Daily Archives: October 8, 2012

By Gideon Rachman

Over the past three years, conventional wisdom divided the world’s major economies into two basic groups – the Brics and the sicks. The US and the EU were sick – struggling with high unemployment, low growth and frightening debts. By contrast the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and, by some reckonings, South Africa) were much more dynamic. Investors, businessmen and western politicians made regular pilgrimages there, to gaze at the future.

Roula Khalaf

Mit Romney delivers his foreign policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute. (Getty)

The Middle East is an easy target for an aspiring US president on the attack against an incumbent rival. You can bet that there are enough unresolved crises that affect America in one way or another, and I don’t mean just the perennial Arab-Israeli conflict.

And, since the region has something of a love-hate relationship with the US, there will always be a sufficient number of critics within the Middle East to back up the American presidential candidate’s arguments, however flawed they might be.

Which brings us to Mitt Romney’s foreign policy speech today at the Virginia Military Institute in which he first tore apart Barack Obama’s Middle Eastern policies, but then proceeded to outline a rather similar approach couched as fundamental change. 

Gideon Rachman

Perhaps predictably, Imran Khan’s protest march against US drone strikes was stopped before the marchers could make it into the tribal areas of Pakistan. Khan is a politician and so not averse to a bit of free publicity. He has also been accused of being soft on the Pakistani Taliban. Nonetheless, the issues that he and others are raising about the drone strikes are very important.

The allegations involve the death of hundreds of innocent civilians. If these charges are true, they strike me as much more serious than – for example – the detention without trial of terrorist suspects in Guantanamo, which became such a cause célèbre, during the Bush presidency. 

Notes from the Heartland

My atheist feet are doing all they can to stop tapping along to the power chords of the Westside Family Church house band. Westside is a megachurch in Lenaxa, Kansas, home of United Parcel Service and 50,000 people. No tour of the heartland would be complete without a bit of Jesus, so on Sunday I drove out to fill my cup.

Foreigners often leave the US with a sense of paradox: how can a country combine religious tolerance with religious intensity? Few others manage it. Charles Dickens, for example, preferred the more open Boston preachers to the stuffy Anglicans back home. Yet he noted the New World’s fervour, too. “Wherever religion is resorted to, as a strong drink, and as an escape from the dull monotonous round of home, those of its ministers who pepper the highest will be the surest to please.” 

Welcome to the US election round-up on a day when neither the polls nor the editorials will make pleasant reading for the White House.

President Barack Obama’s perceived poor performance in last Wednesday’s first debate has left him trailing in the swing state of Florida, according to the two most recent polls there as recorded by RealClearPolitics.com. Worse still, in Ohio, seen by many as the key to re-election, the same two pollsters show the president neck and neck with his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney. It should be added that the methodology of at least one of these polls, Rasmussen Reports, has been questioned by some as tending to give too much weight to the strength of support for Mr Romney. Furthermore, Richard McGregor argues here that Obama can afford to lose Florida and still garner enough electoral college votes to make it across the finishing line.

But overall, RCP’s average of polls has the gap tightening across the nation, with the president’s lead cut to 1.4 per cent from 2.6 per cent on Friday, before post-debate surveys were run. 

John Paul Rathbone

Hugo Chávez celebrates his win (Getty)

For Hugo Chávez’s opponents, it was the transcendental moment that wasn’t: the Venezuelan president romped home in Sunday’s election with a far bigger-than-expected 10 point win. In the context of the US presidential election, that would count as a landslide.

Although the vote was blessedly peaceful, Washington, capital of Mr Chávez’s “Evil Empire”, probably won’t be sending any flowers to Caracas. But Havana, Buenos Aires and Beijing will.