Mitt Romney’s Previous Bad Trip

In light of this week’s visit to London, Israel and Poland by the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee, Willard ‘Mitt’ Romney, it is instructive to recall his recent visit to Houston to address the 103rd Annual Convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), America’s oldest and largest civil rights organisation.

Considering that he will face America’s first black president, Barack Obama, in the election this November, his decision was an interesting one. The NAACP has a strong tradition of inviting presidential candidates to address their conventions and is officially non-partisan, however, an analysis of the black vote is revealing.

In 2004, only 7% of African Americans considered themselves Republican. In 2008, 95% of the African American vote went to Obama, in contrast to only 4% going to McCain that year and only 11% to President George W. Bush in 2004. That same year (2008) the black vote rose to 13% of the national total, up from 11%, but intriguingly, Obama’s take of the black vote was up only 2% from that received by Bill Clinton in 1996 and virtually tied with Jimmy Carter’s 94% in 1980.

The Republican take of the black vote has its own interesting elements: In both 2000 and 2004, George W. Bush received 11% of the black vote, considerably higher than the 4% that voted for Bob Dole in 1996 or the 6% that voted for George H. W. Bush in 1992. The 1992 figure was particularly interesting considering the 21% that George H.W. Bush received in 1988 and is perhaps indicative of Bill Clinton’s ability to connect with the African American community. Prior to this, Reagan had received 12% in 1984, and a paltry 3% of the black vote in 1980.

It is possible to discern a pattern, therefore, of overwhelming black support for Democratic candidates and scant support of Republicans.

Romney’s decision to attend was hardly done in the expectation of winning the crowd over and taking the black vote in November, but he could not afford to snub the invitation. Romney faced a tough call in Houston: He could tell the audience what it wanted to hear or he could stick to his message. It has been suggested that he was booed for failing to understand what the audience wanted and for referring to the health care legislation as ObamaCare. In other words, he didn’t pander to his audience.

Irrespective of what one feels about Romney’s politics, there is something to be said about telling an audience something unpalatable rather than merely paying lip service to their desires. Clearly, any Republican seeking to gain the support of the African American community is going to have their work cut out for them. Romney’s task is made all the harder by his opposition to the health care reforms that President Obama has passed and which he plans to repeal. His speech can be viewed in full HERE.

The event has become mired in acrimony.  Romney was booed in places, and cheered in others. He has been accused on MSNBC of attending in the knowledge that he would be poorly received, in the expectation that this would drive ‘racist’ non-black voters into the Romney camp. Such interpretation is clearly incendiary and designed to stoke the passions on both sides. It is certainly far from helpful. Read a transcript of the speech HERE

Romney has also been accused of drafting attendees to the convention to deliberately cheer in key points and to be seen embracing Romney (figuratively, if not literally) after the speech. Romney undoubtedly invited members of the black community to attend this address and it would be more surprising if he had not. The degree to which a small number of invited guests could drown out a hostile crowd, however, is open to speculation. This led to a rather undignified showdown between Bill O’Riley and my old boss Hilary Shelton, the NAACP’s Washington Bureau Chief on Fox News.

Whatever one makes of Romney’s speech and the reaction to it, he did at least attend. This is more than can be said for America’s first African-American president who elected instead to send his gaffe-prone vice president, Joe Biden in his place and record a video message for his many supporters at the NAACP.

It is fascinating that this has not garnered a greater response: Romney has been critiqued for attending, for his speech and for potentially manipulating the crowd. But very little has been said in response to Obama’s ‘scheduling conflict’ that prevented him from attending the annual conference of America’s most important civil rights organisation. Had Romney offered such an excuse surely the accusation would be that he was at the very least indifferent to the black community. What the decision of America’s first black president to stay away says about his priorities heading into the November election is open to similar interpretation.

With 99 short days top go until the election, it appears that neither candidate is covering themselves in glory as they barnstorm the planet in desperate search for cash and votes. In the process they demean themselves and the office for which they year. This, alas, has become the accepted way of doing things and nothing, it seems, is about to alter that, whoever wins in November.

Intelligence Design: UK National Security in a Changing World

After months of research and interviews, editing and designing, my report for the Bow Group is finally available:

Intelligence Design by Dr James D. Boys

I am delighted that Rt. Hon Dr. Liam Fox, MP, the UK’s former Defence Secretary, has been kind enough to provide a most gracious foreword to the report. Better still, he hand delivered a copy of the report to the Prime Minister, David Cameron, yesterday afternoon. In his foreword Dr. Fox was kind enough to note, “The report’s author, Dr. James D. Boys, is to be applauded for adopting a non-partisan approach to this vital area of national security and for noting advances and errors by the two main political parties… this is clearly a time of evolution and change within the U.K.’s national security architecture. Having initiated bold moves, it is in the long-term interest of the country for the Coalition Government to urgently address the current system and I hope that it notes the recommendations made in this paper.”

The report addresses a series of issues relating to the Americanization of the UK Intelligence architecture. It considers the appropriateness of this and the potential benefits or drawbacks that this could bring. The paper addresses the historical basis for this development and addresses the positive moves made by recent UK governments to challenge the status quo that has lasted for far too long and given rise to an ad hoc approach to decision-making in Whitehall.

Transatlantic Intelligence: The Missed Opportunity of the Joint Strategy Board

During President Obama’s state visit to Britain in May 2011, the White House and Downing Street jointly announced the establishment of a Joint Strategy Board to consider matters of long-term security, the threats posed by terrorism and rogue states. At the time it was anticipated that the new body presented the opportunity for the UK and the United States to work more closely together, to share intelligence and analysis, and address long-term security challenges rather than just immediate concerns. It also presented an opportunity to redress imbalances that had arisen in the past.[i]

The development was clearly intended as a commitment to the on-going relations between the United Kingdom and the United States that continues to defy expectations of an imminent demise. The relationship is one that is redefined by each new leader on both sides of the Atlantic; however, its fundamental foundations ensure that it continues to endure despite the fondest wishes of headline writers and left-leaning intellectuals. This announcement was also interesting considering the long and close relationship that has existed between the intelligence communities of both nations and also because of the unusual step of formalising a body that could potentially share what is usually jealously guarded, hard earned intelligence.

The expectation was that the Joint Strategy Board would be co-chaired by the U.S. National Security Staff and the U.K. National Security Secretariat and would include representatives from the Departments of State and Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Defence, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Joint Intelligence Organisation. The board was expected to report to the U.S. and U.K. National Security Advisors who were expected to meet individually every few months.

The Board was expected to help enable a more guided, coordinated approach to analyse the “over the horizon” challenges we may face in the future and also how today’s challenges are likely to shape our future choices. It is designed to better integrate long-term thinking and planning into the day-to-day work of our governments and our bilateral relationship, as we contemplate how significant evolutions in the global economic and security environment will require shifts in our shared strategic approach. It was anticipated that the Joint Strategy Board would meet quarterly at locations that would alternate between the United States and United Kingdom. The long-term fate of the Board was to be decided by the US and UK National Security Advisors who would review its status after one year and decide whether to renew its mandate. That time has now elapsed.

The Parliamentary National Security Strategy Committee has raise questions as to the status of the Board and received rudimentary responses. The extent to which the Joint Strategy Board has provided any tangible benefits is yet to be seen. The Board only met once in 2011 and there has been an agreement not to disclose the precise topics discussed at meetings.[ii]

The status of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States is indeed in a unique position. For all of the attempts to define the relationship in recent years, as Special, Unique or Essential, the relationship is quintessentially unexamined in an official capacity within the Foreign and Commonwealth office. Unlike other nations that have dedicated analysts to consider the rudimentary aspect of the UK’s ongoing relationship across a range of issues, there is no full time dedicated experts considering the future direction of US global policy working in Whitehall.

This point has been lamented by the former Ambassador to Washington, Sir Christopher Meyer; “I sought regularly and in vain to get the Foreign Office to…draw the conclusion that if it was right to train cadres of specialists in the EU, the Middle East, Russia and China, as we do, then it was also right to create an American cadre, which we do not.”[iii] With over 400 employees currently working in the UK embassy in Washington, it could be rightly asked why more analysts are required in Whitehall. However, those posted to Washington are not necessarily experts on U.S. policy and what is needed in Whitehall is nothing above and beyond the attention that is focused upon other nations, with whom the UK has far less interest.

There is a troubling tradition of assumption making in regard to the actions of the United States. Our shared language and related heritage makes for rushed assumptions in relation to intent and motivation. There is a fundamental problem that needs to be addressed regarding a misguided sense of familiarity with regard to American politics and its culture. This inadvertently causes a sense of dependency and reliance that is partially true but which is exaggerated to the detriment of both parties. As Meyer noted, “Think of American as Britain writ large and you risk coming to grief.” [iv]

It blinds the UK to policy flaws that could be potentially detrimental to the national interest and has on occasion bound us to policy initiatives that have been harmful. There is simply not enough strategic, horizon-scanning analysis being conducted on the future direction of US foreign policy and the its potential implications for the United Kingdom. The Joint Strategy Board could have been a solution to this but it does not appear to be addressing the challenges it was established to solve. It appears, instead, to be spending too much of its time addressing short-term issues rather than considering the far-reaching potential of a UK-U.S. alliance.

The Joint Strategy Board is a logical and tangible development, whose mandate should be continued, whose status should be enhanced and whose remit should be clarified. It has the potential to be a source of great significance both structurally and symbolically and its demise due to lethargy would be a sad loss and a missed opportunity.

——

This extract is taken from the author’s extended report entitled, Intelligence Design: UK National Security in a Changing World, which will be published shortly by the Bow Group, with a Foreword by Rt. Hon Dr. Liam Fox, MP.


[i] See James D. Boys, “What’s So Extraordinary About Rendition,” The International Journal of Human Rights,” Vol. 15, No. 4, May 2011, 589–604

[ii] Cabinet Office, Written evidence February 7, 2012, Evidence to the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy: First Review of the National Security Strategy 2010, 111

[iii] Christopher Meyer, D.C. Confidential, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005, 59

[iv] Christopher Meyer, D.C. Confidential, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005, 58

Obama’s Bankrupt Culture

One upon a time the sun used to shine all summer long and the season could be relied upon to produce a stream of blockbuster movies designed to pack cinemas across the land with action-packed, star-filled romps that may (perhaps) have more style than substance, but which nevertheless had some degree of originality.

How things have changed. Not only does the sun appear determined not to shine at any stage of the British Summertime (despite, irony of ironies a hose-pipe ban being in effect) but the aforementioned glut of movies has dried up, only to be replaced by a trickle of poorly thought out, unimaginative drivel.

I recently sat through Prometheus. I’m just old enough to remember news reports of shock induced heart attacks during the first movie in the series (although, of course, some are suggesting that Prometheus is not related to Alien). Funnily enough, this film is so bad it may induce a similar reaction, albeit for very different reasons. The original was, as my wife constantly reminds me, a gothic horror. It was a simple story of everyday folk on a haunted spaceship with a deadly creature out to eat them. One by one they were picked off until finally the least likely to survive emerged victorious, only to have to fight all over again, and again, in a series of increasingly uninspired sequels. The movies became more expensive as the plots holes grew larger and the audience got smaller. Alas, the final scene in Prometheus painfully sets up the potential for another drawn out, unnecessarily protracted sequel that will doubtless do much to continue to undermine the charm of the original.

Prometheus is, however, only the latest in a series of franchise ‘re-launches’ that have become increasingly necessary as Hollywood lacks the imagination to devise anything new. Instead, it dusts off existing product and repackaged it to young, impressionable audiences with younger and cheaper actors playing the roles previously established by stars who are now too expensive, or too dead, to be used.

This is happening with increasing regularity. Consider the James Bond re-launch with Daniel Craig, who may have earned his licence to kill in a brutish manner, but who is yet to earn his ability to raise a single eyebrow in a Roger Moore fashion, or to utter a Sean Connery style retort in the face of almost certain death. Instead he has become a British Jason Bourne, a blunt, should I say dull, instrument of death. Which brings me to 2012’s The Bourne Legacy, a film NOT starring Matt Damon or even the character of Jason Bourne, in a lame effort to keep a franchise going without its star or director.

Movies are being re-booted, re-imagined, re-launched and re-vamped on an all too regular occurrence. Gone is any originality. Sequels were bad enough, but at least they were traditionally limited to trilogies. It is hardly surprising that films have begun to deteriorate as sequels have become prequels and film series have begun to edge towards 5 and 6. Just ask yourself, when the last time the 5th episode in a film series was the best of the lot? Answers on a postcard please ….

Perhaps George Lucas is responsible. Certainly there are people who seem willing to blame him for just about everything since he began tinkering with his own films. I have list count of how many times he has digitally altered the original Star Wars, but vitally it began almost immediately, with alterations made to its 1978 re-release to enable a sequel in 1980. Having made the lamentable Return of the Jedi in 1983 he then had the best part of two decades to think of what to do next before inflicting The Phantom Menace on an unsuspecting world, a fascinating tale of trade disputes and tax issues on irrelevant worlds, resided over by boring Jedi knights, who were more monk than hero, and certainly less animated than most of the obviously CGI characters.

The worst culprit of all, however, appears to be, wait for it…Total Recall. The Arnie blockbuster from 1990 has been remade, in some places shot for shot and word for word, with the very much NOT Arnold Schwarzenegger-esque Colin Farell playing the lead and the even less Sharon Stone-esque Kate Beckinsale playing his supposedly hot (but not very much in this version) wife. Surely the bankruptcy of Hollywood is complete?

Movies can often be seen to reflect the politics of the time in which they were made. In the 1970s there were dark and brooding movies that reflected the confused state of America, where heroes were anti-heroes and lines were blurred. (The Parallax View, The Godfather, The French Connection, The Conversation, Apocalypse Now). The 1980s were a much brighter time, superficially so perhaps, in which heroes and politicians were more clear cut and above board. Films reflected the new sense of national pride in Reagan’s America (Top Gun, Rambo, Back to the Future, Ferris Bueller). In the 1990s everything became a little more sensitive, kinder, gentler, as men had to get in touch with their sensitive side and women were allowed to roam. (Working Girl, Pretty Women, Thelma and Louise, A League of Their Own, Sleepless in Seattle). In he late 90s there were a glut of movies addressing the presidency as the American people fixated on the private affair of Bill Clinton (Murder at 1600, Absolute Power, The American President, Wag the Dog). Then after 9/11 there was the obvious spate of movies examining U.S. policy and issues of war (The Hurt Locker, Avatar, Jar Heads).

Now, in Obama’s America we have Footloose (2012), Karate Kid (2012), Fright Night (2012) The Thing (2011). This is what it has come to. Poor originals remade to be even worse. Like a photocopy of a photocopy. We have seen it all before, of course, but each time it gets a little worse.

Decide for yourself what this says about the state of Obama’s America. Certainly Hollywood appears to be bankrupt, boring and uninspiring, its products a mere reboot of a re-launch of a prequel.

Fade in, fade out. Cut

Latest piece on The Commentator

I am delighted to announce that my latest piece for The Commentator has gone life this morning. The piece is a teaser for a full report that I have prepared for the Bow Group on the developments that have occurred in the UK Intelligence architecture since the 2010 election.

The paper, which can be accessed HERE  addresses the Joint Intelligence Board and the lack of investment that appears to have been devoted to it by the British and the Americans over the last year.

The Supreme Power

As President Obama prepared to hear from the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of his health care reforms this week, he was doubtless reminded that the President of the United States is but a single player in American political life. Despite the media attention on the Oval Office, the executive branch of government is but one of three branches in the U.S. system and we overlook the Congress and the Supreme Court at our peril if we are to appreciate the true nature of power within the United States.

The President of the United States was originally conceived by the Framers of the American Constitution to be a secondary figure in American politics, yielding ultimate power to the United States Congress. That this was their intention is clear from the very manner in which they wrote the Constitution. The office of President was not dealt with until Article One had clearly outlined the overwhelming powers of the Congress.

Whilst the character of the presidency will differ from one occupant to the next, two criteria remain; Firstly, whoever the President may be, the Constitution bestows upon him the roles of Chief Executive, Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces, Chief Diplomat, Chief Recruiting Office for the Executive and the Courts, and Legislator. Secondly, despite the millions of people that form the Federal Government, the President is the only national unifying force. Uniting the Head of State and the Head of Government in a single office, the president has extraordinary powers, but must wield them under extraordinary limitations.

For despite the power that comes with the presidential responsibilities, there comes the close eye of the United States Congress and the Supreme Court. The President may be Commander-In-Chief, but he requires Congress to declare war. The President may pass laws, but the Court can declare them to be unconstitutional. The President may be the chief recruiting officer to the Executive and the Courts, but many of his recommendations require confirmation by the Congress. The President may nominate Justices and even Chief Justices, but once appointed, they are beholden to no one.

The president’s problems are compounded further by the absence of a strong party system. As Congress grows ever more fragmented, party leadership becomes all the weaker, ensuring that the coalition building that is essential for legislative success is now more difficult. In Federalist Paper No. 48, James Madison wrote of Congress; “Its constitutional powers being at once more extensive, it can with greater facility, mask the encroachments it makes on the co-ordinate departments.” Considering the accuracy of his prophecy, it would be intriguing to speculate as to what Madison would have made of today’s Congress.

Since 1945, Congress has extended its use of appropriations and investigations, and has become increasingly involved in aspects of government, which had previously been the exclusive domain of the Executive Branch. Relations between the Congress and the Presidency have become increasingly strained since the Watergate hearings, which brought the downfall of President Nixon. The sins of Richard Nixon, coupled with the humiliation of the Vietnam War resulted in new Congressional restrictions upon the Presidency. As such, the Congress enhanced its own power and diminished that of the President.

The rather serene nature of the Supreme Court (coupled with its Supreme power) has seen it remain largely outside of the political sphere except in the rarest of circumstances, such as we are in today and as the United States found itself in following the 2000 election. Certainly no presidency in recent memory has been foolhardy enough to challenge the sovereignty of the Court.

The separation of the powers lies at the very heart of the American political system. Over the years however, the relationship between the Presidency, the Court and the Congress appears to have been based les on a separation of powers and more upon a separation of political principles. This resulting clash of political wills results in the condition known as Gridlock. With Congress and the Presidency fighting for political domination, the only true victims are the American public who fail to benefit when legislation is vetoed by the President, filibustered by the Congress, or declared unconstitutional by the Court.

In an effort to project themselves as defenders of the public interest, the presidents often claim to see policies in terms of the national interest, elevating themselves above party, special interests and even ideology. Ultimately, the President must govern effectively. In his decision making process, the president will have to take into consideration a plethora of opinions. Ultimately however, he must act, notwithstanding the disapproval of certain constituencies. The making of such decisions is clearly hindered in times of recession or when, even when the economy is growing, the budget deficit is rising. With tax increases now akin to political suicide, and the knowledge that spending cuts usually affect those that are already suffering, the main way to increase government spending is by borrowing. This however merely increases the budget deficit. As a result of this stalemate, the notion of a Zero Sum Society has been perpetuated: When federal spending is constant, distributional questions become a zero sum game; when one person gains, another must lose. No single individual has the burden of making these distributional decisions other than the president. It is he alone who is responsible for producing an annual budget amounting to over $3,500 billion. His power and responsibilities therefore, are little short of remarkable. However as President Clinton testified, “The president does not govern alone. I am more like the captain of a ship. I can steer it, but a storm can still come up and sink it. And the people that are supposed to be rowing can refuse to row.”

Clearly the field of domestic politics is a bloody one, upon which presidents are fearful of defeat. The cultural and geographic diversity within America is a major reason for the difficulty in domestic agendas. Whatever the President’s decision may be, some will lose out. With lobby groups and political opponents waiting to make the most out of such misfortune, the president’s role in domestic affairs is one fraught with trouble. The notion that the presidency is “the most powerful office on earth” conceals the extent to which the presidency now enjoys less freedom of action than in the past.

The presidency is a constantly evolving office, which is redefined by each new occupant. Barack Obama has successfully placed health care reform at the heart of his presidency, a decision that the Supreme Court has now approved as being constitutional. The tension that was raised in the wait for their verdict, however, reveals the overlooked reality of political power in Washington: The final decision rests not with a directly elected member of Congress, nor with a President indirectly decided upon by an Electoral College, but with nine individuals elected by, and answerable to, absolutely no one.