Republicans, whether in a presidential year or a midterm year.  And particularly high turnout of minority voters tends to favor Democrats; higher turnout of white voters tends to favor Republicans.

We have a very racially and ethnically polarized electorate in the United States, and it is virtually uniform.  There are variations in numbers, but the pattern is almost uniform across all the states with white voters giving majorities to Republicans and African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians giving majorities to Democrats.  There’s a slight exception to that in Florida where there’s a very strong Cuban American population that has been traditionally Republican, but that has been changing.  The older anti-Castro Cold War generation is dying out and the new generation is much less Republican, and Florida is also experiencing strong immigration from other parts of Latin America.  So today, the Hispanic vote in Florida is about 50/50; everywhere else, it tends Democratic.  And of course, the African American vote is 90 percent or more Democratic.  So turnout matters and turnout of whites versus minorities matter a great deal in this election.

I’ll turn first to the presidential contest and what’s going on in each primary.  The Democrats ought to be building a monument to Vice President Joe Biden because of what he didn’t do – that is, he didn’t get into the presidential race.  Why is that important?  Because it means there is much less likely to be a contest within the Democratic Party for the nomination.  Bernie Sanders fires up about a quarter to a third of the Democratic primary electorate.  There are a lot of people who will walk through brick walls for Senator Bernie Sanders, but he has a great deal of trouble expanding beyond that 25 to 30 percent.  He does really well in Iowa and New Hampshire – small, primarily white states – but he is being swamped in the polls by Hillary Clinton in all of the big states where there’s very strong minority voting in Democratic primaries, where money organization and name recognition matters.  You’re not going to go door to door in California, New York, and Florida. 

So it looks like, unless something really bizarre happens – and that does happen in politics – that Hillary Clinton is cruising to become the consensus Democratic nominee.  And she was helped not only by Joe Biden getting out of the race, but greatly helped by her Republican opposition.  The more things change, the more they remain the same in politics.

Some of you may even remember back to the crisis facing her husband, President Bill Clinton, the only president since Andrew Johnson in 1868 to be impeached by the U.S. House while the Republicans pressed too far.  And it made it look like – even though Bill Clinton had done some pretty dastardly things – that the Republican campaign against him was political, it was political revenge and was being sought for political advantage, not for the good of the republic.

Guess what?  The Republicans have made exactly the same mistake in going after Hillary Clinton on the Benghazi tragedy and the emails.  Yes, Hillary and the State Department made some pretty serious errors, but it has been pursued so relentlessly for so long with so little new information coming up that now, the American people overwhelmingly believe – 75 percent – that this – these investigations of Hillary Clinton are being motivated by partisanship.  And a couple of Republicans have even come out and greatly helped Hillary Clinton by saying, yeah, these hearings were designed to drive her poll numbers down or hurt her electability. 

So the Republicans have done something that Hillary Clinton could never have done by herself – make this ice lady look sympathetic and appealing and beleaguered and persecuted.  And that had greatly helped her campaign along with an absolutely superb performance in the Democratic debate and just showing she was a marathon runner in coming out of 11 hours of grilling in the Benghazi hearings absolutely unscathed.

Why does it matter that Hillary Clinton is going to be the consensus Democratic nominee?  The reason is history.  History teaches that the worst thing that can happen to the party holding the White House, which of course is the Democratic Party even though Barack Obama is not eligible to run again – the worst thing that can happen to the party holding the White House is an internal, bitter party fight.

The last time the party holding the White House survived a major internal fight for the nomination was, guess what, 1880 when James Garfield won the presidency by about one-tenth of 1 percent in the popular vote.  Since then, major internal party fights have been the kiss of death for the party holding the White House.  I need only remind you of 2008; the Republicans had a big fight, or 1980 when Ted Kennedy challenged Jimmy Carter, or 1976 when you had the bitter battle between Ronald Reagan and the sitting president, Gerald Ford.

So the reason avoiding a party fight is so critical in this election is not necessarily because Hillary Clinton is the most electable candidate.  In fact, going for the most electable candidate is about the worst strategy any party could ever adopt because you don’t know who is electable.

I remind you of 2004 when the Democrats opted for John Kerry, Senator Kerry, not because they loved him but because they thought he was electable and, of course, he lost to a very weak president who was really faltering, George W. Bush, in 2004.

So very good news for the Democrats with Joe Biden’s withdrawal and the recent resurgence of Hillary Clinton.  If form holds and Hillary Clinton becomes the consensus nominee, that’s very positive for the Democrats going into the general election.

Now, what is also interesting historically is it’s entirely different for the challenging party, for the party that does not hold the White House.  They can fight all they want and historically it makes absolutely no difference.  I point you to 2008, right, when the Democrats were the out party.  The Republicans were holding the White House and there was a long, protracted – one of the longest and most tract – protracted nomination struggles in modern history between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and that did not stop the challenging candidate, Barack Obama, from handily winning the White House.

So the pundits have it all wrong.  It doesn’t matter that there’s this big squabble among Republicans.  It doesn’t matter that there is no clear consensus nominee and this could be a long struggle.  The pundits have no sense of history.  They have no theory of how a presidential election works.  They’re operating from the seat of their pants and they are absolutely wrong.

That said, the real action and the real interest is on the Republican side, and what is astonishing about the Republican struggle – it’s still early, but not too soon to be astonished – is that the only candidates in double digits, and they’re both over 20 points in the polls; the next highest are 8 or 9 – so the two candidates who are absolutely sweeping the Republican field now – doesn’t mean they’re going to be nominated, but it’s not that early; it’s getting close to 2016 – are two candidates who not only have never been elected to anything, who have never held public office, and that is Donald Trump and Ben Carson, who together, according to the polls, hold the support of more than 50 percent of likely Republican primary voters.

Now, you may think, oh, it’s the Republican Party.  They are the party that challenges Washington.  This is not surprising for the Republican Party.  Nonsense.  When was the last time the Republican Party nominated someone who had never held any kind of public position?  The answer is never.  The answer is never.  You have Dwight Eisenhower, who was never elected, but of course he was General of the Army.  You have Herbert Hoover, who wasn’t elected, but he was Secretary of Commerce.  You have William Howard Taft, who wasn’t elected, but he was Secretary of War and Governor General of the Philippines.  Never has the Republican Party reached out to someone who not only has never stood for election but never held public office. 

In fact, if you look at the more recent history of the Republican Party, they have always nominated a mainstream figure with lots of experience and standing within the party.  Look at their nominees: Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts; John McCain, senator from Arizona; George W. Bush, governor of Texas, son of a President; George H. W. Bush, vice president; Bob Dole, leader of the Senate; Ronald Reagan, governor of California; Richard Nixon, former senator and vice president; even Barry Goldwater, the maverick far conservative who was nominated in 1964, was still a U.S. senator from Arizona.

So you are looking at two candidates who might not seem surprising, but who are actually incredibly surprising because they completely break the mold both of the long history of the Republican Party, and even more pointedly, the recent history of the Republican Party.  They have not nominated anyone with the profile, or non-profile, of a Ben Carson or a Donald Trump.  Got to editorialize a little bit here.  Remember, these are my own opinions only. 

Donald Trump doesn’t surprise me.  I predicted Donald Trump many, many months ago, when all the pundits were scoffing at him.  Why did I predict the rise of Donald Trump?  A number of reasons.  One, he is a great showman.  He really knows how, positively and negatively, to get attention and to attract people to pay attention to him and to listen to him.  And in a crowded field, you need a shtick.  You know what a shtick is?  It’s a Jewish term, it’s used in Hollywood a lot – something that makes you different, something that stands out, something really special.  You remember the impersonation of Sarah Palin that made Saturday Night Live really stick out.  Tina Fey just had her to a T.  It was a great shtick.  And Donald Trump has a shtick.  Now, whether that shtick will last through the primaries, who knows.  But all the pundits again were wrong who said he was a meteor who would just burn out in the atmosphere.  That hasn’t happened.  He’s been atop or, until recently, very close to the top of the polls now for a very long time.

The other thing about Donald Trump is he says things that a lot of other Republican candidates believe but are too afraid, too timid to say – such as his denigrating of immigrants.  It’s inflammatory stuff, probably a majority of Americans don’t agree with it, but there is a segment within the Republican Party that likes to hear that kind of thing and believes that Donald Trump is a non-scripted kind of candidate; he’s not a controlled, Washington-establishment type of candidate.  And if there is anything that marks the Republican Party today, it’s complete disgust with Washington. 

And it’s not just because Barack Obama, a Democrat, is president; it’s because Republicans are deeply and bitterly unhappy about their own Republican Congress.  They don’t believe that their own Republican Congress had done nearly enough either to challenge Barack Obama or to imprint Republican values and Republican policies.  There’s a big segment of the Republican Party that’s quite willing to blow everything up and start all over again.

So I get Donald Trump.  I’ll tell you who I don’t get, and that’s Ben Carson.  I cannot understand what the appeal of Ben Carson is.  Watch the debate – the man had nothing to say.  He couldn’t distinguish between the debt and the deficit.  He tried to explain medical policy – his own medical policy.  He’s a doctor and he couldn’t explain his own medical policy.  But what baffles me most about Ben Carson – have people listened to what the man actually has said? 

He embodies two things that I think are the most dangerous elements that any politician could have:  a lack of a moral compass, and a lack of a sense of history.  The man has compared the Obama Administration to Nazi Germany.  This cheapens the Holocaust.  It cheapens the deaths of tens of millions of people in World War II.  Whatever you may think of Barack Obama – love him or hate him – he didn’t kill 6 million Jews.  He didn’t start a war that killed 67 million people.  What kind of moralist are you?  What kind of sense of history do you have when you make those kinds of comparisons?

I’m a Jew, and I – and I’ve studied the Holocaust.  And I am profoundly offended by his cheapening of the Holocaust by saying if the Jews only had a few guns, they could’ve stopped the Nazi war machine.  How could you be so profoundly ignorant of history?  First of all, only a tiny fraction of the Jews who perished in the Holocaust were German Jews.  Most of the Jews were from territories occupied or influenced by the Nazis – Poland, Romania, Hungary, not Germany.  And guess what?  The Jews tried to fight the Nazis with a few guns. 

Mr. Carson never seems to have heard of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.  You know how many Jews were killed?  Thirteen thousand to 20 Nazis.  Nearly 60,000 were deported to the death camps.  How you can cheapen the Holocaust, perhaps the greatest human tragedy in history, by saying it could’ve prevented – it could’ve been prevented if the German Jews had a few more guns.  I don’t get Ben Carson. 

I don’t understand how he has risen to the top of the polls, unless people just aren’t listening.  And that may be true.  Maybe he hasn’t gotten the scrutiny that a Donald Trump or a Jeb Bush has gotten, and people just think he’s this profoundly moral outsider who’s going to bring a new era to Washington.  That may well be his appeal, but I don’t get it.  I get everyone else in the Republican and Democratic field.

And the other candidate I get is Jeb Bush.  That’s the other big story, is the absolute collapse of the candidate who was considered to be the establishment favorite.  Why has the Jeb Bush campaign fallen apart to the point where some of the commentators are indicating he may even drop out of the race?  He’s already cut back on staff.  He’s already reorganized his campaign.  He already looks like a loser.  How could that possibly have happened?  Well, part of it isn’t his fault, and part of it is his fault.  What isn’t his fault is, as we’ve seen so far, this isn’t a good year for the Republican establishment.  The Republican establishment doesn’t seem to be offering anything that’s appealing to the Republican electorate.  In fact, if you put together three candidates who have never held public office and never run for anything – add Carly Fiorina to Ben Carson and Donald Trump – and you’ve got about 60 percent of the potential Republican primary electorate, with eight candidates sharing the other 40 percent.  So that is not anything that has to do with Jeb Bush personally.

But Jeb Bush has run one of the worst campaigns in modern history.  He not only commits gaffes, he doesn’t seem committed to the campaign.  He’s not crisp, he’s not sharp, he’s not appealing, he has no shtick whatsoever.  And my own pure speculation – I have no inside information on this – is the – I won’t say collapse, because remember, Lazarus rose from the dead.  John McCain rose from the dead in 2008.  Things – strange things can happen, so I won’t say collapse yet.  I’ll say terrible faltering of the Bush campaign – is he doesn’t seem to have the fire in the belly.  He doesn’t seem to want this with great passion.  He seems to be pursuing it – and again, this is my speculation – because it’s his turn.  His dad was President, his brother was President; governor of Florida, hugely important swing state.  It seemed his time.  And when confronted with this extraordinary tsunami of anti-establishment sentiment within the Republican Party and the rise of these absolutely unexpected candidates, Bush has had no answer to this point.

But I wouldn’t count him out entirely yet because there is going to be an establishment candidate.  It’s not in the end, I don’t believe, going to be only Carson and Trump.  I believe one or the other will survive and thrive as we go into the primaries, but I think there is going to be an alternative.  And the smart money of course has always been on Jeb Bush, but it’s now shifted.  Smart money’s now on Marco Rubio, another Florida candidate, and that’s kind of understandable.  He’s young, he’s good-looking, he’s got – he’s articulate, he’s charismatic.  But the problem for Rubio:  Where does he break through?  Where does he make his mark and how does he make his mark?

So I think it’s entirely up in the air who is going to be the alternative to the anti-establishment candidates, and Bush – his heart is still beating, but it’s beating very, very faintly.  But there is at least some small possibility that the heart of Jeb Bush is going to be revived, but somehow the passion has got to come internally within Jeb Bush himself.

But regardless of which Republican emerges, you’re going to see real contrasts between the two parties.  Two parties agree on almost nothing today.  People talk about polarization although it was a matter of Republicans and Democrats sitting down and having a beer or having a coffee – nonsense.  You know why there’s polarization in Washington?  Because two parties don’t agree on anything.  They don’t agree on health care, they don’t agree on taxes, they don’t agree on immigration.

And the huge sleeper issue that I think may well emerge by next year – it hasn’t been much so far – is climate change, arguably the biggest challenge that humanity is facing.  California is running out of water, which not only affects tens of millions of people in California, but because of their agricultural production, they – confronts the whole country.  A study came out yesterday saying if the world doesn’t deal with climate change, there’s going to be a huge hit to the world economy and an enormous rise in poverty.  A study came out showing the states of the Persian Gulf – get this – may be facing something that has never before been seen in the history of humanity: that is, temperatures too hot for human survival.  There’s this huge meeting in Paris.  I don’t know what will come of it, but I do think climate change could become a huge sleeper issue as we get into 2016.  And once again, the parties are absolutely at odds over whether we should do anything whatsoever about this problem of climate change.

And of course, America has crumbling infrastructure – our electric grid, our roads, our bridges are badly needing repair.  Another big issue, another huge issue: the gap between not the rich and the poor anymore; it’s now the gap between the rich and everybody else – how the party is going to address that. So look forward to an election, no matter who gets nominated, where there are going to be huge ideological differences and policy differences between the parties.

Finally, I want to say a word about the other election where the action is, and that is the United States Senate.  The United States Senate is going to be of critical importance after 2016 because the next president may well have three, four, two Supreme Court nominations to make, and remember, Supreme Court justices serve for life.  President John Adams, the second President of the United States after George Washington, served one term.  He was elected in 1796.  His party, the Federalist Party, disappeared, but he appointed John Marshall as chief justice of the United States Supreme Court.  John Marshall held that position for more than 30 years.  Today he is regarded as one of the two most influential chief justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, and he put into play principles of the long-gone, long-defunct Federalist Party.  So you cannot underestimate the importance of Supreme Court appointments, and of course, the Senate ratifies all appointments including Supreme Court appointments.  So control of the Senate is absolutely critical.

One way in which the Democrats got Republicans to stop blocking not Supreme Court appointments but a lot of other court appointments that are very important was to ban the filibuster on circuit court and district court appointments, and that opened the floodgates to a lot of Obama appointees in the courts.  You cannot underestimate the courts because the courts are often where the action is because of the gridlock in the Congress and the gridlock between the Congress and the President.  As we saw in decisions like Citizens United on allowing unlimited corporate campaign contributions, some of the most important policies are set by the Supreme Court. 

So you cannot underestimate the importance of control of the Senate, which has flip-flopped quite a bit in recent years.  The Democrats took the Senate in 2006, the Republicans took the Senate back in 2014, and now the Democrats have an opportunity to take the Senate back again in 2016 for two reasons.  One, it’s a presidential year – higher turnout, much higher turnout than at midterms.  And as I’ve explained to you several times, higher turnout favors Democrats. Secondly, Democrats are only defending a couple of western vulnerable seats – in Colorado and in Nevada, where, of course, the Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid is retiring, so that’s an open seat.

And Republicans are facing at least seven vulnerable seats.  I’m not going to go over all of them, but they’re in states like New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Illinois, North Carolina, Ohio – mostly states won by Barack Obama in 2012.  I think the Republicans have vulnerable seats in six states won by Barack Obama in 2012.  Democrats need – they have 46 seats now, counting the Democratic-leaning independents.  They need five to take absolute control.  They need four to have a 50/50 Senate, which would mean whoever wins the presidency controls the Senate because the vice president casts the deciding vote.

So keep your eye on these vulnerable states.  They are going to decide the fate of the Senate, and right now it’s about 50/50.  The Democrats have about a 50 percent chance to win back the Senate assuming they hold one of the two vulnerable Democratic seats, which I think is reasonable, then if they can pick up five or six of the seven or so vulnerable Republican seats, they can win back the United States Senate.  And so it’s the presidency and the Senate where the action is.

There’s an old proverb I like to talk about.  I believe it’s Chinese but I’m not certain – maybe some of you can correct me – and that is, “May you live in interesting times.”  And I don’t see how politically the times could be any more interesting than they are right now.

Thank you very much.  I’ll take any of your questions.

MODERATOR:  Okay.  Please wait for the microphone and state your name and publication for the transcript.  We’ll go right there.

QUESTION:  Good morning.  As I understand —

MODERATOR:  You’re fine.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  As I understand what you tell us, you are reducing the possibilities in the Republican side.  They have two options: a populist candidate, and populist mean – I’m talking about Trump or Carson.

MR LICHTMAN:  Populist Republican.

QUESTION:  Yeah, or Jeb Bush.  I mean, could you tell us something, anything else about Rubio and the possibilities (inaudible) possibilities of Rubio?

MR LICHTMAN:  It’s very, very difficult to handicap primaries for a bunch of reasons, and those who think they know are wrong.  Reason number one is there’s so many candidates – very difficult.  The mathematics of it become asymptotically complex when dealing with multiple candidates.  Secondly, it’s not linear.  That is, one primary affects the next primary, so who – if Ben Carson, who is now well ahead in Iowa, wins Iowa, that’s going to scramble things, that’s going to change things.  If Jeb Bush comes in fifth in Iowa and fourth in New Hampshire, he may be done.  So one primary affects another, and that makes it very difficult to handicap.

And finally, the polls are not real meaningful.  If you think back to 2012, there were all kinds of Republicans who popped up in the polls – Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum – and none of them, none of them were nominated.  Republicans went back to the middle establishment figure.  So I don’t think it’s possible at this point to give any informed answer on who is going to be the nominee and whether it’s going to be an outsider or an insider.  I’m not in a position to make that prediction.

But I would say don’t count out the insider just because the outsiders are crushing in the polls now.  I still think – and I don’t know who it’s going to be, it could be Jeb – there will be a viable insider establishment candidate who can still win this nomination just based on long-term and recent history of the Republican Party.  They tend to love these mavericks but they never nominate them.

MODERATOR:  Okay, I’ll come right there.

QUESTION:  Stefan Grobe with Euronews, [France].  Good to see you.

MR LICHTMAN:  Good to see you again.

QUESTION:  You said you can’t explain Ben Carson. 

MR LICHTMAN:  I can’t.  Maybe you can.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  Well, my question is:  How do you explain the fact that he is the darling of a very conservative white constituency, being African American —

MR LICHTMAN:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  — and has zero support – almost zero support among African Americans?  Is that bad luck, good luck, or chance or whatever? 

MR LICHTMAN:  Well, we saw that with Herman Cain, another African American, back in 2012.  In earlier elections there was a very conservative Republican, Alan Keyes, whose support was also largely white.

I would say a couple of things.  One, nobody knows anything about Ben Carson if you look at the polls.  He seems to be this really nice guy, this really moral individual, until you really look at what he’s said and his history.  I know him really well because he’s from Maryland, my state, and I followed his actions in the Maryland struggle over abortion in the 1990s.  And he now claims to be so morally guided that he won’t even allow abortions in the case of rape or incest.  But back in the 1990s when he was actually involved in the moral struggle over abortion, he was the only player who played both sides.  He gave an anti-choice commercial and then walked back from his own commercial, said, “I really didn’t understand what I was doing,” tried to be both pro-choice and pro-life at the same time.  So it’s very hard to understand.

But in these polls, within the Republican Party, people are not voting race.  They’re voting issues and more are voting kind of these vague perceptions.  But again, don’t be deceived by the early polls.  People don’t know what Ben Carson yet stands for.  Maybe when the Republicans see what they stand for, they’ll love him.  Who knows?  But I think it’s going to be a much – if he gets the nomination, a much more difficult go for him in the general election.

MODERATOR:  We’ll come down here.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  Mounzer Sleiman, al-Mayadeen TV, [Lebanon].  Can you give us just your sense of how much this campaign will be financed, compared to other campaign in the past – the presidential campaign?  And I want to ask you about Florida, because this is probably tied up to your establishment prediction.  Since two prominent person, individuals —

MR LICHTMAN:  Yeah, Rubio and Jeb Bush.

QUESTION:  — do you think that Florida would be a factor, since Florida has been a factor in the election —

MR LICHTMAN:  Yes.

QUESTION:  — that could be a factor —

MR LICHTMAN:  Got it.

QUESTION:  — in the calculation of Republican to select the one in the final analysis?

MR LICHTMAN:  Very, very, very excellent questions.  First of all, on finance, the sky is the limit.  As we saw approaching a billion dollar campaign by Barack Obama last time, you can expect billion dollar campaigns on the side of both candidates.  But there’s a dirty little secret about spending in general presidential elections, not primary:  Spending doesn’t matter.  That is, there’s no particular correlation historically between who spends the most money and who wins.

And the reason is pretty simple.  In other elections, voters don’t know much, and who can get out their message by spending really matters.  But people know the presidential candidates.  You got debates, you got lots of free media.  So spending is less important.

I absolutely agree with you; Florida is critical.  And right now, both Rubio and Bush seem to be trailing in Florida.  That could knock both of them out.  One of them has got to win Florida, and then he could become the establishment candidate.  But if they both lose Florida, that could knock both of them out entirely, and that’s an early primary.  So we’re going to get some early indication. 

And by the way, when you get into the later Republican primaries after middle March, they’re winner-take-all.  So you can win those primaries with 35 percent and get every single delegate.  So things are going to change if there’s still a big contest after the middle of March.

QUESTION:  Can I have a follow-up very quickly? 

QUESTION:  That’s fine.

QUESTION:  I forgot to ask you, because I think it’s very important, to give us the difference between the caucus and the primary, please.

MR LICHTMAN:  Yeah.  Very simply put, a primary is just like any other election – you show up at the polls and you vote.  Caucus, you have to go to meetings.  And the meetings can last all day and you have a series of votes at the meetings, ultimately leading to a tally of a statewide vote.  So the big difference is you’ve got to put in a lot more time, energy, and effort to go to a caucus.  So it involves much more committed voters.  The reason, by the way, Barack Obama beat Hillary Clinton in 2008 is not what anyone thinks; it’s because Obama organized the caucus states.  And it was the victory in the caucus states for Barack Obama that put him over the top.  So organization really matters in the caucus states, which is why you got to take these generalized polls with a grain of salt, because the candidates might have very different operations on the ground.

QUESTION:  Thank you, professor.  Bingru Wang with Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV.  This time we have seen China being brought up during the debates.  So how much does China matter during the election this time, and how China card will be played out?

MR LICHTMAN:  Yeah.  I always get these questions, and they’re really good questions, from people from particular countries.  And, of course, China is going to matter a lot more than most places, because it is – there are three great powers vying, competing in the world – China, Russia, and the United States.  So policy towards China is very important. 

But the details of policy won’t matter, because – I hate to say this – but the American people never follow the details of foreign policy.  They pay attention only when there is a big crisis or a big victory.  So they’ll pay attention to the Iran nuclear treaty law.  I promise you they can’t tell you the details of it.  And what they might be paying attention to is the potential tensions and conflicts.  There’s this big issue over these islands, and the United States is not recognizing those islands as legitimate Chinese territory.  If that flares up into something more, that can become a big issue in the campaign.  But beyond that, the details of policy are going to shoot over most people’s heads.

MODERATOR:  Gentleman in back, in the glasses?  No, no; back, back; glasses.

QUESTION:  Oh.  (Laughter.)

MR LICHTMAN:  Got to get the back row.

MODERATOR:  Got to be fair to the back.  Sorry, guys.

QUESTION:  Hi, hi.  This is Ryan Hermelijn from NOS News TV, [The Netherlands].  I was wondering about the general election.  Specifically you outlined a couple of themes, but I didn’t hear the culture wars.  We have had the advancement of several liberal ideas such as the advancement of gay marriage, legalization of marijuana, assisted suicide is popping up.  There’s a backlash with Hobby Lobby and Kim Davis and such.  So how do you think that will play out in the 2016 elections?

MR LICHTMAN:  Yeah.  Before I answer that, let me – it’s related to your question.  There’s a debate tonight and do you know where it is?

QUESTION:  Boulder.

MR LICHTMAN:  Colorado.  And what is one of the biggest rising industries in the state of Colorado?  The pot industry.  Last I saw, it was a $700 million industry employing lots of folks.  Are the Republicans going to talk about the pot industry in Colorado?  And Republicans have an interesting dilemma on some of these things like pot.  Because on the one hand, the Republican Party is the party of what – free enterprise, right?  Business – they should be encouraging the pot industry, right, as a classic example of entrepreneurship and the American way.  But on the other hand, as you say, they also harbor a lot of social conservatives who obviously look askance at the use of pot and other recreational drugs. 

So it’ll be interesting to see if they say anything about this at all.  If I were the moderator, I would certainly ask them about it, because it does pit two Republican values – the problems with the social issues is people’s positions are pretty well set.  You’re not going to change someone’s mind about abortion.  You’re not going to change someone’s mind about gay marriage.  And these issues, while they play to the Republican primary electorate, don’t play to the general electorate.  The most amazing social trend in America in the past decade has been the extraordinary acceptance of gay and lesbian rights.  If you had told anyone 10 years ago that a majority of Americans would favor gay marriage, they would’ve told you you’re living in never-never land.  Just huge shifts on these social issues, so I don’t suspect the Republicans are going to pound them.

Interestingly, the Democrats might.  Democrats might try to play the abortion issue against the Republicans, particularly if you have a candidate who is coming out like Ben Carson and saying not even in cases of rape or incest are we going to allow abortions.  That’s like a 20 percent position within the electorate.

MODERATOR:  Okay, come down here.  Yeah.

QUESTION:  Claudia Trevisan from the Brazilian newspaper Estado Sao Paolo.  Going to the historical perspective, one thing that is often told is that the last time the Democrats won the White House after being in the White House for two terms in a row was 19th century, with the exception of FDR.  Like, how important it is to see this historical theme play there?

And another question:  Like, who would be the best and who would be the worst candidate on the Republican Party from the Democrat perspective?

MR LICHTMAN:  Let me answer – yeah, I got you.  Let me answer the – the second question first, and that is the one word that I would throw out of the dictionary is electability.  You have no idea who is electable in advance of an election.  As I said, parties have gone to the candidates they thought were the most electable and they’ve crashed and burned and lost.  Presidential elections – and you’ve got to read my book, The Keys to the White House; the sixth edition will be coming out in early 2016 – a system for explaining and predicting presidential elections that has not been wrong ever.  I’ve been predicting since 1984, since I was nine.  I’ve hit every election – (laughter) – correctly.

I got to tell you a little story about cultural divide.  A few years ago I was in India and Korea, giving lectures on The Keys to the White House.  And India’s this really loose, kind of chaotic, exciting place, and Korea is much more controlled and stable and sober.  And the Indians would get my jokes, but somehow some of the Koreans wouldn’t get my jokes.  And I swear, one guy, after I gave my lecture made this point and raised his hand and said, “Professor Lichtman, can you please explain to me how you were able to predict elections when you were nine?”  (Laughter.)  So real cultural divides in the world.

So according to my theory, presidential elections are referenda on the performance of the party holding the White House.  That’s why things like foreign policy successes and failures, the fate of the Iran treaty, the state of the economy, policy change, social unrest matter, and the identity of the candidate doesn’t matter.  But the pundits – who are always wrong, but I’ll have to give you the pundits’ view – they think Marco Rubio is probably the most electable Republican.  But they have no basis, really, for saying that.

In terms of winning a third consecutive term, that’s hard.  It’s not an absolute bar, but it’s hard, because one of my keys to the White House is whether or not the sitting president is running for re-election.  And after two consecutive terms, under the amendment to the Constitution, you can’t run for a third term.  So it is harder to win three consecutive terms than it is to win two consecutive terms, but it’s obviously one factor and one factor only.

QUESTION:  Thank you, professor.  Rita Chen from Central News Agency, Taiwan.  You just say the (inaudible) matter.  I wondered how possibly the issue of gender could play a role once the – it’s closing to the voting day, and —

MR LICHTMAN:  Yeah, very interesting.  I’ve spent a lot of time in Taiwan, and —

QUESTION:  And – sorry, I have a second question:  And how important the Vice President for both party if they choose the – anyone —

MR LICHTMAN:  Gotcha.  All right.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  Thank you.

MR LICHTMAN:  First, gender.  Very difficult to say.  In 2008, I predicted an Obama victory.  In fact, I became notorious because I used my keys to the White House in 2005, three years before the election, to say things are going so badly for the Republicans that the Democrats could pick a name out of the phone book and elect that person.  They kind of did.  Whoever heard of Barack Obama at that point?  But a lot of people said to me, “Your keys are going to be wrong because they don’t take into account race” – obviously not, since we’ve never had an African American candidate – and it turned out the keys were spot on.  They got the election exactly right and race made no difference.

Will gender make a difference?  Probably not, but it’s very, very hard to say.  My wife, who’s a leading women’s rights advocate, tells me gender creates more prejudice than even race, but it’s hidden.  People are not going to come out and say, “I’m not going to vote for a woman president.” 

So my overall answer is I don’t think it’s going to override other factors, but you never know because these things are impossible to measure.

QUESTION:  Hi, Zhang Yue for China Daily, [China].  I was late so I didn’t know you were talking about this earlier.  And do you agree that – the saying that the dynasty, the Bush and the Clinton, and also the unlimited campaign finance, as signs of erosion of American democracy?  Thank you.

MR LICHTMAN:  No, I don’t think dynasties erode American democracy, as our people still pick the president; there’s no dictator or dictatorial cabal picking the president.  And the truth is Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, whatever you may think of their policies or their characters, by background and by history, are eminently qualified to run for president of the United States.  I do think money is a much bigger problem though.  I do think you’ve put your finger on something very important.  I do think unlimited money and the expense of campaigns has eroded American democracy, not so much the presidential level – as I said, money matters least – but at every other level, money matters a whole lot.  Even to win a puny seat on a county commission or city council, you have to spend upwards of $100,000.  That is a lot of money for an ordinary American.  To win a congressional seat, you probably have to spend millions of dollars in a contested – that’s just one of 435 congressional seats. 

Ninety-nine percent of Americans are priced out of the political market.  To run for office today, you either have to be reasonably affluent or tied into affluent special interests.  So we have vastly constricted the political choice and political opportunities open to Americans because of the overriding importance of money at every level below the presidency, and that is a huge problem, and it’s not going to be solved because the Supreme Court has interpreted money as speech.  As long as that decision stands and the Citizens United decision on unlimited corporate spending stands, it’s not going to be solved.

By the way, I didn’t answer the lady’s question about the vice presidential nominee.  How much does it matter?  Zero.  The worst vice presidential nomination in modern history was not Sarah Palin, it was Dan Quayle, the nominee of George H. W. Bush, who had the most embarrassing moment in the history of presidential debates when he compared himself – because he was young and inexperienced, he compared himself to John Kennedy, and Lloyd Bentsen, the experienced Democratic vice presidential nominee turned and said, “Sir, I knew John Kennedy.  John Kennedy was a friend of mine.  And with all due respect, sir, you are no John Kennedy.”  It was just a complete, utterly deflating moment.  Did it make any difference whatsoever in the presidential election?  No.  There’s no evidence that the vice president matters.

MODERATOR:  Gentleman in the white shirt in the middle.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much, professor.  My name is [Koya] Ozeki; I work for Japan’s Yomiuri.  I have two questions.  My understanding is that until a few decades ago, primaries and caucuses were much more restricted to party elites.  It was a much more restricted process.  And back in those days, I guess candidates like Donald Trump and Ben Carson had much less chance of coming up like today.  But do you hear any arguments pointing that fact out?  And do you hear any arguments calling for change of the system?

MR LICHTMAN:  Got it.

QUESTION:  Changing it back to the primary system.  And actually there’s another question.  Millennials.

MR LICHTMAN:  That was a pretty long one.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  I know.  Sorry about that. 

MR LICHTMAN:  Yeah, we’re running out of time, so —

QUESTION:  Millennials.  Just – and the second question is very short.  I’m interested in the Millennials.  Do they – how do they impact 2016?  Thank you very much.

MR LICHTMAN:  Let me answer your first question.  Yes, there has been a revolution in how the parties select their presidential nominees, and the revolution dates back to the Democratic nomination in 1968 when the country was so deeply divided over the Vietnam War.  You may recall the sitting President was Lyndon Johnson, who dropped out.  He was eligible to run again, but he dropped out of the election because of the divisions over the war.  And it looked Bobby Kennedy – anti-war candidate – particularly after he won the California primary would be nominated, but on the very eve of winning that primary Kennedy was assassinated.  And the result was someone who had entered no primaries, Hubert Humphrey, the Vice President, was nominated and the anti-war wing of the Democratic Party was outraged. 

And as a concession to those folks, the Democratic Party set up a commission on delegate selection headed by a very famous liberal who would be the next party nominee, Senator George McGovern of South Dakota, and they completely changed the rules for nomination.  Now the only way you could get a delegate was in open primaries and open caucuses.  It used to be there were a lot of states were the party bosses, behind closed doors, would pick the nominee, as you pointed out.  And the Democratic Party adopted this open system and the Republicans followed suit.  And since then, conventions haven’t mattered a wit.  Nominees get selected in the primaries and caucuses and by the voters.  And there has been tons of complaints about it.  Let’s go back to the old system of having these gray, wise, old men sit in a smoke-filled room and pick the nominee; it’s not going to happen.  This system is firmly in place.  No one is going to disenfranchise the voters.

As far as the millennials, I resist all that kind of breaking down the electorate in these ways.  The electorate moves in one piece generally.   Yes, there are huge differences within the electorate, but the electorate is going to make one decision and one decision only:  Have the Democrats governed well enough to get four more years in the White House, or have they governed poorly enough so that voters want a change?  That is the theory behind the keys to the White House.  And to get the scoop, as I said, my book will be out in about four months, sixth edition.

MODERATOR:  We have time for one or two more.

QUESTION:  Hello.  Oliver Grimm for the Austrian newspaper, Die Presse.  Could you briefly talk about the House and particularly in light of how the Republican Party there has – sorry, disintegrated?  Does it actually make a matter if there’s a formally Republican majority there if they can’t really decide on the things that it really wants?

MR LICHTMAN:  Yeah, I haven’t talked about the House.  Let me talk a little bit about the house.  The House, of course, is entirely different than the Senate where you’re elected in districts within the states.  And there’s one word to describe the House, and that word is gerrymander.  Do you all know what a gerrymander is?  It’s where you concoct the districts to favor one party.  And the truth is today, 85 to 90 percent of House districts aren’t competitive in the general election.  The voters don’t decide the election; the line drawers fix the districts so they’re clearly going to win for one party or the other.  And both parties do it.  Republicans have been better because they won the 2010 midterms and the last redistricting was right after that, so – strange places like Pennsylvania that’s a Democratic state that has an overwhelming Republican majority in the House.

But that also means something else.  Where’s the action, then, if it’s not in the general elections in the primary?  And this has led to the election of a lot of very conservative Republican members of the House, the so-called Tea Party Coalition.  And that’s the conflict you’re seeing within the House, between the Tea Party Coalition and the more mainstream Republicans who are more willing to possibly work with the Democrats to some extent and accommodate them.  And by the way, that same division is present within the Republican electorate itself.  There’s a small majority of Republicans, when they’re polled, who say don’t compromise; stick to principles.  But 30 to 45 to 40 percent of Republicans say we should compromise.

So you’re absolutely right, there is a real division within the Republican Party.  And while having a consensus speaker like Paul Ryan’s going to paper it over temporarily, the conflicts within the House are not going to end.

MODERATOR:  Okay.  We’ve got time for one more question.  We’ll go to (off-mike).

QUESTION:  Thank you. Jane with China’s Sina News.  My question is about social media.  How do you think the social media changed the dynamic of the presidential campaign?  And secondly – quick question – how important is the endorsement from the celebrity, congressmen, politician to the presidential candidate?  Thank you.

MR LICHTMAN:  I’ll answer your last question first.  Endorsements aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.  And that’s been true for a long time historically.  The classic example historically is Edmund Muskie, who had run for vice president on the Democratic ticket in ’68.  Had every single endorsement of everyone, had all the money, and his candidacy completely collapsed to the insurgent campaign of George McGovern.  Certainly Ben Carson and Donald Trump are not leading the field because of endorsements.  Jeb Bush would be ahead if you went solely with endorsements.  So I don’t think endorsements really matter one bit.

And what was your other question? 

Social media.  They’ve changed campaigns very little to this point.  Everyone says, “Oh, social media’s going to take over the campaign.”  Nonsense.  The overwhelming bulk of money by candidates – at every level, really – if you can afford it, is still spent on traditional media, particularly television.  And the vast bulk of campaign contributions do not come in through social media; they come in through traditional fundraising methods.

That said, however, social media is becoming increasingly important.  It hasn’t taken over yet, but I think it will be more important in this campaign than ever before because of one very simple fact:  Today, more people get their news from social media than they do from any other source.  And so people do go to social – they go to scores of different places, but social media is displacing everything else as a source of news.  So I do think it will be more important in this campaign than ever before.

Thank you all very much.

MODERATOR:  Thank you all for coming.  This event is now concluded. 

# # #

 

Washington Foreign Press Center

U.S. Department of State


WHAT:          Washington Foreign Press Center On-The-Record Briefing

 

TOPIC:          State of the Race 2016: An overview of the 2016 Elections for foreign correspondents covering their first U.S. election

 

BRIEFER:      Professor Allan Lichtman, American University Professor of History and frequent political commentator and electoral forecaster

 

WHEN:          Wednesday, October 28, 2015, at 11:00 a.m.

 

WHERE:        National Press Building, 529 14th Street, NW, Suite 800

 

RSVP:            Interested media should respond to FPCOwner@state.gov. 

 

BACKGROUND:  Allan Lichtman, American University Professor of History and frequent political commentator and electoral forecaster, will provide an overview of the ‘state of the race’ for the 2016 presidential, Congressional, and state elections on the morning of the upcoming October 28 Republican Party debate in Boulder, CO.  Professor Lichtman will discuss the state of the race for the current slate of Democratic, Republican, and third party candidates. He will also address which House and Senate races are competitive this election cycle, and whether the Democratic Party will win back the House or the Senate.  In addition, Lichtman will forecast which battleground states are competitive this election cycle and whether they are leaning red or blue.  Lastly, Lichtman will lay out a series of issues to watch, from the perspective of foreign media who are covering their first U.S. election and want to quickly get up to speed on the ways in which U.S. politics are different from other parliamentary systems around the world. 

NOTE:  All briefings are subject to change.  Please call (202) 504-6300 or visit the FPC website at http://fpc.state.gov for the latest information on this and other FPC programs.

 

BROADCASTERS:  Download a digital copy of the video at www.dvidshub.net/USDOS. 

Washington Foreign Press Center
National Press Building
529 14th Street, NW, Suite 800

Washington, DC  20045 Phone: (202) 504-6300 || Fax: (202) 504-6334

Obamacare Repealed

President Obama’s landmark healthcare law is in serious jeopardy.

What’s going on?

On Friday, House Republicans passed a bill that would GUT Obamacare and leave millions of Americans without access to affordable healthcare.

How is this different than previous attempts to dismantle Obamacare?

Republicans are using a little-known procedure called “reconciliation” to jam their bill through Congress.1 That means they can pass this legislation without any Democratic backing.

For the first time in his Presidency, Barack Obama could be forced to sign or veto a bill gutting Obamacare.

Why are Republicans trying to repeal Obamacare?

Destroying Obamacare was a key part of the Koch Brothers’ agenda when they spent hundreds of millions of dollars to elect Republicans last year.

So it’s no surprise the Republican Majority is using this chance to dismantle the President’s landmark achievement.

This is an all-hands-on-deck moment.

We’re trying to reach 1OO,OOO signers standing strong with President Obama before Republicans in the Senate hold a vote to repeal Obamacare. We need you with us.

Sign your name to stand with President Obama before Koch-Backed Republicans dismantle Obamacare >>

http://act.endcitizensunited.org/Stand-Obama

Thanks for standing with us,

-EndCitizensUnited.org

 

[1] New York Times, “House Republicans Advance Bill to Undo Health Law” Sept. 29, 2015

 

The MoveOn 2016 Presidential Forum

Dear MoveOn member,

I’m excited to share that MoveOn is hosting a 2016 Presidential Forum—with questions from MoveOn members like you, and answers from Democratic presidential candidates.

MoveOn has invited all of the Democratic candidates, and Senator Bernie Sanders is the first to confirm he’s in.1

To pull this off well—and reach millions of people with substantive conversation about some of the most important issues we face—we need your help asking critical questions that matter to the American people.

Will you ask the Democratic candidates for president a question? Just follow our simple instructions for how to make a 30-second homemade video of you asking your question—and it could be selected for the MoveOn 2016 Presidential Forum and answered by the participating candidates!

Yes, I’ll submit a question by video!

I’ll submit a question—but not right now. Follow up with me later this week.

Here’s how this will work:

  • We’ve invited every Democratic candidate—Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley, Lincoln Chafee, and Lawrence Lessig. Already, Sen. Sanders has confirmed his participation.
  • You and other MoveOn members submit questions for the presidential candidates—and your story about why that question is important to you—via video. Click here to do that now. The deadline to submit your video question is Monday, October 26, at 11:59 p.m. local time.
  • You’ll have an opportunity to weigh in on the questions you most want to hear the candidates answer.
  • We’ll sit down with every candidate who participates in the MoveOn 2016 Presidential Forum, sharing the top questions, pressing them for thoughtful, detailed responses, and filming their answers.
  • We’ll make a one-hour video special and stream it for the entire MoveOn community to watch and comment on together. And we’ll post all the selected questions and answers online for the public to view.

This is the only online forum or debate scheduled so far—with the potential to reach millions of people on their phones and computers. And 100% of the questions are coming from the grassroots, not from media networks or political parties.

Click here to submit your question for the candidates now—using our easy-to-follow instructions for making a video on your computer or smartphone.

Fifteen million people tuned in to the first Democratic presidential debate—the most for any Democratic debate ever. That’s nearly 50% more people than tuned in to the most-watched debate of the highly contested 2008 presidential primary.2

And more people streamed the Democratic debate online than streamed the earlier Republican debate on the same network.3

It’s clear that the American people want to hear from the candidates. But we’ve got to do this ourselves. Right now, there are just three more Democratic debates before the first contest—the Iowa caucuses on February 1. And all three are on weekends (one is on a holiday weekend and one is the weekend before Christmas)—not exactly times when lots of Americans are thinking about politics.

As a Washington Post columnist wrote after the first debate, “Quite frankly, America could benefit from watching a wider variety of people asking a bigger range of questions, period.”4

That’s what the MoveOn community can deliver.  

Will you make a 30-second video with your question for the candidates? (We’ll show you how; it’s easy.)

Yes, I’ll submit a question now.

Instead of emails and name-calling, this race should be about expanding Social Security benefits so that our seniors can live with dignity and peace of mind, and ensuring students can graduate from college with zero debt. It should be about unleashing American investment and ingenuity to tackle climate change by keeping fossil fuels in the ground. It should be about confronting systemic racism and ending mass incarceration so that every community can thrive.

In July 2007, all eight Democratic candidates for president (including Clinton, Obama, Edwards, and Biden) participated in MoveOn’s Virtual Town Hall, which focused heavily on the Iraq War, climate change, and health care. Months later, MoveOn members voted to endorse then-Senator Barack Obama, and 1 million members volunteered for the campaign. Today, our community is more than twice as large as it was then—meaning we can and must do more to change our country.

What’s your question for the candidates?

Click here to submit your question now.

Or, click here to get a reminder to submit your question later this week. The deadline to submit your video question is Monday, October 26, at 11:59 p.m. local time.

Thanks for all you do.

–Victoria, Joan, Milan, Ben O., and the rest of the team

Sources:

1. “Democrats Add Candidate Forum Amid Criticism Over Debate Schedule,” Time, October 21, 2015

http://time.com/4080763/democratic-debates-moveon-forum/

2. “Democratic Debate Draws Over 15 Million to CNN, a Record for the Party,” The New York Times, October 14, 2015

http://www.moveon.org/r/?r=307870&id=134019-30141796-w7tja6x&t=8

3. Ibid.

4. “Where were CNN’s black and Latino debate moderators all night?” The Washington Post, October 14, 2015

http://www.moveon.org/r/?r=307871&id=134019-30141796-w7tja6x&t=9

 

Want to support our work? MoveOn member contributions have powered our work together for more than 17 years. Hundreds of thousands of people chip in each year—which is why we’re able to be fiercely independent, answering to no individual, corporation, politician, or political party. You can become a monthly donor by clicking here, or chip in a one-time gift here.

PAID FOR BY MOVEON.ORG POLITICAL ACTION, http://pol.moveon.org/. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee. 

Statement by the President on Afghanistan

THE WHITE HOUSE

 

Office of the Press Secretary

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

For Immediate Release                                                                    October 15, 2015

 

 

STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT

ON AFGHANISTAN

 

Roosevelt Room

 

 

 

11:04 A.M. EDT

 

 

     THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning.  Last December — more than 13 years after our nation was attacked by al Qaeda on 9/11 — America’s combat mission in Afghanistan came to a responsible end.  That milestone was achieved thanks to the courage and the skill of our military, our intelligence, and civilian personnel.  They served there with extraordinary skill and valor, and it’s worth remembering especially the more than 2,200 American patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan.

 

I visited our troops in Afghanistan last year to thank them on behalf of a grateful nation.  I told them they could take great pride in the progress that they helped achieve.  They struck devastating blows against the al Qaeda leadership in the tribal regions, delivered justice to Osama bin Laden, prevented terrorist attacks, and saved American lives.  They pushed the Taliban back so the Afghan people could reclaim their communities, send their daughters to school, and improve their lives.  Our troops trained Afghan forces so they could take the lead for their own security and protect Afghans as they voted in historic elections, leading to the first democratic transfer of power in their country’s history. 

 

Today, American forces no longer patrol Afghan villages or valleys.  Our troops are not engaged in major ground combat against the Taliban.  Those missions now belong to Afghans, who are fully responsible for securing their country. 

 

But as I’ve said before, while America’s combat mission in Afghanistan may be over, our commitment to Afghanistan and its people endures.  As Commander-in-Chief, I will not allow Afghanistan to be used as safe haven for terrorists to attack our nation again.  Our forces therefore remain engaged in two narrow but critical missions — training Afghan forces, and supporting counterterrorism operations against the remnants of al Qaeda.  Of course, compared to the 100,000 troops we once had in Afghanistan, today fewer than 10,000 remain, in support of these very focused missions.

 

I meet regularly with my national security team, including commanders in Afghanistan, to continually assess, honestly, the situation on the ground — to determine where our strategy is working and where we may need greater flexibility.  I have insisted, consistently, that our strategy focus on the development of a sustainable Afghan capacity and self-sufficiency.  And when we’ve needed additional forces to advance that goal, or we’ve needed to make adjustments in terms of our timetables, then we’ve made those adjustments.  Today, I want to update the American people on our efforts.

 

Since taking the lead for security earlier this year, Afghan forces have continued to step up.  This has been the first fighting season where Afghans have largely been on their own.  And they are fighting for their country bravely and tenaciously.  Afghan forces continue to hold most urban areas.  And when the Taliban has made gains, as in Kunduz, Afghan forces backed by coalition support have been able to push them back.  This has come at a very heavy price.  This year alone, thousands of Afghan troops and police have lost their lives, as have many Afghan civilians.

 

At the same time, Afghan forces are still not as strong as they need to be.  They’re developing critical capabilities — intelligence, logistics, aviation, command and control.  And meanwhile, the Taliban has made gains, particularly in rural areas, and can still launch deadly attacks in cities, including Kabul.  Much of this was predictable.  We understood that as we transitioned, that the Taliban would try to exploit some of our movements out of particular areas, and that it would take time for Afghan security forces to strengthen.  Pressure from Pakistan has resulted in more al Qaeda coming into Afghanistan, and we’ve seen the emergence of an ISIL presence.  The bottom line is, in key areas of the country, the security situation is still very fragile, and in some places there is risk of deterioration. 

 

Fortunately, in President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah there is a national unity government that supports a strong partnership with the United States.  During their visit earlier this year, President Ghani and I agreed to continue our counterterrorism cooperation, and he has asked for continued support as Afghan forces grow stronger. 

 

Following consultations with my entire national security team, as well as our international partners and members of Congress, President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah, I’m therefore announcing the following steps, which I am convinced offer the best possibility for lasting progress in Afghanistan.

 

First, I’ve decided to maintain our current posture of 9,800 troops in Afghanistan through most of next year, 2016.  Their mission will not change.  Our troops will continue to pursue those two narrow tasks that I outlined earlier — training Afghan forces and going after al Qaeda.  But maintaining our current posture through most of next year, rather than a more rapid drawdown, will allow us to sustain our efforts to train and assist Afghan forces as they grow stronger — not only during this fighting season, but into the next one.

 

Second, I have decided that instead of going down to a normal embassy presence in Kabul by the end of 2016, we will maintain 5,500 troops at a small number of bases, including at Bagram, Jalalabad in the east, and Kandahar in the south. 

 

Again, the mission will not change.  Our troops will focus on training Afghans and counterterrorism operations.  But these bases will give us the presence and the reach our forces require to achieve their mission.  In this sense, Afghanistan is a key piece of the network of counterterrorism partnerships that we need, from South Asia to Africa, to deal more broadly with terrorist threats quickly and prevent attacks against our homeland.

 

Third, we will work with allies and partners to align the steps I am announcing today with their own presence in Afghanistan after 2016.  In Afghanistan, we are part of a 42-nation coalition, and our NATO allies and partners can continue to play an indispensable role in helping Afghanistan strengthen its security forces, including respect for human rights.                 

 

And finally, because governance and development remain the foundation for stability and progress in Afghanistan, we will continue to support President Ghani and the national unity government as they pursue critical reforms.  New provincial governors have been appointed, and President Ghani is working to combat corruption, strengthen institutions, and uphold rule of law.  As I told President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah yesterday, efforts that deliver progress and justice for the Afghan people will continue to have the strong support of the United States.  And we cannot separate the importance of governance with the issues of security.  The more effective these reforms happen, the better off the security situation is going to be.

 

We also discussed American support of an Afghan-led reconciliation process.  By now it should be clear to the Taliban and all who oppose Afghanistan’s progress the only real way to achieve the full drawdown of U.S. and foreign troops from Afghanistan is through a lasting political settlement with the Afghan government.  Likewise, sanctuaries for the Taliban and other terrorists must end.  Next week, I’ll host Prime Minister Sharif of Pakistan, and I will continue to urge all parties in the region to press the Taliban to return to peace talks and to do their part in pursuit of the peace that Afghans deserve.      

 

In closing, I want to speak directly to those whose lives are most directly affected most by the decisions I’m announcing today.  To the Afghan people, who have suffered so much — Americans’ commitment to you and to a secure, stable and unified Afghanistan, that remains firm.  Our two nations have forged a strategic partnership for the long term.  And as you defend and build your country, today is a reminder that the United States keeps our commitments.   

 

And to our men and women in uniform — I know this means that some of you will rotate back into Afghanistan.  With the end of our combat mission, this is not like 2010, when nearly 500 Americans were killed and many more were injured.  But still, Afghanistan remains dangerous; 25 brave Americans have given their lives there this year. 

 

I do not send you into harm’s way lightly.  It’s the most solemn decision I make.  I know the wages of war in the wounded warriors I visit in the hospital and in the grief of Gold Star families.  But as your Commander-in-Chief, I believe this mission is vital to our national security interests in preventing terrorist attacks against our citizens and our nation.

 

And to the American people — I know that many of you have grown weary of this conflict.  As you are well aware, I do not support the idea of endless war, and I have repeatedly argued against marching into open-ended military conflicts that do not serve our core security interests. 

 

Yet given what’s at stake in Afghanistan, and the opportunity for a stable and committed ally that can partner with us in preventing the emergence of future threats, and the fact that we have an international coalition, I am firmly convinced that we should make this extra effort.  In the Afghan government, we have a serious partner who wants our help.  And the majority of the Afghan people share our goals.  We have a bilateral security agreement to guide our cooperation.  And every single day, Afghan forces are out there fighting and dying to protect their country.  They’re not looking for us to do it for them.

 

I’m speaking of the Afghan army cadet who grew up seeing bombings and attacks on innocent civilians who said, “because of this, I took the decision to join the army, to try and save innocent people’s lives.”  Or the police officer training to defuse explosives.  “I know it’s dangerous work,” he says, but “I have always had a dream of wearing the uniform of Afghanistan, serving my people and defending my country.”

 

Or the Afghan commando, a hardened veteran of many missions, who said, “If I start telling you the stories of my life, I might start crying.”  He serves, he said, because, “the faster we bring peace, the faster we can bring education, and the stronger our unity will grow.  Only if these things happen will Afghanistan be able to stand up for itself.”

 

My fellow Americans, after so many years of war, Afghanistan will not be a perfect place.  It’s a poor country that will have to work hard on its development.  There will continue to be contested areas.  But Afghans like these are standing up for their country.  If they were to fail, it would endanger the security of us all.  And we’ve made an enormous investment in a stable Afghanistan.  Afghans are making difficult but genuine progress.  This modest but meaningful extension of our presence — while sticking to our current, narrow missions — can make a real difference.  It’s the right thing to do. 

 

May God bless our troops and all who keep us safe.  And may God continue to bless the United States of America.

 

Q    Mr. President, can you tell us how disappointing this decision is for you?  Is this — can you tell us how disappointing this decision is for you?

 

THE PRESIDENT:  This decision is not disappointing.  Continually, my goal has been to make sure that we give every opportunity for Afghanistan to succeed while we’re still making sure that we’re meeting our core missions. 

 

And as I’ve continually said, my approach is to assess the situation on the ground, figure out what’s working, figure out what’s not working, make adjustments where necessary.  This isn’t the first time those adjustments have been made; this won’t probably be the last.

 

What I’m encouraged by is the fact that we have a government that is serious about trying to deliver security and the prospects of a better life for the Afghan people.  We have a clear majority of the Afghans who want to partner with us and the international community to achieve those goals.  We have a bilateral security arrangement that ensures that our troops can operate in ways that protect them while still achieving their mission.  And we’ve always known that we had to maintain a counterterrorism operation in that region in order to tamp down any reemergence of active al Qaeda networks, or other networks that might do us harm.

 

So this is consistent with the overall vision that we’ve had.  And, frankly, we anticipated, as we were drawing down troops, that there would be times where we might need to slow things down or fill gaps in Afghan capacity.  And this is a reflection of that.  And it’s a dangerous area. 

 

So part of what we’re constantly trying to balance is making sure that Afghans are out there, they’re doing what they need to do, but that we are giving them a chance to succeed and that we’re making sure that our force posture in the area for conducting those narrow missions that we need to conduct, we can do so relatively safely.  There are still risks involved, but force protection, the ability of our embassies to operate effectively — those things all factor in.

 

And so we’ve got to constantly review these approaches.  The important thing I want to emphasize, though, is, is that the nature of the mission has not changed.  And the cessation of our combat role has not changed. 

 

Now, the 25 military and civilians who were killed last year, that always weighs on my mind.  And 25 deaths are 25 too many, particularly for the families of the fallen.  But understand, relative to what was involved when we were in an active combat role and actively engaged in war in Afghanistan was a very different scenario.

 

So here, you have a situation where we have clarity about what our mission is.  We’ve got a partner who wants to work with us.  We’re going to continually make adjustments to ensure that we give the best possibilities for success.  And I suspect that we will continue to evaluate this going forward, as will the next President.  And as conditions improve, we’ll be in a position to make further adjustments.

 

But I’m absolutely confident this is the right thing to do.  And I’m not disappointed because my view has always been how do we achieve our goals while minimizing the strain and exposure on our men and women in uniform, and make sure that we are constantly encouraging and sending a message to the Afghan people, this is their country and they’ve got to defend it, but we’re going to be a steady partner for them.

 

Thank you, everybody. 

 

                                           END                                        11:22 A.M. EDT  

—–

The White House · 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW · Washington DC 20500 · 202-456-1111

REMARKS: Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom David Saperstein At the Release of the 2014 Report on International Religious Freedom

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE

Office of the Spokesperson

For Immediate Release

 REMARKS

Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom David Saperstein

At the Release of the 2014 Report on International Religious Freedom

 

Press Briefing Room

Washington, D.C.

October 14, 2015

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN:  I want to thank the Secretary, not just for his remarks; he made a number of commitments of support for this work when I came on, and he has more than fulfilled those commitments.

The Annual International Religious Freedom Report provides an important opportunity for the United States to highlight an issue that continues to be a foreign policy priority for the Administration, documenting how, where, and when the universal right of freedom of religion or belief was violated or protected in every corner of the world.

Through the immense effort of countless State Department officials, particularly our knowledgeable and tireless staff of the International Religious Freedom Office and the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor in Washington, as well as dedicated staff in each one of our embassies across the globe, the 2014 report maintains the high standards of objectivity and accuracy for which we strive.

A little over a year ago, I stood at a podium next to Secretary Kerry here in this room when he announced my nomination for the position of Ambassador-at-Large, and during my 10-month tenure I have been gratified by the support from both the Secretary and the President in implementing so many of the priorities I identified in my confirmation hearing and my swearing-in speech.  We have since increased the number of staff in my office, allowing us to expand our country monitoring work and better address a variety of issues – from the importance of religious freedom and countering violent extremism to the terrible global impact of blasphemy laws.  Simultaneously, we have expanded foreign assistance programs that strengthen religious freedom. 

I’m also deeply appreciative of President Obama’s and Secretary Kerry’s support for the appointment of Knox Thames as special advisor for religious minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia; I’m delighted that he’s able to be with us today.  Knox will build upon our already intense efforts on behalf of these minorities over the past year, including our work to protect Yezidis in those early days and weeks on Mount Sinjar in Iraq and the Assyrian Christian communities of the Khabur River area of Syria.  Knox will help guide the U.S. Government-wide efforts to promote conditions in these countries that will allow members of displaced minority communities to be able to return home.

Since January, I’ve also worked to build deeper partnerships with foreign governments to advance religious freedom as these global challenges require a global response.  Thanks to the leadership of my Canadian counterpart, Ambassador Andrew Bennett, we have forged an intergovernmental contact group bringing together likeminded nations to devise common strategies to promote and protect religious freedom for all.

Now, during my tenure I’ve noticed certain enduring truths.  In many countries, religious freedoms flourish; people are free to choose their faith, change their faith, speak about their faith to others, teach their faith to their children, dissent from religion, build places of worship, worship alone or in fellowship with others.  In such societies, denominations and faith groups organize as their leaders and members see fit.  Interfaith cooperation flourishes, religious communities contribute significantly to the social welfare and serve as a moral compass to their nations.

Yet in far too many countries people face daunting, alarming, growing challenges on account of their beliefs.  In countries where once proud traditions of multi-faith cooperation, positive coexistence was the norm, we have witnessed growing numbers of religious minorities being driven out of their historic homelands.  And in too many countries, prisoners of conscience suffer cruel punishment for their religious beliefs and practices.  This report gives a voice to all those around the world who are seeking to peacefully live their lives in accordance with their conscience or religious beliefs.

In the pages of this report, we strive to put a human face on this incredibly important human right that touches so many people across the globe and remains central to the identity of the American people.

A number of trend lines stood out in this year’s report.  The first one, the Secretary has already mentioned, is the single greatest challenge to religious freedom worldwide, or certainly the single greatest emerging challenge, and that is the abhorrent acts of terror committed by those who falsely claim the mantle of religion to justify their wanton destruction. 

In both Iraq and Syria, Daesh has sought to eliminate anyone daring to deviate from its own violent and destructive interpretation of Islam.  Targets include non-Muslims, Shia, Sunnis alike.  It has displaced individuals from their homes based on their religions or ethnicity.  Similarly, Boko Haram has killed thousands in both indiscriminate violence and deliberate attacks on Christians and Muslims who oppose its radical ideology.  It has subjected the peoples of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, to unspeakable acts of terror, sexual violence, abductions, and fatal attacks on places of worship.

Secondly, the impact of blasphemy laws and apostasy laws in countries including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan, and in a number of others – as well as laws that purport to protect religious sentiments from offense.  The United States uniformly opposes such laws which are used to oppress those whose religious beliefs happen to offend the majority.  Such laws are inconsistent with international human rights and fundamental freedoms, and we will continue to call for their universal repeal.  The existence of such laws has been used in some countries as pretext to justify violence in the name of religion to create an atmosphere of impunity for those resorting to violence and/or leads to false claims of blasphemy.

Third, repressive governments routinely subject their citizens to violence, detention, discrimination, undue surveillance, for simply exercising their faith or identifying with a religious community.  We see this dramatized by the plight of countless numbers of prisoners of conscience.  We remain deeply committed to seeing such individuals freed everywhere in the world.

In my travels to Vietnam, I saw firsthand how religious groups are forced to undergo onerous and arbitrary registration process to legally operate.  As Vietnam considers amending its religion laws, we stand with the country’s religious communities in calling for the easing of such restrictions.  And in Burma, Ambassador Bennett of Canada and I spoke out forcefully together against a series of discriminatory laws banning interfaith marriage and restricting conversion.

Many governments have used the guise of confronting terrorism or extremism to broadly repress religious groups for nonviolent religious activities, or by imposing broad restrictions on religious life.  Russia continues to use vaguely formulated anti-extremism laws to justify arrests, raids on homes and places of worship, and the confiscation or banning of religious literature.  Tajikistan bans people under age of 18 from participating in any public religious activities, supposedly on the ground that exposure to religion will lead youths to violence.  Chinese officials have increased controls on Uighur Muslims’ peaceful religious expression and practice, including instances of banning beards and headscarves. 

And a word about China:  During my visit in August, I found that despite widespread, continuing government abuses and restriction, many places of worship were nonetheless full and flourishing.  In areas of the country where the government’s hand was lighter, faith-based social service and welfare agencies operating homeless shelters, orphanages, soup kitchens, made highly positive contributions to the wellbeing of their society.  We’ve urged the Chinese Government to use that as a model of what can work nationwide.  But far more often restrictive policies still stifled religious life, preventing Chinese people from experiencing such benefits.  This reality has only been exacerbated by the growing crackdown on human rights lawyers in China, including those seeking to work within China’s legal system to enhance religious freedom.  And this does include Zhang Kai, a peaceful, respected, Christian human rights lawyer who was detained just prior to a meeting with me and whose whereabouts remain unknown.

A fourth trend is the role of societal violence and discrimination, that which emanates not from the government itself but from other societal groups.  And the question is:  What does the government do to try and ameliorate the conditions that lead to such violence, and what does it do to protect harassed minority communities?  In Europe, many governments are struggling to cope with the aftermath of terror attacks such as those in France, Belgium and Denmark, along with increased anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim actions and sentiments.  As hundreds of thousands of Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis and others have fled into Europe in recent weeks, we urge governments to uphold their obligations for humane treatment of refugees and ensuring that individuals do not face harassment or discrimination on account of their Muslim faith.

Now, despite these many challenges detailed in our report, we also see governments and individuals working to improve their communities and societies.  Following the terror attacks in Copenhagen in February, thousands of people of different faiths formed in Denmark a human ring outside the synagogue where the murder occurred.  In September of 2014, Kyrgyzstan’s constitutional court ruled part of the country’s problematic religion law unconstitutional, a decision we hope will ease registration requirements for minority religious groups and enable members to engage in peaceful religious activities more freely.

After years of growing religious tensions and violence in Sri Lanka generated by hardline ethnic Buddhist groups, a new government has taken office and staked out a much more tolerant view of religious diversity.  Since that time, some of these tensions have noticeably eased. 

In closing, while the challenges are daunting, we are deeply inspired by the work of countless religious communities, civil society organizations, and individuals around the world working alongside us to ensure that their governments live up to their international commitments to protect freedom of religious and belief.  We dedicate our work to their struggle and continue to fight for a world in which every individual is free to live out the core of his or her conscience.

I’m now happy to answer any questions.

MR TONER:  Any takers?  Go ahead, David.

QUESTION:  You’ve sketched out a number of things that are going badly and a few things that are going well.  Is it possible to look at a global trend?  Are things better than they were when you took office or worse, globally?

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN:  If you look at the Pew reports that I believe are a year behind our reports, over the last several years there’s been a steady increase in the percentage of people who live in countries that are – that have serious restrictions on religious freedom.  And of course, as both the Secretary and I pointed out, the escalation of the violence perpetrated by non-state actors, often in the name of their interpretation of religion, is a new phenomenon that has really escalated in the last 18 months.  So on that level, there are trends that are deeply troubling.

At the same time, if you look and for – just take one example in Europe, and you look at the acts of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim activity that took place, across Europe leaders of the different countries and civil society leaders and religious leaders have all spoken out condemning these acts, taking steps to help prevent these acts, standing in protection of minority communities with many governments deploying either police or militia to protect endangered minority communities.  And we’ve seen enormous expansion of interfaith efforts on almost every continent to try and address the challenges.

So it’s hard to give you the sum between the dangerous and the encouraging parts of it.  This report doesn’t make those kinds of judgment.  It just states in facts what is happening in each and every country. 

MR TONER:  Barbara.

QUESTION:  Just to follow up the China situation, have the Chinese Government responded in any way to your questions about the detention of this Zhang Kai, I think his name is?  And also, what are the circumstances of the people who were detained around the same time?  And sorry – finally, how do you explain that balance or that kind of mixed message between religious – a certain amount of religious freedom or expression, but on the other hand increasing restrictions, especially when you were actually there?

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN:  So let me clarify what the situation was.  At the very end of our time in mainland China, these detentions took place.  One was of somebody – someone with a human rights legal background who had met with us to give the analysis that that person brought to bear on the subject, who was detained the next day in house detention. 

About 10 of the people from the community of Wenzhou – now that, I’m sure, many of you have read about.  That’s a community where there’s been an escalation of efforts to take down crosses from a few hundred churches, to dismantle some churches in Wenzhou.  And we wanted to meet with people there.  We were denied permission to actually travel there, but we were allowed to go to the capital of that province.  And that group of people – including three human rights lawyers, four pastors from the area, three or four other activists, a group of about 10 people – were all detained. 

Several of them have been released.  Several of them still face the possibility of charges.  And with Zhang Kai, who really is one of the most respected human rights lawyers in China, someone who has argued over and over again that they have to work within the legal system of China in order to win these battles and has proved very skilled at doing that, representing a range of religious groups, he and I believe one or two or the others are still in locations where we’re not sure where they are.  This is not an uncommon occurrence.  And on – our human rights bureau has reached out in all their encounters.  We’re trying to talk about these problems in a structural level.   We have continued to ask questions.  We will continue on this.  And we hope that we will get answers.

Just on one foot – again, the report doesn’t make the judgments about why these disparity of experiences, these encouraging signs and these deeply discouraging signs, live side by side in the same country.  It just sets out the facts and allows you folks to provide the interpretation. 

MR TONER:  Nicole.

QUESTION:  Thanks for doing this, Mr. Ambassador.  The report talks about a wave of anti-Israel sentiment in Europe in 2014 that crossed the line into anti-Semitism.  And I’m wondering if you could explain to us how you defined where that line was.  What constituted anti-Israel action or sentiment versus anti-Semitic?

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN:  We actually have a very brief paper on that.  If you’d like, we can provide that to you.  But just very quickly here, criticism of the public policy of any nation – Israel, the United States, China, a European nation, African nation, Asian nation – no matter what the nation is, that’s appropriate.  That’s part of the free marketplace of ideas and discourse. 

Where it has often crossed the line is when groups try to argue that Israel is an inherently illegal state and doesn’t have a right to exist as a Jewish state here and takes actions to de-legitimize those fundamental rights.  It comes – it’s right on the cusp of that line when it holds one country to different standards than it would hold any other country.  Normally we think of that as the denial of rights to a person that are given to other similarly situated people, or the imposition of obligations on a person not applied to other people.  We normally think of that as racism.  And this, in the minds of many, feels that when it steps over that line, that it constitutes anti-Semitic activity and not just anti-legitimate discourse about Israel’s policies.

MR TONER:  In the back.  Michele.

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN:  Hi, Michele.

QUESTION:  Hi, how are you?  When you look at what ISIS is doing in the Middle East, would you describe that as a war on Christians?  What more could the U.S. do to protect communities like that or to help resettle people here?  And then finally, what would you tell Russia about Bashar al-Assad’s record on protecting minorities in that country?

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN:  That’s a broad range of issues.  Let me try to do this quickly, working backwards.  The – Assad’s record is absolutely clear.  We have made that clear to the world.  I think there’s overwhelming consensus in the global community about the horrific abuses of human rights that the Assad regime has been engaged in.  And so Russia’s intervention doesn’t change what our message on that has been.

In terms of bringing people here, the President has announced an expansion in the number of refugees that we will be taking in.  It is presumed a number of those will include – of the expansion will include people from that – will include people from that region.

We have worked vigorously on the issue of protecting the minority communities.  ISIL is certainly targeting the Christian community, but is also targeting the Mandaeans, the Shabak, certainly the Yezidis that explicitly said it wanted to wipe out here.  So it is trying to decimate and eviscerate the presence of those very communities here.  And we know that if there’s going to be a possibility to bring them home, we know what the ingredients are going to be.  I’ve spoken on this publicly to a number of the major Christian groups who are concerned about this, but also the groups that are concerned about the – in meetings with the Yezidi, the Shia Muslim groups from the area who are affected by this as well.

That is, we need to sustain them where they are in place at a condition that they’re going to be willing to stay – mostly in Kurdistan – until ISIL’s presence is removed.  And we clearly need to remove ISIL’s presence for them to return home.  That means there have to be schools for their kids, there has to be better health care, there have to be job opportunities for their kids who are graduating school, et cetera.  And the United States is the lead factor in providing that kind of humanitarian aid.

Secondly, there needs to be a security system when they return home in which they can trust, because a lot of that trust was breached when ISIL came in.  And they need their own – the right to have their own effective defense forces that have to be integrated with the Iraqi and Peshmerga forces.

Third, there has to be a restorative justice, a transitional justice system.  People go back to their communities; some of their former neighbors have taken over their businesses, their homes.  There has to be a system that will fairly adjudicate that and hold people responsible who assisted ISIL.

Fourth, at a macro level in Iraq, there has to be a change in the governance structures that allow those minority groups to have a real role in shaping the future of the country.  Prime Minister Abadi has made clear that that is his intent.  We see some of that represented in appointments that he’s made, and the United States is working with the Iraqi Government on that day in and day out.

And finally, there has to be an internationally engaged plan on the economic rebuilding so that people will have a sense of hope for the future.  We know what those ingredients are.  The United States, often together with the UN or other nations, are working on planning in this.  And that’s very important because if it were – we waited until ISIL was pushed out, it would leave a vacuum that chaos would potentially descend.

And so we know what needs to be done.  We’re working on those things – and pushing very hard – that will benefit the Christian community.  I mean, think about it.  There’s been a Christian community there for 1600 years.  Across the Nineveh plain, church bells have pealed for 1600 years.  Today they are silent.  And we are not going to rest until people have a right to live out their religious lives back in their home communities in accordance with their conscience.

MR TONER:  A couple more questions.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  On North Korea and on religious freedom and human rights in North Korea, in North Korea they detained many of the religions and the pastors for past years, then they are still in prisons.  So how – would you please tell us:  How many U.S. citizens still in the North Korean prisons?  Can you guess how many U.S. citizen pastors or religions or whatever citizens?

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN:  First, as you know, Korea remains a country of particular concern for us.  It is one of the worst violators of human rights in the entire world.  We have talked about that over and over again.  The countries of particular concern who were this past year continue this year.  I think everyone knows that list – Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan.

Secondly, we continue – we don’t have direct relations, so we continue through international partners and by mobilizing these international coalitions to put continuing pressure for North Korea to ease its restrictions on religious freedom and to let every one of those prisoners of conscience – and there are far, far too many, and they often face brutal conditions in the prisons – to go.

And finally, the United States Government is always working, day in and day out, to ensure that its citizens who are imprisoned unjustly without due process and for the exercise of fundamental internationally protected rights are allowed to go free, and/or encounter a judicial system that does provide due process and fairness.  We do that as best we can through the international contacts with North Korea going on every day on an ongoing basis.

The question of how many, I actually don’t know the answer to.  The specific cases we can’t comment on.  American privacy laws protect us from – protect them from allowing us to talk about their situation, and they’re not in a position to give us authority and permission to do that.  So we can’t comment on the individual cases.

MR TONER:  Pam.

QUESTION:  In your outreach to countries to address religious freedom concerns, do you ever get pushback from governments who may view the idea of religious freedom as a Western concept?

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN:  We do, and it has been somewhat of a growing phenomenon.  Here – we therefore make it clear over and over again we are not trying to impose the standards of Western countries, of countries of any particular majorities – religious majorities – here, or American, European standards on any of these countries.  Almost all of these countries we’re dealing with are signatories to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – Article 18 is quite clear about a robust application of religious freedom.  We regard these as internationally protected rights, and it is within that guise that we deal with it.

Let me just point out, however, that we respect the varied traditions of people up to the point it violates those international norms.  We try to engage with them on their terms to find ways to address what concerns they might have about defamation of religion, about attacks on religion, about the questions of what religiously would be – would constitute blasphemy by finding non-legal ways to deal with that.  The passage of UN Resolution 1618 is a prime example of that.  It enjoyed the support of the OIC in passing it.  It looks at non-penal ways to address some of these questions. 

And we have set up a very effective training program drawing on the Justice Department, the Homeland Security Department, and the State Department.  Working with other experts around the world, we’re out in other countries doing training programs about this, and the countries – it’s been a handful of countries we’ve done a test run on, and now we’re going to be expanding this in a much more global reach.  It’s one of the things that I’m focused on doing.  And that’s where we engage people where they are and try and bring them in ways to address their concerns within international legal norms.

MR TONER:  Really, last few questions.  In the back there and then Nicole.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Ambassador, for your time.  The Syria Catholic patriarch last week said that Christians in the Middle East feel like the West has abandoned them.  How do you respond, and how can this report help in their crisis right now?

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN:  Sometimes there are competing truths – two things that are absolutely true here.  There is a robust effort of the developed world – of the democratic world, excuse me – to help protect the Christian communities.  They are – all of the efforts that we’re doing in terms of supporting the humanitarian needs of Syrian refugees, of Iraqi refugees; of working with the Government of Iraq in the lines – along the lines that I was talking about in the international community manifest that.  Day in and day out there isn’t a single day that we are not doing more and more.  The – bringing Knox Thames, such a respected advocate of religious freedom – for those of you who don’t know Knox, he had been the director of policy and research at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, widely respected in the field – who hit the ground running when he came on just within the last couple of weeks, he’s going to be working side by side with me and with our international counterparts and with every arm of our government that is doing programs, working on defense training and work with countries in the area here (inaudible) the intelligence communities, all of the human rights work that we’re doing here, to help really strengthen the work on behalf of these minorities. 

That’s one reality.  I mean, I could talk for hours about what is being done, the programmatic work that’s being done – the relief and humanitarian work, et cetera.  They’re in the middle of a horrific war situation.  Every day their lives could be imperiled.  There’s no magic button that can fix this.  It is – as the President has said, it is going to be long, steady progress here until we can reach the kind of goals that we want.  If you’re living there and you fear for the well being of your family every day, certainly you’re going to feel like the world isn’t doing enough about it.  It’s a paradox.  We recognize that reality.  We do everything we can to ameliorate that, to offer greater protection and to meet the needs of these communities, and we won’t cease doing so until they really are able to live in freedom in accordance with their conscience.

MR TONER:  Nicole, last question (inaudible) sorry.

QUESTION:  Does the State Department consider efforts by Western countries to ban the Muslim headdress or the Muslim covering for women as a repression of religious freedom?

And second, very quick, if you can.  Iran, Saudi Arabia – which one is more respectful of religious freedom?  Thanks.

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN:  Both of them, as you heard, are on the list of the countries of particular concern here and continue to be on that list, Nicole.  So we don’t make judgments about which are better and worse.  Both of those countries have structural, systematic, egregious violations.  Minority in Saudi Arabia – no one other than Muslim community can worship openly, can partake in their religious life openly.  Even when they do it privately, often they’re harassed and interfered with.  These are very serious challenges and problems.  In Iran, we have very serious problems as well.  Again, the Shia Muslim community – interpretation of Islam dominates the legal structure, the culture of the country.  Other Muslims find themselves – Mahdi Muslims find themselves in trouble; in the Baha’i community, systematically oppressed.  Almost every minority group faces restrictions and are discriminated against in one form or another. 

So they are both – have very serious problems.  Read the report; you would have to make the judgment yourself which is the worst here. 

QUESTION:  And the headdress issue?

 AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN:  Say again?

QUESTION:  The headdress issue?

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN:  Yeah – yes.  We have taken a position in our approach to this that exercise of freedom of religion and belief allows people to make determinations about what their appropriate re0ligious garb would be.  If women feel they have to have their heads covered, if Sikhs believe that they have to wear turbans, this is their right.  If Jews believe they have to wear yarmulkes, kippot to cover their head, this should be the determination that each and every person makes.  There may be circumstances in which there are compelling reasons – simply the need to identify someone or safety reasons – you can’t wear a turban working around equipment that could catch a turban.  If you got to wear a safety helmet, you got to wear a safety helmet. 

So accommodations should be made as far as possible.  Those exceptions are really few and far between.  We believe that people’s right to live in accordance with their conscience includes the right to use religious garb and religious dress.  We’ve been critical of other democratic countries as well as nondemocratic countries that have put such restrictions, and we hope in the future things will ease enough that – and will be seen in a different perspective that this restriction of religious freedom will be allowed to fade away.

MR TONER:  Thank you all, appreciate it.  Thank you, Ambassador. 

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN:  Thank you.

# # #

TRANSCRIPT: Remarks by President Obama to the United Nations General Assembly

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release                                                                                  September 28, 2015

 

 

REMARKS BY PRESIDENT OBAMA

TO THE UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY

 

United Nations Headquarters

New York, New York

 

 

10:18 A.M. EDT

 

 

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen:  Seventy years after the founding of the United Nations, it is worth reflecting on what, together, the members of this body have helped to achieve. 

 

Out of the ashes of the Second World War, having witnessed the unthinkable power of the atomic age, the United States has worked with many nations in this Assembly to prevent a third world war — by forging alliances with old adversaries; by supporting the steady emergence of strong democracies accountable to their people instead of any foreign power; and by building an international system that imposes a cost on those who choose conflict over cooperation, an order that recognizes the dignity and equal worth of all people. 

 

That is the work of seven decades.  That is the ideal that this body, at its best, has pursued.  Of course, there have been too many times when, collectively, we have fallen short of these ideals.  Over seven decades, terrible conflicts have claimed untold victims.  But we have pressed forward, slowly, steadily, to make a system of international rules and norms that are better and stronger and more consistent.

 

It is this international order that has underwritten unparalleled advances in human liberty and prosperity.  It is this collective endeavor that’s brought about diplomatic cooperation between the world’s major powers, and buttressed a global economy that has lifted more than a billion people from poverty.  It is these international principles that helped constrain bigger countries from imposing our will on smaller ones, and advanced the emergence of democracy and development and individual liberty on every continent.

 

This progress is real.  It can be documented in lives saved, and agreements forged, and diseases conquered, and in mouths fed. And yet, we come together today knowing that the march of human progress never travels in a straight line, that our work is far from complete; that dangerous currents risk pulling us back into a darker, more disordered world. 

 

Today, we see the collapse of strongmen and fragile states breeding conflict, and driving innocent men, women and children across borders on an epoch scale.  Brutal networks of terror have stepped into the vacuum.  Technologies that empower individuals are now also exploited by those who spread disinformation, or suppress dissent, or radicalize our youth.  Global capital flows have powered growth and investment, but also increased risk of contagion, weakened the bargaining power of workers, and accelerated inequality. 

 

How should we respond to these trends?  There are those who argue that the ideals enshrined in the U.N. charter are unachievable or out of date — a legacy of a postwar era not suited to our own.  Effectively, they argue for a return to the rules that applied for most of human history and that pre-date this institution: the belief that power is a zero-sum game; that might makes right; that strong states must impose their will on weaker ones; that the rights of individuals don’t matter; and that in a time of rapid change, order must be imposed by force.

 

On this basis, we see some major powers assert themselves in ways that contravene international law.  We see an erosion of the democratic principles and human rights that are fundamental to this institution’s mission; information is strictly controlled, the space for civil society restricted.  We’re told that such retrenchment is required to beat back disorder; that it’s the only way to stamp out terrorism, or prevent foreign meddling.  In accordance with this logic, we should support tyrants like Bashar al-Assad, who drops barrel bombs to massacre innocent children, because the alternative is surely worse.

 

The increasing skepticism of our international order can also be found in the most advanced democracies.  We see greater polarization, more frequent gridlock; movements on the far right, and sometimes the left, that insist on stopping the trade that binds our fates to other nations, calling for the building of walls to keep out immigrants.  Most ominously, we see the fears of ordinary people being exploited through appeals to sectarianism, or tribalism, or racism, or anti-Semitism; appeals to a glorious past before the body politic was infected by those who look different, or worship God differently; a politics of us versus them.

 

The United States is not immune from this.  Even as our economy is growing and our troops have largely returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, we see in our debates about America’s role in the world a notion of strength that is defined by opposition to old enemies, perceived adversaries, a rising China, or a resurgent Russia; a revolutionary Iran, or an Islam that is incompatible with peace.  We see an argument made that the only strength that matters for the United States is bellicose words and shows of military force; that cooperation and diplomacy will not work. 

 

As President of the United States, I am mindful of the dangers that we face; they cross my desk every morning.  I lead the strongest military that the world has ever known, and I will never hesitate to protect my country or our allies, unilaterally and by force where necessary.

 

But I stand before you today believing in my core that we, the nations of the world, cannot return to the old ways of conflict and coercion.  We cannot look backwards.  We live in an integrated world — one in which we all have a stake in each other’s success.  We cannot turn those forces of integration.  No nation in this Assembly can insulate itself from the threat of terrorism, or the risk of financial contagion; the flow of migrants, or the danger of a warming planet.  The disorder we see is not driven solely by competition between nations or any single ideology.  And if we cannot work together more effectively, we will all suffer the consequences.  That is true for the United States, as well.  

 

No matter how powerful our military, how strong our economy, we understand the United States cannot solve the world’s problems alone.  In Iraq, the United States learned the hard lesson that even hundreds of thousands of brave, effective troops, trillions of dollars from our Treasury, cannot by itself impose stability on a foreign land.  Unless we work with other nations under the mantle of international norms and principles and law that offer legitimacy to our efforts, we will not succeed.  And unless we work together to defeat the ideas that drive different communities in a country like Iraq into conflict, any order that our militaries can impose will be temporary. 

 

Just as force alone cannot impose order internationally, I believe in my core that repression cannot forge the social cohesion for nations to succeed.  The history of the last two decades proves that in today’s world, dictatorships are unstable. The strongmen of today become the spark of revolution tomorrow.  You can jail your opponents, but you can’t imprison ideas.  You can try to control access to information, but you cannot turn a lie into truth.  It is not a conspiracy of U.S.-backed NGOs that expose corruption and raise the expectations of people around the globe; it’s technology, social media, and the irreducible desire of people everywhere to make their own choices about how they are governed. 

 

Indeed, I believe that in today’s world, the measure of strength is no longer defined by the control of territory.   Lasting prosperity does not come solely from the ability to access and extract raw materials.  The strength of nations depends on the success of their people — their knowledge, their innovation, their imagination, their creativity, their drive, their opportunity — and that, in turn, depends upon individual rights and good governance and personal security.  Internal repression and foreign aggression are both symptoms of the failure to provide this foundation. 

 

A politics and solidarity that depend on demonizing others, that draws on religious sectarianism or narrow tribalism or jingoism may at times look like strength in the moment, but over time its weakness will be exposed.  And history tells us that the dark forces unleashed by this type of politics surely makes all of us less secure.  Our world has been there before.  We gain nothing from going back.

 

Instead, I believe that we must go forward in pursuit of our ideals, not abandon them at this critical time.  We must give expression to our best hopes, not our deepest fears.  This institution was founded because men and women who came before us had the foresight to know that our nations are more secure when we uphold basic laws and basic norms, and pursue a path of cooperation over conflict.  And strong nations, above all, have a responsibility to uphold this international order.

 

Let me give you a concrete example.  After I took office, I made clear that one of the principal achievements of this body — the nuclear non-proliferation regime — was endangered by Iran’s violation of the NPT.  On that basis, the Security Council tightened sanctions on the Iranian government, and many nations joined us to enforce them.  Together, we showed that laws and agreements mean something.

 

But we also understood that the goal of sanctions was not simply to punish Iran.  Our objective was to test whether Iran could change course, accept constraints, and allow the world to verify that its nuclear program will be peaceful.  For two years, the United States and our partners — including Russia, including China — stuck together in complex negotiations.  The result is a lasting, comprehensive deal that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, while allowing it to access peaceful energy.  And if this deal is fully implemented, the prohibition on nuclear weapons is strengthened, a potential war is averted, our world is safer.  That is the strength of the international system when it works the way it should.

 

That same fidelity to international order guides our responses to other challenges around the world.  Consider Russia’s annexation of Crimea and further aggression in eastern Ukraine.  America has few economic interests in Ukraine.  We recognize the deep and complex history between Russia and Ukraine.  But we cannot stand by when the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a nation is flagrantly violated.  If that happens without consequence in Ukraine, it could happen to any nation gathered here today.  That’s the basis of the sanctions that the United States and our partners impose on Russia.  It’s not a desire to return to a Cold War.

 

Now, within Russia, state-controlled media may describe these events as an example of a resurgent Russia — a view shared, by the way, by a number of U.S. politicians and commentators who have always been deeply skeptical of Russia, and seem to be convinced a new Cold War is, in fact, upon us.  And yet, look at the results.  The Ukrainian people are more interested than ever in aligning with Europe instead of Russia. Sanctions have led to capital flight, a contracting economy, a fallen ruble, and the emigration of more educated Russians. 

 

Imagine if, instead, Russia had engaged in true diplomacy, and worked with Ukraine and the international community to ensure its interests were protected.  That would be better for Ukraine, but also better for Russia, and better for the world — which is why we continue to press for this crisis to be resolved in a way that allows a sovereign and democratic Ukraine to determine its future and control its territory.  Not because we want to isolate Russia — we don’t — but because we want a strong Russia that’s invested in working with us to strengthen the international system as a whole. 

 

Similarly, in the South China Sea, the United States makes no claim on territory there.  We don’t adjudicate claims.  But like every nation gathered here, we have an interest in upholding the basic principles of freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce, and in resolving disputes through international law, not the law of force.  So we will defend these principles, while encouraging China and other claimants to resolve their differences peacefully.

 

I say this, recognizing that diplomacy is hard; that the outcomes are sometimes unsatisfying; that it’s rarely politically popular.  But I believe that leaders of large nations, in particular, have an obligation to take these risks — precisely because we are strong enough to protect our interests if, and when, diplomacy fails. 

 

I also believe that to move forward in this new era, we have to be strong enough to acknowledge when what you’re doing is not working.  For 50 years, the United States pursued a Cuba policy that failed to improve the lives of the Cuban people.  We changed that.  We continue to have differences with the Cuban government. We will continue to stand up for human rights.  But we address these issues through diplomatic relations, and increased commerce, and people-to-people ties.  As these contacts yield progress, I’m confident that our Congress will inevitably lift an embargo that should not be in place anymore.  (Applause.)  Change won’t come overnight to Cuba, but I’m confident that openness, not coercion, will support the reforms and better the life the Cuban people deserve, just as I believe that Cuba will find its success if it pursues cooperation with other nations.

 

Now, if it’s in the interest of major powers to uphold international standards, it is even more true for the rest of the community of nations.  Look around the world.  From Singapore to Colombia to Senegal, the facts shows that nations succeed when they pursue an inclusive peace and prosperity within their borders, and work cooperatively with countries beyond their borders. 

 

That path is now available to a nation like Iran, which, as of this moment, continues to deploy violent proxies to advance its interests.  These efforts may appear to give Iran leverage in disputes with neighbors, but they fuel sectarian conflict that endangers the entire region, and isolates Iran from the promise of trade and commerce.  The Iranian people have a proud history, and are filled with extraordinary potential.  But chanting “Death to America” does not create jobs, or make Iran more secure.  If Iran chose a different path, that would be good for the security of the region, good for the Iranian people, and good for the world.

 

Of course, around the globe, we will continue to be confronted with nations who reject these lessons of history, places where civil strife, border disputes, and sectarian wars bring about terrorist enclaves and humanitarian disasters.  Where order has completely broken down, we must act, but we will be stronger when we act together.

 

In such efforts, the United States will always do our part. We will do so mindful of the lessons of the past — not just the lessons of Iraq, but also the example of Libya, where we joined an international coalition under a U.N. mandate to prevent a slaughter.  Even as we helped the Libyan people bring an end to the reign of a tyrant, our coalition could have and should have done more to fill a vacuum left behind.  We’re grateful to the United Nations for its efforts to forge a unity government.  We will help any legitimate Libyan government as it works to bring the country together.  But we also have to recognize that we must work more effectively in the future, as an international community, to build capacity for states that are in distress, before they collapse. 

 

And that’s why we should celebrate the fact that later today the United States will join with more than 50 countries to enlist new capabilities — infantry, intelligence, helicopters, hospitals, and tens of thousands of troops — to strengthen United Nations peacekeeping.  (Applause.)  These new capabilities can prevent mass killing, and ensure that peace agreements are more than words on paper.  But we have to do it together.  Together, we must strengthen our collective capacity to establish security where order has broken down, and to support those who seek a just and lasting peace.

 

Nowhere is our commitment to international order more tested than in Syria.  When a dictator slaughters tens of thousands of his own people, that is not just a matter of one nation’s internal affairs — it breeds human suffering on an order of magnitude that affects us all.  Likewise, when a terrorist group beheads captives, slaughters the innocent and enslaves women, that’s not a single nation’s national security problem — that is an assault on all humanity.

 

I’ve said before and I will repeat:  There is no room for accommodating an apocalyptic cult like ISIL, and the United States makes no apologies for using our military, as part of a broad coalition, to go after them.  We do so with a determination to ensure that there will never be a safe haven for terrorists who carry out these crimes.  And we have demonstrated over more than a decade of relentless pursuit of al Qaeda, we will not be outlasted by extremists. 

 

But while military power is necessary, it is not sufficient to resolve the situation in Syria.  Lasting stability can only take hold when the people of Syria forge an agreement to live together peacefully.  The United States is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to resolve the conflict. But we must recognize that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so much carnage, a return to the pre-war status quo. 

 

Let’s remember how this started.  Assad reacted to peaceful protests by escalating repression and killing that, in turn, created the environment for the current strife.  And so Assad and his allies cannot simply pacify the broad majority of a population who have been brutalized by chemical weapons and indiscriminate bombing.  Yes, realism dictates that compromise will be required to end the fighting and ultimately stamp out ISIL.  But realism also requires a managed transition away from Assad and to a new leader, and an inclusive government that recognizes there must be an end to this chaos so that the Syrian people can begin to rebuild. 

 

We know that ISIL — which emerged out of the chaos of Iraq and Syria — depends on perpetual war to survive.  But we also know that they gain adherents because of a poisonous ideology.  So part of our job, together, is to work to reject such extremism that infects too many of our young people.  Part of that effort must be a continued rejection by Muslims of those who distort Islam to preach intolerance and promote violence, and it must also a rejection by non-Muslims of the ignorance that equates Islam with terror.  (Applause.)   

 

This work will take time.  There are no easy answers to Syria.  And there are no simple answers to the changes that are taking place in much of the Middle East and North Africa.  But so many families need help right now; they don’t have time.  And that’s why the United States is increasing the number of refugees who we welcome within our borders.  That’s why we will continue to be the largest donor of assistance to support those refugees. And today we are launching new efforts to ensure that our people and our businesses, our universities and our NGOs can help as well — because in the faces of suffering families, our nation of immigrants sees ourselves.

 

Of course, in the old ways of thinking, the plight of the powerless, the plight of refugees, the plight of the marginalized did not matter.  They were on the periphery of the world’s concerns.  Today, our concern for them is driven not just by conscience, but should also be drive by self-interest.  For helping people who have been pushed to the margins of our world is not mere charity, it is a matter of collective security.  And the purpose of this institution is not merely to avoid conflict, it is to galvanize the collective action that makes life better on this planet.

 

The commitments we’ve made to the Sustainable Development Goals speak to this truth.  I believe that capitalism has been the greatest creator of wealth and opportunity that the world has ever known.  But from big cities to rural villages around the world, we also know that prosperity is still cruelly out of reach for too many.  As His Holiness Pope Francis reminds us, we are stronger when we value the least among these, and see them as equal in dignity to ourselves and our sons and our daughters.

 

We can roll back preventable disease and end the scourge of HIV/AIDS.  We can stamp out pandemics that recognize no borders. That work may not be on television right now, but as we demonstrated in reversing the spread of Ebola, it can save more lives than anything else we can do.

 

Together, we can eradicate extreme poverty and erase barriers to opportunity.  But this requires a sustained commitment to our people — so farmers can feed more people; so entrepreneurs can start a business without paying a bribe; so young people have the skills they need to succeed in this modern, knowledge-based economy.

 

We can promote growth through trade that meets a higher standard.  And that’s what we’re doing through the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a trade agreement that encompasses nearly 40 percent of the global economy; an agreement that will open markets, while protecting the rights of workers and protecting the environment that enables development to be sustained.

 

We can roll back the pollution that we put in our skies, and help economies lift people out of poverty without condemning our children to the ravages of an ever-warming climate.  The same ingenuity that produced the Industrial Age and the Computer Age allows us to harness the potential of clean energy.  No country can escape the ravages of climate change.  And there is no stronger sign of leadership than putting future generations first.  The United States will work with every nation that is willing to do its part so that we can come together in Paris to decisively confront this challenge. 

 

And finally, our vision for the future of this Assembly, my belief in moving forward rather than backwards, requires us to defend the democratic principles that allow societies to succeed. Let me start from a simple premise:  Catastrophes, like what we are seeing in Syria, do not take place in countries where there is genuine democracy and respect for the universal values this institution is supposed to defend.  (Applause.)  

 

I recognize that democracy is going to take different forms in different parts of the world.  The very idea of a people governing themselves depends upon government giving expression to their unique culture, their unique history, their unique experiences.  But some universal truths are self-evident.  No person wants to be imprisoned for peaceful worship.  No woman should ever be abused with impunity, or a girl barred from going to school.  The freedom to peacefully petition those in power without fear of arbitrary laws — these are not ideas of one country or one culture.  They are fundamental to human progress. They are a cornerstone of this institution. 

 

I realize that in many parts of the world there is a different view — a belief that strong leadership must tolerate no dissent.  I hear it not only from America’s adversaries, but privately at least I also hear it from some of our friends.  I disagree.  I believe a government that suppresses peaceful dissent is not showing strength; it is showing weakness and it is showing fear.  (Applause.)  History shows that regimes who fear their own people will eventually crumble, but strong institutions built on the consent of the governed endure long after any one individual is gone. 

 

That’s why our strongest leaders — from George Washington to Nelson Mandela — have elevated the importance of building strong, democratic institutions over a thirst for perpetual power.  Leaders who amend constitutions to stay in office only acknowledge that they failed to build a successful country for their people — because none of us last forever.  It tells us that power is something they cling to for its own sake, rather than for the betterment of those they purport to serve.

 

I understand democracy is frustrating.  Democracy in the United States is certainly imperfect.  At times, it can even be dysfunctional.  But democracy — the constant struggle to extend rights to more of our people, to give more people a voice — is what allowed us to become the most powerful nation in the world. (Applause.) 

 

It’s not simply a matter of principle; it’s not an abstraction.  Democracy — inclusive democracy — makes countries stronger.  When opposition parties can seek power peacefully through the ballot, a country draws upon new ideas.  When a free media can inform the public, corruption and abuse are exposed and can be rooted out.  When civil society thrives, communities can solve problems that governments cannot necessarily solve alone.  When immigrants are welcomed, countries are more productive and more vibrant.  When girls can go to school, and get a job, and pursue unlimited opportunity, that’s when a country realizes its full potential.  (Applause.)  

 

That is what I believe is America’s greatest strength.  Not everybody in America agrees with me.  That’s part of democracy.  I believe that the fact that you can walk the streets of this city right now and pass churches and synagogues and temples and mosques, where people worship freely; the fact that our nation of immigrants mirrors the diversity of the world — you can find everybody from everywhere here in New York City — (applause) — the fact that, in this country, everybody can contribute, everybody can participate no matter who they are, or what they look like, or who they love — that’s what makes us strong. 

 

And I believe that what is true for America is true for virtually all mature democracies.  And that is no accident.  We can be proud of our nations without defining ourselves in opposition to some other group.  We can be patriotic without demonizing someone else.  We can cherish our own identities — our religion, our ethnicity, our traditions — without putting others down.  Our systems are premised on the notion that absolute power will corrupt, but that people — ordinary people  — are fundamentally good; that they value family and friendship, faith and the dignity of hard work; and that with appropriate checks and balances, governments can reflect this goodness. 

 

I believe that’s the future we must seek together.  To believe in the dignity of every individual, to believe we can bridge our differences, and choose cooperation over conflict — that is not weakness, that is strength.  (Applause.)  It is a practical necessity in this interconnected world.

 

And our people understand this.  Think of the Liberian doctor who went door-to-door to search for Ebola cases, and to tell families what to do if they show symptoms.  Think of the Iranian shopkeeper who said, after the nuclear deal, “God willing, now we’ll be able to offer many more goods at better prices.”  Think of the Americans who lowered the flag over our embassy in Havana in 1961 — the year I was born — and returned this summer to raise that flag back up.  (Applause.)  One of these men said of the Cuban people, “We could do things for them, and they could do things for us.  We loved them.”  For 50 years, we ignored that fact. 

 

Think of the families leaving everything they’ve known behind, risking barren deserts and stormy waters just to find shelter; just to save their children.  One Syrian refugee who was greeted in Hamburg with warm greetings and shelter, said, “We feel there are still some people who love other people.”

 

The people of our United Nations are not as different as they are told.  They can be made to fear; they can be taught to hate — but they can also respond to hope.  History is littered with the failure of false prophets and fallen empires who believed that might always makes right, and that will continue to be the case.  You can count on that.  But we are called upon to offer a different type of leadership — leadership strong enough to recognize that nations share common interests and people share a common humanity, and, yes, there are certain ideas and principles that are universal.

 

That’s what those who shaped the United Nations 70 years ago understood.  Let us carry forward that faith into the future — for it is the only way we can assure that future will be brighter for my children, and for yours.

 

Thank you very much.  (Applause.) 

 

                        END               11:00 A.M. EDT  

 

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