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Fair-Weather Capitalists: Conservative Politics Gone Wild

Jeff Schweitzer   |   February 28, 2012    5:37 PM ET

As recently as a few months ago, Republicans were betting on beating Obama on the issue of the economy, with an emphasis on unemployment. They were counting on history repeating itself: no president since FDR has won a second term when unemployment rates exceeded 7.2% on election day. The rate was 7.8% when Obama took office, which is about where economists predict the rate will be next November. That would seem to make Obama extremely vulnerable, causing Republicans to salivate.

But these numbers are not static, and trends matter. When Obama took office the number of jobs lost per month was greater than 700,000, so the trend of unemployment was sharply up. If predictions are borne out and the rate is about 7.8% next November, the trend line will be sharply down from a peak rate tickling 10 percent. A downward trend engenders optimism, which is good for America but bad for Republicans.

The fact is that our economy is improving under Obama by measure of most major indicators. For example, comparing August 2011 to January 2012, we see unemployment fell from 9.1 to 8.3 percent. The much touted increase in gasoline prices is partially offset by a 2% decline in natural gas prices and a 0.3% decline in food prices. There is good news on retail sales and industrial production. We are now seeing a rebound in sales of previously-owned homes, a reversal indicating the market there has bottomed out.

Blaming Obama for the collapsing economy and declining stock market he inherited was to be the primary strategy for Republicans in the presidential election. But, oh, how strange that is (even before being made obsolete by a recovery). Remember that George Bush complained for eight years that every economic woe over which he presided was Clinton's fault. This is not hyperbole, but fact: he claimed in a speech at a Mississippi high school in August 2002 that the weak economy could be explained by the fact that, "When I took office, our economy was beginning a recession." Even as he was walking out the door of the Oval Office Bush blamed Clinton for Wall Street's collapse in a final attempt to push his failures onto his predecessor. Said Bush, "I think when the history of this period is written, people will realize a lot of the decisions that were made on Wall Street took place over a decade or so" before he became president. Bush simply took no ownership or responsibility for the economic decline and near collapse that happened on his watch.

Bush's false assertion about what he inherited from Clinton is a classic example of the Big Lie, an untruth repeated so frequently that people accept the falsehood as real. What Bush actually inherited from Clinton was, at worst, a mild reduction in growth following eight years of historic economic expansion. That conclusion is not mine, but that of National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), a non-partisan organization that is considered the definitive word on business cycles. Here is the NBER November 26, 2001 report:

The NBER's Business Cycle Dating Committee has determined that a peak in business activity occurred in the U.S. economy in March 2001. A peak marks the end of an expansion and the beginning of a recession. The determination of a peak date in March is thus a determination that the expansion that began in March 1991 ended in March 2001 and a recession began. The expansion lasted exactly 10 years, the longest in the NBER's chronology.

Be clear about this; Clinton presided over the longest expansion recorded, and when he left office that momentum carried the economy forward to a peak in March 2001, into the first month of the Bush presidency. Bush took office January 18, 2001. But the Bush debacle is nevertheless all Clinton's fault even though no president in modern history ever inherited an economy as healthy as what Bush got from Clinton.

I bring up this history of the transition between Clinton and Bush because it reveals a remarkable and glaring hypocrisy in the Republican mind set now that a Democrat occupies the White House. By Bush's own formulation, Obama should blame Bush for all of the country's economic woes during the entire tenure of his presidency, even at the end of a second term. Republicans should accept this assessment without question. After all, that is what Bush did to Clinton with full Republican support. Obama's position in assigning blame to his predecessor is in fact much stronger, for what he inherited from Bush is vastly more onerous than what Bush was gifted from Clinton. Bush inherited a reduction in growth while Obama was bequeathed an economy on the verge of catastrophic collapse. But with the roles reversed, transitioning from a Republican to a Democrat in the Oval Office, Republicans repudiate everything they previous said about the role of a president's successor.

So. Republicans blamed Obama for what he inherited from Bush, but disavow any idea that Obama should be credited with the astonishing growth during his presidency. We are back to the tired Republican refrain: all bad things are due to the current president; all good things are a consequence of actions taken by his predecessor. But the facts belie this fantasy. Republicans hollered with indignation when Obama supporters pointed out that he inherited the problem of rapidly rising unemployment and an economy on the verge of total collapse. They absolved Bush of all responsibility not just one month into Obama's administration, but actually prior to Obama taking office, preaching that just the anticipation of his presidency was causing the market collapse.

Republican statements about Obama in early March 2009 are stunning in their duplicity. Obama was to blame for a collapsing economy after only five weeks in office but George Bush was free of any responsibility after eight years. Let's take a quick look at right wing publication headlines as the new Administration settled in:

Bloomberg.com (March 6, 2009): "Obama Bear Market Punishes Investors as Dow Slumps." In this article the claim is further advanced with, "President Barack Obama now has the distinction of presiding over his own bear market."

Wall Street Journal (March 6, 2009): "Obama's Radicalism is Killing the Dow." Author Michael Boskin prognosticates that, "It's hard not to see the continued sell-off on Wall Street and the growing fear on Main Street as a product, at least in part, of the realization that our new president's policies are designed to radically re-engineer the market-based U.S. economy, not just mitigate the recession and financial crisis." The DOW is now over 12,000 so the claim was blatantly wrong; I have heard no apology yet.

• Perhaps most astonishing of all, John Tanny of Real Clear Markets, wrote on November 25, 2008, an article entitled, "This Is Obama's Market, Good and Bad." Obama was not yet president! That did not stop Tanny from writing that, "Lacking clarity, investors can only guess about what's ahead based on Obama's decidedly anti-business rhetoric used during the campaign. Whatever direction he takes, it should be clear that today's stock market is the Obama stock market, so it's up to him to decide its basic direction." Even though Obama was not yet president.

These claims were absurd when made, and have been proven wrong factually. Where are Bloomberg, the WSJ and Real Clear Markets now? Where is the praise for Obama for a market moving beyond 12,000? Silence. Nothing but silence. No apology; no mea culpa. These organizations blamed Obama for a declining market after one month is office, but now offer no support for his policies three years later, policies that have lead to a growing economy recovering from the abyss of a Bush recession; policies vigorously and ferociously opposed by Republicans. Voters should be screaming with frustrated indignation at this outrage.

While the economy has a long road ahead to recover from the depths of the downturn, the trends are clearly positive. Perhaps most striking in this regard, and the most detrimental to Republican aspirations, is the health of the stock market, and where credit lies for the recovery. Again, some history is helpful. On Bill Clinton's first inaugural day, the DJIA was at 3310. The market was 6813 when he was next inaugurated. At the end of Clinton's second term, on the day Bush took office, the DJIA was at 10,578; that is the market Bush inherited from Clinton. When Bush left the Oval Office on January 20, 2009, the Dow was at 7,949, a decline of 25% over the eight years Bush was president. By March the DJIA had completed its tumble to bottom out with a 12-year low at just over 6500. Blindly forgetting their tale from Clinton to Bush, Republicans blamed Obama for the continuing decline from 7,900 to 6,500 during his first month in office, but not Bush for the loss from 10,600 to 7,900 in eight years as president. About one year later the Dow hit 11,000. The stock market doubled in value during Obama's first 14 months in office. Now the DJIA exceeds 12,000. No wonder Republicans no longer mention "Obama's economy." The closest they now foray into this territory is a sad effort to blame Obama for gas prices. That is all they have left. But none feel embarrassed by the long-held view, now fully discredited, that the economy was declining under Obama due to his socialist tendencies.

And so the Republicans suddenly want to change the subject. We get Santorum becoming nauseated over a JFK speech about separating Church and State, arguments over gay marriage, controversy over contraception and Romney repudiating his own views on a woman's right to choose. Extreme views on social issues play well to the right wing base that controls much of the primary mechanism, and so each candidate is trying to out-nut-case the other with inflammatory, outrageous statements and positions. Every time Santorum opens his mouth, another vote somewhere falls to Obama. Let's hope the Republican primary seasons continues to be arduous with no clear winner as the candidates dig themselves into an ever deeper whole of extreme views that will never play well in a national election. With unemployment declining and the Dow rising, Republicans will only become ever more desperate, creating a widening gap with mainstream America. November 2012 is looking up in the face of the GOP's tenuous relationship with reality. Outrageous hypocrisy may sell in the Tea Party, but not with the majority of Americans.

Dr. Jeff Schweitzer is a former White House senior policy analyst the author of five books, including A New Moral Code and his latest, Calorie Wars. Learn more about Jeff at his website.

DONNA CASSATA   |   February 28, 2012   11:16 AM ET

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday that Syrian President Bashar Assad fits the definition of a war criminal for the violence he has unleashed on his people.

Testifying before two Senate committees, Clinton was pressed about the months of strife in Syria that a United Nations official said Tuesday had killed more than 7,500 people and several lawmakers described as a civil war.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who has called for arming the rebels challenging Assad, asked whether the international community should consider the Syrian president a war criminal.

"I think that based on definitions of war criminal and crimes against humanity, there would be an argument to be made that he would fit into that category," Clinton told the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations.

She stopped short of calling for the international community to make that designation or leveling charges, saying such a step "limits options to persuade leaders perhaps to step down from power."

Graham said he hoped the world community could persuade Assad to leave eventually.

"I just don't know how to define 'eventually' right now," Clinton said.

At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney reiterated the administration's opposition to arming the rebels.

"Now is not the time to further militarize the situation in Syria," Carney told reporters. "We are working with our allies through the Friends of Syria to isolate and pressure Assad and to try to get him to realize that his days are numbered and to cease the brutality that he's been waging against his own people."

Clinton testified on Capitol Hill on the proposed budget for next year for the State Department and foreign operations.

Chelsea Clinton for Congress? What Does That Tell Us About America?

Steven Strauss   |   February 26, 2012    8:02 PM ET

"For everyone to whom much is given, of him shall much be required." -- Luke 12:48.

Recently, the New York Times (NYT) praised Chelsea Clinton's current successes and commitment to public service. Ms. Clinton is the daughter of current U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and former President William Jefferson Clinton. It reported some Democrats' excitement about having Ms. Clinton in Congress, because according to Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf: "She's smart, she's charming, and she's got the last name Clinton."

Western media criticize the favorable treatment received by offspring of the politically important outside the U.S., particularly the princelings in China. In a vicious circle, princelings' access to powerful people (derived from their parents) gains them prestigious private-sector positions (with high pay for little work). These prestigious private-sector positions justify public-sector leadership positions, which justify even more lucrative private-sector opportunities, and so on. Princelings insist a sense of noblesse oblige draws them to leadership. A fawning domestic press facilitates this cycle by treating princelings as celebrities.

Government by princelings easily becomes government by kleptocracy. Companies granting princelings lucrative positions expect a return on their investment, through influence with (or at least access to) the government. Even if not overtly corrupt, this nepotistic approach erodes leaders' legitimacy (making it difficult to govern), and prevents the best qualified from leading (resulting in less competent institutions). Most corrosively, government by princelings sends a message that putting personal and family interests ahead of society's interests is acceptable.

Ms. Clinton's rapid career progress raises the same issues for America as with the princelings overseas.

The NYT reported Ms. Clinton is making the sacrifice of leading us because she feels a responsibility to serve the public good and "hopes to make a positive, productive contribution."

Ms. Clinton's newsworthy steps toward public service, noted by the NYT, include: meeting people such as Elton John and Richard Gere, taking a public role with her father's Clinton Global Initiative, presenting an award to her mother at Diane Von Furstenberg's International Women's Day event, and hosting her father's 65th birthday at a Clinton Foundation Hollywood benefit with fellow guests Lady Gaga and Bono.

Ms. Clinton's board of directors seat at media conglomerate IAC, alongside former Disney CEO Michael Eisner and former Warner Music Group CEO Edgar Bronfman, was also described. Ms. Clinton's IAC position pays $50,000 a year, plus a $250,000 grant of restricted stock. Mentioned too was Ms. Clinton's joining NBC News as a special correspondent, after her advisers arranged interviews with top network executives.

The NYT noted downsides to being the Clinton daughter, including critics attributing her success (such as the IAC position) solely to her famous parents. But the NYT didn't question why a 30ish year old (with no significant media or management experience) joins the board of a multi-billion dollar media corporation, with compensation qualifying Ms. Clinton (by my quick calculation) for America's top 1 percent, for only about 1 to 2 hours of work per week. The IAC position clearly raises the issue of whether Ms. Clinton is being paid for her skills, or access to her family.

The NYT article cited another leadership qualification: "... unlike some other famous offspring, she has never been photographed drunkenly stumbling out of a club..." (Note to the NYT: For a photo of Ms. Clinton apparently drunkenly stumbling out of a club, please see -- "Boozy Night for Chelsea".)

The U.S. has fought two wars over the past decade. Many Americans of Ms. Clinton's generation volunteered at great personal risk to support their country, in the military or in other ways -- the NYT did not report that Ms. Clinton has not.

My concern is that Ms. Clinton is not an outlier, but part of a trend. The Washington Post found a pattern of members of Congress using tax dollars to benefit their families (e.g., tax money to entities represented by lobbyist relatives). It's no wonder we've lost faith in our leaders, with Congress' approval rating in single digits.

As has been widely discussed, income inequality in the U.S. is at record levels. Such inequality would be more acceptable if resulting from individual effort. However, we are increasingly a society of class privilege and inherited opportunities. According to "A Family Affair" (OECD, 2010), America has among the lowest social mobility levels of any major developed country. The 1 percent arrange advantages for their families that aren't available to the rest of society.

We are viewed as a relatively corrupt country, where connections, family, and political campaign contributions drive business. Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index 2011 ranks the U.S. as more corrupt than Qatar, a small Middle Eastern state ruled by a hereditary monarchy with a tradition of nepotism. (U.S. ranks 24th, behind Qatar ranked 23rd and far behind New Zealand, ranked 1st.)

Ms. Clinton received opportunities other Americans -- without her family connections -- don't have. Using these connections might not be illegal, but it isn't admirable. Ms. Clinton's career isn't a cause for celebration, but an urgent wakeup call that, for America to compete effectively in the 21st Century, we need the best leaders our society can produce, whatever their last names.

We have the right to expect more from a leader than simply being smart, charming, and named Clinton.

Please let me know your thoughts:

  • Do you believe Ms. Clinton achieved her positions through merit, or did family connections play a part?
  • Do you feel America is increasingly a country where the 1% structure society to benefit themselves?
  • If you are concerned about these issues, what would you suggest to re-focus America on equality of opportunity?


About the Author: Steven Strauss was founding Managing Director of the Center for Economic Transformation at the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC). He is an Advanced Leadership Fellow at Harvard University for 2012. He has a Ph.D. in Management from Yale University and over 20 years private sector work experience. You can follow him on twitter at: @Steven_Strauss.

The PBS Clinton Series' Lack of Proportionality

Lanny Davis   |   February 23, 2012    1:29 PM ET

To watch four hours of the so-called documentary on the eight years of the Clinton presidency gave me the sensation of a report about a glass of water that is 75 percent full and 25 percent empty. The PBS presentation, I am guessing, spent 75 percent of the four hours reporting on 25 percent of the story, i.e., the issue of "scandal" in the Clinton presidency, omitting the substance and policy achievements of the Clinton presidency, i.e., issues that affected the lives of most Americans and that they care about most.

But the problem with the presentation wasn't just my view of disproportional emphasis on the "scandals" versus the substance. It was about accuracy. The writers and producers simply got it wrong. They failed to report the fact that every single "scandal" that so preoccupied the media, the punditry and partisan Republicans over the eight years -- save for the final one, the Lewinsky matter -- was 100 percent bogus, rabbit holes seeking to prove wrongdoing by the Clintons and leading nowhere.

Here's a fact omitted from the four-hour "documentary" (I put quotation marks around the word because normally that word is used when there is accuracy, but that is not the case here):

Over the eight years of the Clinton presidency, and eight independent counsels, who collectively spent over $116 million investigating President and Mrs. Clinton (over $50 million of which was Kenneth Starr on the rabbit hole called Whitewater), five Cabinet secretaries and two senior administration officials, there was not a single conviction of any administration official for conduct that occurred during the president's time in office.

Here's another fact about the "scandal" that led to everything bad -- Whitewater: Despite all the headlines and thousands of column inches, especially in the Washington Post and the New York Times, and breathless TV coverage on broadcast networks and cable news, leading to the decision of President Clinton to appoint an independent counsel, ultimately leading to the appointment of Starr, who spent approximately $50 million -- at the end, Starr announced that no criminal charges would be filed against either President or Mrs. Clinton. None.

Even when Starr's successor, Robert Ray, finally imposed a penalty on President Clinton, it was about his false-deposition testimony in the Paula Jones case, not about Whitewater. And the penalty was a civil one, not a criminal one, for testifying falsely under oath in a civil deposition (a deposition, I must add, in a civil case that was ultimately thrown out of court as being so frivolous it could be decided on "summary judgment" without a trial).

As to the Lewinsky matter, which took up at least half of the second two-hour segment, Clinton was not truthful about a personal relationship that embarrassed him and for which ultimately he suffered great pain and humiliation, apologized to his wife, friends and the American people, and asked to be forgiven as a sinner with personal weaknesses.

That being said, let us not forget that had the scandal machine that existed in the 1990s existed in the 1790s: Alexander Hamilton's affair with a married woman and his payment of hush money to her and her husband would have ended his career; Thomas Jefferson's affair with a slave and his fathering at least one, if not many children out of wedlock would have deprived him of the presidency in 1800; and what would have happened to Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy and other presidents who allegedly had extramarital relationship(s) had they been subjected to this media-partisan scandal machine?

Of course the impeachment vote needed to be included, but again, it seemed to lack perspective and facts. Unreported was the fact that the impeachment vote of President Clinton was done by a lame-duck House, with the difference in two counts succeeding votes cast by defeated incumbents. And the vote in the Senate was a dramatic repudiation of the House Republicans -- out of 55 Republicans, only 45 voted for one count, and 50 (less than a majority) voted for the second.

Maybe PBS would argue there wasn't enough time? But there was enough time for an interview of Lucianne Goldberg, the individual who egged on Linda Tripp to secretly tape Lewinsky's conversations, when Lewinsky, a frail and vulnerable young woman, was trusting and confiding in Tripp. And PBS decided to use a clip of Goldberg describing why "we hated" Hillary Clinton -- something about her being too "pushy" and that she "couldn't decide on her hair."

Yes, Lucianne Goldberg on a PBS documentary on Hillary Clinton's hair.

And what did the PBS producers and writers decide to de-emphasize or entirely omit?

Only one mention of 22 million jobs created during the Clinton presidency -- a 60-second or so interview with then-Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin.

No mention (as far as I can remember) of Clinton inheriting a $300 million deficit and converting it, eight years later, into a $1 trillion surplus.

Only passing reference to welfare reform -- which has proven over time to have benefited the poor dependent on welfare more than anyone else -- and even that reference was framed by emphasizing that liberal leaders had resigned from his administration in protest.

And no reference (again, as far as I can remember) to the American people's verdict on all the so-called scandals over the eight years of the Clinton presidency, including the tragic Lewinsky matter. That verdict was quantifiable and dramatic: On his last day in office, Clinton had a 65 percent approval rating, one of the highest for a second-term president since polling was invented.

The American people got it: While they disapproved of Clinton's personal conduct, what was far more important was the good job he had done improving their lives. Should PBS have thought about that verdict in determining the proportion of time to devote to "scandal," especially knowing that they were almost all bogus, versus substance and issues that led to the 65 percent approval rating?

I would have thought so -- since it is, after all, PBS, not the E! network. At least I thought so.

How sad. How unfortunate, in my view, for PBS's reputation and the integrity of its "American Experience" series on the presidency.

And how unfair to Bill and Hillary Clinton.

# # # #

Mr. Davis, who served as Special Counsel to President Clinton and a White House spokesman on various congressional investigations from 1996-98, is the author of "Scandal - How 'Gotcha' Politics Is Destroying America (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), from which some of the data in this article is drawn. He is the principal in his own law firm that specializes in "legal crisis management" and is the author of a forthcoming book, to be published by Simon and Schuster this spring, called: "Crisis Tales - Five Rules for Handling Scandal in Business, Politics, and Life."

Clinton: 'Liberal' PBS Smear

Marshall Fine   |   February 14, 2012   11:45 AM ET

Everything that is currently wrong with politics -- but, in particular, the way the media allows itself to be handmaiden to and enabler of the polarizers who have learned how to manipulate it with lies and half-truths -- can be seen in the "American Experience" two-part documentary, Clinton, which airs on PBS next week (Feb. 20 and 21).

And that includes Clinton itself.

Put it this way: If St. Reagan were receiving a similarly critical treatment on the same network, we already would be hearing the cries to keep it off the air, as well as demands to cut off funding for public broadcasting -- or, to be more accurate, louder cries to do so.

This nearly four-hour documentary by Barak Goodman, a long-time "American Experience" producer and director, is a smear job, though more the death-by-a-thousand-cuts approach than a straight-ahead takedown. It's guilty in miniature of all the same flaws that major media coverage has fallen prey to since the rise of both the 24-hour news cycle and the Internet. Interestingly, the origins of both can be traced to the presidential era of Bill Clinton.

Clinton devotes its first two hours to Clinton's journey to the White House (through his years as Governor of Arkansas), ending with the rise of Newt Gingrich as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Republican landslide of 1994. The second half is devoted to the final six years of the Clinton presidency -- but a solid hour of that is devoted, naturally, to the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Indeed, the first part begins with Clinton's apology about that scandal and frames the entire documentary as the story of a guy whose self-destructive streak tainted and overshadowed everything he did.

OK, that's one way of looking at it.

The nature of media -- and the nature of documentaries, for that matter -- is to telescope any story into bite-sized chunks. The pieces the media focus on are the ones that enter public awareness; control that message (as the Republicans so masterfully do) and you sway the public.

And that begins, of course, with who you use to tell your story. Tellingly, while there are former Clintonites in the mix (press secretary Dee Dee Myers, deputy chief of staff Harold Ickes, Secretary of Labor Robert Reich), much of the talking is done by journalists, whose authority is essentially based on second-hand information. More to the point, writers like Joe Klein and Gail Sheehy have their own axes to grind in terms of their viewpoints about who Bill and Hillary Clinton were during these years. They aren't unbiased witnesses of history; both were writing things then (and now) that were attempts to sway the way that history is viewed.

There's also the question of context. At various points in the first part, before they've actually been revealed as serious players in the story, witnesses such as Dick Morris, a former Clinton political consultant, and Lucianne Goldberg, identified only as a "literary agent," are allowed to comment without ever being identified as the rabid anti-Clinton partisans they were and still are. Even when they enter the story itself (Goldberg as the right-wing puppet-master behind Linda Tripp; Morris as an increasingly right-wing consultant with sexual peccadilloes of his own that are never mentioned), they are never identified as having strong interests that shape the stories they tell.

This commentary continues on my website.

JFK Mistress

Jeff Danziger   |   February 9, 2012    3:11 PM ET

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Turkish Foreign Minister Dr. Davutoğlu Comes to Washington

Joshua W. Walker   |   February 8, 2012   11:37 AM ET

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu's visit to Washington this week comes at a pivotal time in U.S.-Turkish relations. The importance of Turkey to the U.S. administration can be traced by the number of high-level visits by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in July 2011, Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta and Vice President Joe Biden in December 2011 while this is Davutoğlu's first reciprocal visit since his last trip to Washington in November 2010. While there is a sense of deja vu given the frenetic pace of meetings, speaking and awards including his selection for the second time to Foreign Policy's top 100 Global Thinkers list for "imagining a new role for Turkey in the world - and making it happen," there is much that has changed since the last time Dr. Minister came to Washington.

The volatility of U.S.-Turkish relations, which ranged from the low points of 2010 with the Mavi Marmara Gaza flotilla and UN Iran sanction incidents quickly followed by the developments of 2011 including the Arab awakenings and Eurozone crisis, reemphasized Ankara's transatlantic value to Washington. Prime Minister Erdoğan's personal involvement and interest in foreign affairs throughout 2011 transformed him into the most popular leader in the region. During Erdoğan's tour of the "Arab Spring Capitals", observers marveled at a leader who could lead Friday prayers with the faithful in Libya one day and on the very next day lecture the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt on the merits of secularism. Traveling with large business entourages across the globe there has never been a more successful Turkish champion selling Turkey to every available market around the world, signifying Turkey's unique global role.

Davutoğlu's own role as the architect of Erdoğan's foreign policy has been acknowledged and appreciated for close to a decade, first as the principle advisor to the Prime Minister, then as Foreign Minister, and now as an elected member of the Turkish Parliament. The transformation of this cerebral professor of international relations into one of the nation's most recognizable politicians mirrors Turkey's own transformations and has come with its own intrigue about the role of a possible Prime Minister Davutoğlu in a post-Erdoğan Ankara. Precisely because of this domestic interest in Davutoğlu, his relations with world leaders and trips abroad have been intensely scrutinized within Turkey. Given the importance of the United States for Turkey, Davutoğlu's visit this time to Washington during an election year amidst a deteriorating situation in Iran, Iraq, and Syria may be his most critical.

The personal chemistry developed between Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Davutoğlu mirrors that of President Obama and Prime Minister Erdoğan. Davutoglu's last visit was shortly after the Wikileaks group launched Iraq War Logs, which included over a 1,000 damaging cables about Turkey. As the first foreign minister that Secretary Clinton met in person after the release of Wikileaks, Davutoglu's message was clear "We have excellent relations with Hillary. These documents won't affect our foreign policy. ... We don't take these observations seriously."

Yet this personal chemistry has not been shared uniformly by the Washington establishment particularly because of the continuing tensions in Turkish-Israeli relations, the approaching 100 year anniversary of the events of 1915 that many members of Congress believe constitute a genocide, and skepticism about the integrity of Turkey's civil-military relations, democracy, and free press. In December, these feelings suddenly found public expression in the form of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's impromptu response at the start of his remarks at this month's Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Istanbul.

Furthermore, Washington's domestic politics in Washington make Ankara one of the administration's biggest political targets which has emerged throughout the Republican primary process. At a moment in which the role of American global leadership is being questioned, Ankara's newfound swagger and emergence as an international leader should be a welcomed sign of a more responsible partner in regional stability and long-term democratization that are in the American national interest.

Having spent the last decade strengthening regional ties through Davutoğlu's principles of "strategic depth" without placing preconditions on democratic conditionality, Ankara has emerged as a power player in the emerging realities of both the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Davutoğlu has been largely reactive in his foreign policy since the beginning of the Arab protests claiming that Ankara worked with all actors even as his oft-repeated goal of "zero problems with neighbors" has become "zero neighbors without problems" given the precipitous deterioration of relations with Iran, Iraq, and Syria over last few months. Yet precisely because of these changed dynamics the importance of Washington has only increased for Ankara as much as the inverse has been true and emphasized by Turkish leadership.

Instead of viewing Turkish foreign policy in "Cold War" terms of alignment or drift on specific tactical issues, Washington has an opportunity to recast a long-term vision that these democratic allies share and encourage a more active role for Turkey. The evolution of Davutoğlu's career and foreign policy beyond principles of international relations theory should be realistically assessed in the context of Iran's destabilizing nuclear weapon's regime, Iraq's sectarian tensions, and Syria's ongoing oppressive crackdown. The switch from "strategic depth," which has largely been accomplished in the last decade, to a "democratic depth" that focuses on the interlinkages between domestic and foreign challenges ahead that start with a new Turkish constitution are critical for both Ankara and Washington. Revitalizing the critical US-Turkish six-decades-old alliance that has primarily relied on converged geostrategic realities into a partnership of shared values and visions in the midst of global and regional transformation is the best long-term outcome of Dr. Minister's visit to Washington.

Joshua W. Walker is a Transatlantic Fellow of the German Marshall Fund of the United States based in Washington, D.C.

MATTHEW LEE   |   January 26, 2012    1:11 PM ET

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says she wants to step off the "high wire of American politics" after two decades and is again tamping down speculation that she might stay in government if President Barack Obama wins a second term.

Clinton told State Department employees on Thursday that she is ready for a rest and is paying no attention to the Republican presidential candidate debates. She said she wants to find out just how tired she is after working flat out as first lady, senator, aspiring presidential candidate and finally the top U.S. diplomat.

Obama's Faux Populism Sounds Like Bill Clinton

Robert Scheer   |   January 26, 2012    5:20 AM ET

I'll admit it: Listening to Barack Obama, I am ready to enlist in his campaign against the feed-the-rich Republicans ... until I recall that I once responded in the same way to Bill Clinton's faux populism. And then I get angry because betrayal by the "good guys" for whom I have ended up voting has become the norm.

Yes, betrayal, because if Obama meant what he said in Tuesday's State of the Union address about holding the financial industry responsible for its scams, why did he appoint the old Clinton crowd that had legalized those scams to the top economic posts in his administration? Why did he hire Timothy Geithner, who has turned the Treasury Department into a concierge service for Wall Street tycoons?

Why hasn't he pushed for a restoration of the Glass-Steagall Act, which Clinton's deregulation reversed? Does the president really believe that the Dodd-Frank slap-on-the-wrist sellout represents "new rules to hold Wall Street accountable, so a crisis like this never happens again"? Can he name one single too-big-to-fail banking monstrosity that has been reduced in size on his watch instead of encouraged to grow ever larger by Treasury and Fed bailouts and interest-free money?

When Obama declared Tuesday evening "no American company should be able to avoid paying its fair share of taxes by moving jobs and profits overseas," wasn't he aware that Jeffrey Immelt, the man he appointed to head his jobs council, is the most egregious offender? Immelt, the CEO of GE, heads a company with most of its workers employed in foreign countries, a corporation that makes 82 percent of its profit abroad and has paid no U.S. taxes in the past three years.

It was also a bit bizarre for Obama to celebrate Steve Jobs as a model entrepreneur when the manufacturing jobs that the late Apple CEO created are in the same China that elsewhere in his speech the president sought to scapegoat for America's problems. Apple, in its latest report on the subject, takes pride in attempting to limit the company's overseas suppliers to a maximum workweek of 60 hours for their horribly exploited employees. Isn't it weird to be chauvinistically China baiting when that country carries much of our debt?

I'm also getting tired of the exhortations to improve the nation's schools, certainly a worthy endeavor, but this economic crisis is the result not of high school dropouts as Obama suggested, but rather the corruption of the best and brightest graduates of our elite academies. As Obama well knows from his own trajectory in the meritocracy, which took him from one of the most privileged schools in otherwise educationally depressed Hawaii to Harvard Law, the folks who concocted the mathematical formulas and wrote the laws justifying fraudulent collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps were his overachieving professors and classmates.

If he doesn't know that, he should check out the record of Lawrence Summers, the man he picked to guide his economic program and who had been rewarded with the presidency of Harvard after having engineered Clinton's deregulatory deal with Wall Street.

That is the real legacy of the Clinton years, and it is no surprise that GOP presidential contender Newt Gingrich has been campaigning on his rightful share of it. The international trade agreements that exported good U.S. jobs, the radical financial deregulation that unleashed Wall Street greed, and the free market zealotry of then-Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, who was reappointed by Clinton, were all part of a deal Clinton made with Gingrich, House speaker at that time.

As Gingrich put it in the first Republican debate in South Carolina: "As speaker ... working with President Bill Clinton, we passed a very Reagan-like program, less regulation, lower taxes." Even the 15 percent tax break that Mitt Romney exploited for his carryover private equity income was a result of the unholy Clinton-Gingrich alliance. Both principals of that alliance were pimps for the financial industry, and that includes Freddie Mac, the for-profit stock-traded housing agency that Clinton coddled while it stoked the Ponzi scheme in housing and that rewarded the former speaker with $1.6 million to $1.8 million in consulting fees.

There were, finally, some bold words in Obama's speech about helping beleaguered homeowners, but they ring hollow given this administration's efforts to broker a sweetheart deal between the leading banks and the state attorneys general that would see the banks fined only a pittance for their responsibility in the mortgage meltdown. Obama could have had success demanding mortgage relief if he had made that a condition for bailing out the banks. Now the banksters know he's firing blanks, and they are placing their bets on their more reliable Republican allies to prevent any significant demand for helping homeowners with their underwater mortgages.

Of course, Romney, Obama's most likely opponent in the general election, will never challenge the Wall Street hold on Washington, since he is the personification of the vulture capitalism that is the true cause of America's decline. Obama should shine in comparison with his Republican challenger, but there is little in his State of the Union speech to suggest he will chart a much-needed new course in his second term.

Luke Johnson   |   January 18, 2012    1:15 PM ET

Former President Bill Clinton said Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney can't say what they believe and get nominated in a GOP primary, in an interview with Esquire published Wednesday.

"As a private citizen he [Gingrich] was for certain important health-care reforms and believed in climate change and believed there had to be a strong reaction to it. And now he's just like Romney," Clinton said. "Neither one of them can say what they believe to be true and get nominated. Romney's still trying to figure out what he did as governor of Massachusetts and still appeal to this driving vituperative energy."

Gingrich has cited his work with Clinton when he was Speaker of the House as evidence that he can fix the economy. Other times, he has left out Clinton and touted balancing the budget and creating 11 million new jobs.

When asked last December whether Gingrich could take credit for balancing the budget, Clinton said, "Not really, but I think he did work with me to pass some good budgets."

Clinton, however, praised his former adversary last November to NewsMax, saying, "I think he's doing well just because he's thinking, and people are hungry for ideas that make some sense."

Clinton also praised Romney's record as governor of Massachusetts in December, adding that it would be a "mistake" to underestimate him.

Clinton told Esquire that Republicans have been pushed farther to the right.

"Every time the president adopts a plan that they [Republicans] once advocated, they abandon it and push farther to the right," he said. "But the voters can push them back."

Patrick Gavin   |   January 12, 2012    5:37 PM ET

Although Bill Clinton's reputation as a statesman has long since recovered in most quarters following personal scandals in the 1990s, a new, four-hour documentary portrays the arc of his career as one littered with sexual dalliances and foibles.

That's doubly surprising when you consider the source: not a conservative production company but PBS.

PHOTOS: Political Pets

Kathy Kottwitz   |   January 11, 2012    2:39 PM ET

Politicians with their four legged friends through out the years.


To see more great photography visit HuffPost Exposure.

Newt - Democracy's Blessing or Curse?

Kevin Bermeister   |   December 21, 2011    5:27 AM ET

In one fell swoop, Newt Gingrich focused the worlds' attention on all of the ignorance that has plagued Israel through more than 30 years of rhetoric and innuendo: a rhetoric cultivated by Israel's opponents and nurtured by those complacent enough to accept it as gospel. Beginning as early as the establishment of the State of Israel and gaining steam through the progression of politicians that sponsored the Oslo Accords, this malaise has grown unchecked, but Newt fixed that!

Unsettling as it may be, in the arena of global policy making, it is a general practice for political leaders from one administration to spin webs of misinformation and half-truths in order to elicit compliance from the politicians of other nations. Instead of leading towards sound policy and even-handed legislation, this political manipulation simply promotes confusion and ignorance. This practice of spreading ignorance and inflammatory rhetoric regularly happens when, for example, the principal sponsors of important events promote their private views by encouraging less scrupulous politicians to espouse their personal agendas. The corrupting influence of financial incentives exists as something of a permanent virus contaminating democracies that otherwise work quite well. The story is an old one in which politicians, who often begin with the best of intentions seeking tirelessly to achieve their various moral objectives, ultimately find themselves in compromising situations, capitulating to the views of their supporters, political advisers, or even adversaries.

When it comes to spewing prejudicial views against Israel, there are all too many examples of this disturbing practice. Take, for instance, the much maligned remarks uttered last month by the U.S. Ambassador to Belgium, Howard Gutman. Speaking at a conference on anti-Semitism sponsored by the European Jewish Union in Brussels, Gutman insisted that recent European anti-Semitism was fueled by Israel's delaying negotiations for a Palestinian state. While Gutman was widely castigated for his comments, the loathsome practice of blaming Israel for the hatred lobbed at her is all too common. Such mindless speech may just be a case in point but then the same must be said for the words delivered by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton at this year's Saban conference. Clinton openly expressed her concern for the future of Israel's domestic democracy claiming that legislation introduced in the Knesset against radical left-wing NGOs endangered the process of democracy. Her comments rang out much to the chagrin of Israel's die-hard politicians who live by that democracy each day.

Such rhetorical antics make me think of Abraham Lincoln's famous words: "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time." If, as a politician, you can fool all of the people some of the time, would you? Perhaps that's what politicians must do to survive in the world of politics; but if that's the case, then fooling some of the people all of the time would probably keep you in politics longer! Hmmm... food for thought? The fickle nature of politicians is so plainly reflected in these words, and that alone should be enough to set alarms buzzing. However, we live in a jaded world where constituents who cling to the belief that their votes are the driving force behind democracy's vibrancy swallow the deceitful rhetoric unprincipled politicians throw at them.

How foolish to endorse anti-Semitism as being fueled by political action, as Ambassador Gutman did, or, worse yet, the paradox of insisting that the passage of a law in a democratically elected government is an affront to the very democracy that gives rise to that law as Secretary Clinton posited. Absurd! Such haranguing is fueled by ignorance and, in turn, encourages people who support even more ignorant politicians too busy spouting their own invectives to be deterred by facts!

I was in the midst of composing this article when, unrelated to my writing, I was asked to describe what a blessing is and how it relates to free choice. At first I did not connect this seemingly tangential question to my article, but now I find myself weaving my understanding into the very concept of free choice inherent in a democracy.

The will and insights that motivate society to modify its course must be understood by those disciplined push-pull politicians tasked with navigating the political fog. A blessing causes a positive change to the essential self when bestowed by a selfless agent, notwithstanding our limitation to perceive this "magical" process, we all know individuals that may be considered blessed who deliver successful actions and outcomes.

Good leaders are distinguished because their insight leads them to achieve goals that reflect their accurate comprehension of it. The "magic" is in their unshakable bond in the belief that motivates their lifelong careers to bring changes to improve society's fabric. On the flip side, politicians who focus on the struggle with political onslaught or challenges to their personal lives often make compromises that ultimately characterize their infamous or uneventful careers.

Democracy is the blessing of free choice bestowed on society, an antidote to the political virus. When less scrupulous politicians are corrupted by the influence of financial incentives, society is at risk of infection cured only by constituents exercising free choice. Indeed, democratic or even theocratic societies are strengthened by the courage of leaders committed to their unwavering conviction not to be influenced by ignorance and inflammatory rhetoric or those who would attempt to fool all of the people all the time.

By ANNE GEARAN   |   December 8, 2011    4:30 PM ET

THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is warning Internet and software companies to beware what they sell to autocratic governments.

Clinton says authoritarian governments are trying to use the same tools of online connection to spy on or restrict citizens. She says those governments sometimes get help from companies that knowingly sell online surveillance software or other tools.