President Obama

Fighting Conventional Wisdom on Deficits, The Economy and the Strength of the GOP

In prepping for my last two segments on Fox News (here and here) I had to review new polls which had some not so good news for Democrats. The first was from Public Policy Polling. The second one from NBC/Wall Street Journal.  In digging down on these polls, I found some suprising results (perhaps for DC):

Democrats Still Hold a Substantial Lead in Party ID - In each poll, the Democratic Party held a 9 point Party ID advantage over the GOP (45/36 in NBC/Wall Street Journal, 43/34 in Public Policy).  9 points is of course a bigger spread than the  actual vote in each of the last two elections, which broke 53% to 46% for the Democrats.  In 1994, by comparison, the GOP had a party ID advantage over the Democrats. 

What is remarkable about these findings is that the structural shift away from the GOP and towards the Democrats is not showing signs of abating.  Looking at the Congressional Generic Ballot (even these days, with Ds and Rs being in the mid 40s) and Obama/Dem approval (mid to high 40s) there is evidence the Democrats have lost some ground since 2008.  But there simply is no evidence in either of these polls that the GOP has gained at all, and remains in the same mid 40 percent range - or less - the party achieved in each of its last two losing election performances (Real Clear Politics average of the Generic Congressional Ballot now has the Democrats up a bit, 43/42.6 - if you take out the always GOP biased Rasmussen it is closer to 2 points now).

In fact, a reasonable interpretation of these polls is that the GOP is stuck at a ceiling of 45/46/47, the Dems have dropped to similar terrain, but with Party ID being so strong for the Dems, there is more of a clear path now for the Dems to regain their lost ground than for the GOP to grow beyond their current position. With the GOP now stuck in the mid 40s, a lot of what happens in 2010 will depend on what happens with that 5-8 percent the Democrats have lost - will they come home? Not turn out? Go to the GOP?

It is fair to say from these polls that neither party should be happy with their position 4 1/2 months from the 2010 midterms.  The Democrats have lost too much of its recent historic vote, and the GOP has not shown any capacity to take advantage of the Democratic weakness.

Spending and Deficits Are a Secondary Concern For Most Voters - Adding in a third recent poll, a YouGov/Economist poll, the other remarkable thing in these recent polls is how clear it is that spending and deficits - despite the media frenzy of late - remain a secondary concern - at best - for most voters.  In each poll, as most polls over the past five years, the economy is the overwhelming concern of voters, with the spending/deficit numbers far behind.  As it should - for every day Americans suffering through a "lost decade" of no wage and income growth, the state of the economy is a much more immediate and significant concern than the more abstract concern about the federal budget.   Concerns about deficits and spending spike among conservatives and Republicans, but in the In The Economist poll, for example, less than 10 percent of moderates and independents cited the deficit as a major concern.  In the NBC poll, those citing the importance of deficits actually dropped over the past month and still trailed the economy by 20 points. There simply is no data in these polls showing spending/deficits to be the killer app of 2010.

In each poll there was a great deal of intensity about spending and the deficit among Republicans, and much more interest in the economy/jobs in the rest of the electorate.  Which begs the question - how did the Democrats allow fiscal issues to become so dominant? I take a look at that in another post, this one on how the all important debate over the economy might play out this year.

Come to Our Event Wednesday Which Will Look at All This In Greater Detail - On Wednesday, NDN will be holding an event, noon, at our offices, which will take a much deeper look at all this matters.  Join us live, or on the web. 

If anyone can find polling which shows spending and deficits to be ranked higher than these two polls showcased by Fox News please send them our way.  And for a roundup of our thinking about the American economy, visit here.

Fox News Discussion on New Poll, 2010, President Obama

Was on Fox News this morning talking politics.  We took a look at a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll which you can see here.  The clip is below.

I'm going to write a longer piece on this later today but my general sense of where things stand is that neither party should be happy with where they are today.  The Republicans are stuck at about the same vote share they had in their terrible 2006-2008 elections - 46 percent or so.  The Democrats are way off their vote share in the last two elections - 53 percent - and are hovering in the mid 40s on most measures.  What happens to that 7-10 percent of voters who voted with the Dems in 2006 and 2008 - whether they come back to the Ds, stay home, go with the Rs - is the big question today as we go ever deeper into this complex election cycle.


From The White House: Declaration on 21st Century Border Management

In anticipation of our Monday, May 24th event featuring Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan and U.S. Commissioner Customs and Border Protection Alan Bersin which will be webcast live starting at 12:15 p.m., you may want to read the following Memorandum of Agreement between the United States and Mexico, which was signed today, May 20th, by President Obama and President Calderon. 

The event will be taking a deeper look at this idea of a "21st Century Border."  We hope you will join us live on the web for this important conversation about this exciting new initiative.

Declaration by The Government Of The United States Of America and The Government Of The United Mexican States Concerning Twenty-First Century Border Management

The Government of the United States of America and the Government of the United Mexican States, hereinafter referred to collectively as the “Participants,”

Acknowledging their shared interest in creating a border that promotes their economic competitiveness and enhances their security through the secure, efficient, rapid, and lawful movement of goods and people;

Expressing a desire to fundamentally restructure the way in which the shared border between Mexico and the United States is managed to enhance public safety, welcome lawful visitors, encourage trade, strengthen cultural ties, and reduce the cost of doing business in North America;

Recognizing the importance of securing and facilitating the lawful flow of goods, services, and people between their countries;

Understanding that joint and collaborative administration of their common border is critical to transforming management of the border to enhance security and efficiency;

Recognizing the potential value, both in terms of enhancing security and reducing congestion, of shifting certain screening and inspection activities, traditionally performed at the immediate border, to geographic departure and transit zones away from the border and of considering other non-traditional border crossing concepts;

Appreciating that enhancing the flow of information needed for effective shared border management requires professionalism in law enforcement, strong institutional capacity, and effective interagency coordination in and between both countries;

Recognizing that transnational criminal organizations threaten the economies and security of both the United States and Mexico and that both countries share responsibility for the conditions that give rise to these criminal organizations and that allow them to endure, as well as shared responsibility for remedying those conditions;

Understanding that law enforcement coordination between the Participants is essential to preventing crime and to disrupting and dismantling transnational criminal organizations;

Sharing an interest in ensuring a legal, orderly system for managing migration between their countries and developing coordinated procedures for managing repatriation and ensuring that it remains safe and humane;

Hereby express their commitment to strengthen cooperation in:

  • Enhancing economic competitiveness by expediting lawful trade, while preventing the transit of illegal merchandise between their two countries,
  • Facilitating lawful travel in a manner that also prevents the illegal movement of people between their two countries,
  • Sharing information that enhances secure flows of goods and people, and
  • Disrupting and dismantling transnational criminal organizations and punishing their members and supporters.


In light of these mutual understandings, the Participants expect to work in a collaborative and coordinated fashion across a wide-range of border-related activities, including:

  • Programs focused on reducing congestion and delays in cross-border traffic entering both Mexico and the United States, building a foundation for efficient border and expanded economic growth, improving community safety and quality of life, and reducing unhealthy emissions from idling vehicles;
  • The creation, expansion, or mutual recognition of “trusted shipper” programs such as FAST and C-TPAT and “trusted traveler” programs such as SENTRI and Global Entry, allowing enforcement authorities to concentrate their efforts where they are most needed to stop illicit border flows; 
  • Pre-screening, pre-clearance, and pre-inspection of people, goods, and products, particularly where such activities increase the Participants’ abilities to intercept dangerous individuals, hazardous goods, and contraband before they cause harm and to alleviate congestion at ports of entry;
  • The enhancement of the repatriation processes through the exchange of information and close bilateral cooperation, with special attention to vulnerable people such as unaccompanied minors, pregnant women, and the sick and elderly.
  • The improvement of bilateral mechanisms to share information related to aviation security and border security.
  • The development of complementary risk management strategies aimed at separating high-risk and low-risk shipments, as well as high-risk and low-risk individuals, including specific procedures for repatriation of individuals with criminal records;
  • The standardized collection and single entry of trade data, so that importers and exporters are asked for a given piece of information only once, reducing the administrative burden of compliance and therefore the cost of trade;
  • Improved bi-national coordination in planning, financing, permitting, designing, building, and operating ports of entry, as well as optimal staffing of ports of entry;
  • Promotion of a closer partnership with the private sector, the trade community, and international partners to secure supply chains;
  • Development of shared priorities for public investments in ports of entry along the border, planned in coordination with the infrastructure feeding into them, as well as funding mechanisms for such projects, including private sector participation;
  • Joint assessments of threats, development of a common understanding of the operating environment, and joint identification of geographic areas of focus for law enforcement operations;
  • Augmentation of their collection, analysis, and sharing of information from interdictions, investigations, and prosecutions to disrupt “criminal flows” and enhance public safety; and
  • Bringing together border communities and relevant stakeholders as partners in efforts to, protect public safety by integrating law enforcement efforts with other government functions including social assistance, community outreach, and responsiveness to citizen concerns.


To coordinate and facilitate work aimed at furthering the goals noted in this Declaration, the Participants intend to establish a Twenty-First Century Border Bilateral Executive Steering Committee (ESC) composed of representatives from the appropriate federal government departments and offices.  For the United States, this includes representatives from the Departments of State, Homeland Security, Justice, Transportation, Agriculture, Commerce, Interior, Defense, and the Office of the United State Trade Representative, and for Mexico includes representatives from the Secretariats of Foreign Relations, Interior, Finance and Public Credit, Economy, Public Security, Communications and Transportation, Agriculture, and the Office of the Attorney General of the Republic.  Each Participant should integrate its own section of the ESC section into the relevant interagency processes to achieve better bilateral coordination.

It is expected that the inaugural meeting of the ESC, to be convened no later than August 19, 2010, will develop a mutually accepted action plan to realize the goals of this Declaration and identify working groups, drawing, wheere appropriate, upon existing bilateral, border-related groups, to implement the action plan.


This Declaration represents an understanding between the Participants and does not constitute a legally binding agreement.  The Participants understand that activities in support of the goals mentioned in this Declaration are to be carried out in accordance with the laws and regulations of the Participants’ countries, and applicable international agreements to which the Participants’ countries are parties.  The Participants are expected to bear their own costs in engaging in any such activities.  All such activities are subject to the availability of funds and human resources. 


Statement on President Calderon's Visit to the White House Today

I released the following statement today:  

“On display today was a US-Mexican relationship perhaps deeper and stronger than any point in the history of our two countries.  The tireless efforts of the current administration and the Mexican government has created an atmosphere of mutual trust and understanding essential for the success of each nation in the 21st century.  This new sense of trust and true partnership will pay great dividends for the people of both countries for decades into the future.

At NDN/NPI we are particularly pleased to see that President Obama has continued to show support for Congressional action on immigration reform and is carefully reviewing the legality of SB1070. It is also heartening to see President Calderon weighing in respectfully but forcefully against SB1070.

We congratulate both President Obama and President Calderon for their success in ushering in a new and better day in this historic and vital relationship."

David Sanger Offers A Sobering Analysis Of The President's Budget

From tomorrow's New York Times:

In a federal budget filled with mind-boggling statistics, two numbers stand out as particularly stunning, for the way they may change American politics and American power.

The first is the projected deficit in the coming year, nearly 11 percent of the country’s entire economic output. That is not unprecedented: During the Civil War, World War I and World War II, the United States ran soaring deficits, but usually with the expectation that they would come back down once peace was restored and war spending abated.

But the second number, buried deeper in the budget’s projections, is the one that really commands attention: By President Obama’s own optimistic projections, American deficits will not return to what are widely considered sustainable levels over the next 10 years. In fact, in 2019 and 2020 — years after Mr. Obama has left the political scene, even if he serves two terms — they start rising again sharply, to more than 5 percent of gross domestic product. His budget draws a picture of a nation that like many American homeowners simply cannot get above water.

For Mr. Obama and his successors, the effect of those projections is clear: Unless miraculous growth, or miraculous political compromises, creates some unforeseen change over the next decade, there is virtually no room for new domestic initiatives for Mr. Obama or his successors. Beyond that lies the possibility that the United States could begin to suffer the same disease that has afflicted Japan over the past decade. As debt grew more rapidly than income, that country’s influence around the world eroded.

Or, as Mr. Obama’s chief economic adviser, Lawrence H. Summers, used to ask before he entered government a year ago, “How long can the world’s biggest borrower remain the world’s biggest power?”

The Chinese leadership, which is lending much of the money to finance the American government’s spending, and which asked pointed questions about Mr. Obama’s budget when members visited Washington last summer, say it thinks the long-term answer to Mr. Summers’s question is self-evident. The Europeans will also tell you that this is a big worry about the next decade.

Mr. Obama himself hinted at his own concern when he announced in early December that he planned to send 30,000 American troops to Afghanistan, but insisted that the United States could not afford to stay for long.

“Our prosperity provides a foundation for our power,” he told cadets at West Point. “It pays for our military. It underwrites our diplomacy. It taps the potential of our people, and allows investment in new industry.”

And then he explained why even a “war of necessity,” as he called Afghanistan last summer, could not last for long.

“That’s why our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open-ended,” he said then, “because the nation that I’m most interested in building is our own.”

Mr. Obama’s budget deserves credit for its candor. It does not sugarcoat, at least excessively, the potential magnitude of the problem. President George W. Bush kept claiming, until near the end of his presidency, that he would leave office with a balanced budget. He never got close; in fact, the deficits soared in his last years.

Mr. Obama has published the 10-year numbers in part, it seems, to make the point that the political gridlock of the past few years, in which most Republicans refuse to talk about tax increases and Democrats refuse to talk about cutting entitlement programs, is unsustainable. His prescription is that the problem has to be made worse, with intense deficit spending to lower the unemployment rate, before the deficits can come down.

Mr. Summers, in an interview on Monday afternoon, said, “The budget recognizes the imperatives of job creation and growth in the short run, and takes significant measures to increase confidence in the medium term.”

Secretary Clinton's Internet Freedom Speech

If there is any organizing principle or central theme to my 20 years in political life, it has been promotion of the idea that the technology and media revolution taking place across the world today had the potential to dramatically improve the human condition, perhaps on a scale never seen in human history. 

Today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a speech about Internet Freedom that will be written about and discussed for years to come, and may be the most important speech I have ever personally witnessed.   I strongly encourage you to watch it and read the text which is available here. I won't try to dumb down the speech to a short post, for it needs to be read in its entirety.  It was a big speech, inspirational, smart, on target, and more than anything else began to reconnect the 21st century American center-left to the successful liberal internationalism of President Franklin Roosevelt and its mid-20th century past (If you'd like to read the original text of the Four Freedom Speech by FDR visit here). 

For those who follow NDN you will see many of the themes and ideas we've promoted in recent years in the vision and words of the speech.  Through our friends at State, and through the constant advocacy of these themes, I have no doubt that our work here helped inspire and inform the argument she made this morning.  And for that I thank all of the NDNers, here in the office, and throughout our national network who played a small role in this big speech today. 

For more on our work in this area please review this comprehensive aggregation put together by Sam Dupont earlier this week; review Sam's excellent writeup of the initial work of the transformative 21st Century Statecraft Initiative; enjoy this recent post on FDR's Four Freedoms: read this front-page Huffington Post essay I wrote in the spring, Obama: No Realist He; and check out a 2007 call from me and Alec Ross to make the promotion of internet freedom a central tenet of American foreign policy.  

I have known Secretary Clinton well for 18 years.  We first met when I was the Communications Director of the 1992 Clinton New Hampshire primary effort.  I have never been more proud of her than I am right now for delivering a courageous, vital and necessary speech updating America's foreign policy for a new and very promising century.

Crafting An American Response to the Rise of the Rest

Salon Magazine asked me and a few others to offer their thoughts on the first year of the Obama Presidency.  My short essay is below.  A version of the essay can be found on the Salon site here. 

Crafting an American Response to the Rise of the Rest

The first year of the Obama Administration was largely reactive to an agenda left by the previous Administration.   The new President and his team have spent their time cleaning up the extraordinary messes left for them – financial crisis, the Great Recession, Guantanamo, exploding deficits, Iraq, deteriorating Afghanistan and Pakistan – and attempting to tackle problems left unaddressed for far too long – climate change and energy policy, health care reform and immigration reform.  

In that regard the agenda of President Obama’s first year was determined to a great degree by the Bush Administration’s strategic reaction to a global political and economic environment which no longer exists.  While President Obama cannot escape the governing inheritance left to him, he can do more to discard the outdated vision and rhetorical framework which came along with it, and begin to offer a much more compelling, modern and Obama-driven take on the challenges ahead and how we must meet them. 

At the core of this 2nd generation Obama narrative must be a strategic response to the most significant transformation taking place in the world today, what Fareed Zakaria has called the “rise of the rest.”  The twenty years of American-led economic liberalization and globalization which followed the collapse of communism has brought – with extraordinary rapidity - dozens of countries and billions of people into the modern economy.  Their growing geopolitical and economic might is creating a radically different global environment than America faced in the 20th century, and arguably even 5-10 years ago when the Bush Administration made the strategic choices Obama is wrestling with today.  

The true scope of this transformation is only really becoming apparent now, and it leaves our new President with the historic opportunity, and tremendous responsibility, to craft a comprehensive strategic response to this global “new politics” of the 21st century.  It will also allow him to extricate himself from the anachronistic rhetorical framework suited for another day and another President. 

This new strategy might have three main elements:

Challenge America To Raise Its Game
– The global economy of the 21st century will be much more competitive for our companies, workers and capital than the century just past.  In the decade since China entered the WTO, for example, median income in the US has actually declined, an unprecedented event we believe is directly tied to more virulent global competition characteristic of this new age.  If America is to have rising standard of livings in the face of what will be extraordinary competition coming from China, India, Brazil, Mexico and many other countries, we will have to raise our game, try harder, invest smarter, accelerate innovation, lessen our exposure to foreign energy sources, over time bring our government's spending and income more in line, modernize our health care system, continuously upgrade our skills and radically improve our public schools.   This agenda is not about enabling the “recovery" of an economic age which will never return, but about building a 21st century American economy and workforce that can successfully compete in a much more competitive world.   

Reimagine the Architecture of Global Governance – The rising powers and their people will want – and deserve – a seat at the global rulemaking table.   We’ve seen the early stages of this new era with the recent discussions about updating the IMF, the swapping of the G20 for the G8 and the assertiveness of India, China and other nations at the recent Copenhagen conference.   The day in which the “Western powers” can call the global shots has come to an end, new arrangements will have to made, and a new and different role for America will have to be crafted.   Existing foreign commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq, and our global counter-terrorism efforts, will need to be explained in this new geopolitical context. 

But at the same time America will have to become a much more spirited advocate for ensuring that this new global political table is one where the traditional American formula of free markets, political liberty, democracy and the rule of law is not watered down or worse replaced by a much less liberal global formula.  At this time when so many people across the world are working to improve their own societies is the most important time for America to recommit itself to the values which have done so much to improve the human condition in recent decades. 

Modernize Government So It Can Do More With Less
– With a huge percentage of the federal workforce hitting retirement age soon, it is an opportune time to start thinking creatively about we can reinvent America’s government for the digital age.  Can we replace large bureaucracies with more entrepreneurial, problem-solving oriented, leaner work forces using the extraordinarily powerful set of new digital tools available to them to deliver better outcomes for less money?  Getting more for less will not only help deal with the growing federal debt, but also help free money up to make the investments needed for America to build a 21st century economy. 

By reorienting his government around meeting the challenge of the rise of the rest and a much more competitive age, President Obama can extricate himself from a faded strategic orientation of a bygone era; give the nation a powerful national mission to rally around in the years ahead; and help ensure continued American prosperity and pre-eminence in a vastly changed world outside our shores.

Update: See this related essay about the role of the ever tougher struggle of every day people in recent American elections, The Great Volatility in the American Electorate Today.

Looking A LIttle Deeper at the Obama Approval Rating

I've grown to really like the Daily Kos number cruncher Steve Singiser's analysis of polling trends in American politics.  Today he takes an indepth look at the first Kos track of 2010, and it is very much worth reviewing. 

The numbers though that still stick out the most for me involve the Obama approval rating.   In this track Obama is at 56% nationally.  By region he is at 86% approval in the Northeast, 61% in the West and Midwest, and incredibly, 27% in the South

While the geeks who follow these trends have been writing about the errant South a great deal over the last few months, the gap between the President's popularity in the South and everywhere else simply has to be one of the biggest political stories of this cycle that has not yet become widely understood, explained or adequately factored into the never ending punditry of our day. 

I will have some thoughts on these remarkable numbers next week.  In the meantime always open to hear yours.

Obama's Statement on the Secruity Reviews

There was so much in this text I fould interesting I've decided to include the whole thing:

Good afternoon, everybody.  I just concluded a meeting with members of my national security team, including those from our intelligence, homeland security and law enforcement agencies involved in the security reviews that I ordered after the failed attack on Christmas Day.

I called these leaders to the White House because we face a challenge of the utmost urgency.  As we saw on Christmas, al Qaeda and its extremist allies will stop at nothing in their efforts to kill Americans.  And we are determined not only to thwart those plans, but to disrupt, dismantle and defeat their networks once and for all. 

Indeed, over the past year, we've taken the fight to al Qaeda and its allies wherever they plot and train, be it in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in Yemen and Somalia, or in other countries around the world.

Here at home, our intelligence, homeland security and law enforcement agencies have worked together with considerable success:  gathering intelligence, stitching it together, and making arrests -- from Denver to Texas, from Illinois to New York -- disrupting plots and saving American lives.  And these successes have not come without a price, as we saw last week in the loss of our courageous CIA officers in Afghanistan.

But when a suspected terrorist is able to board a plane with explosives on Christmas Day the system has failed in a potentially disastrous way.  And it's my responsibility to find out why, and to correct that failure so that we can prevent such attacks in the future.

And that's why, shortly after the attempted bombing over Detroit, I ordered two reviews.  I directed Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to review aviation screening, technology and procedures.  She briefed me on her initial findings today, and I'm pleased that this review is drawing on the best science and technology, including the expertise of Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and his department.

I also directed my counterterrorism and homeland security advisor John Brennan to lead a thorough review into our terrorist watch-listing system so we can fix what went wrong.  As we discussed today, this ongoing review continues to reveal more about the human and systemic failures that almost cost nearly 300 lives.  We will make a summary of this preliminary report public within the next few days, but let me share some of what we know so far.

As I described over the weekend, elements of our intelligence community knew that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had traveled to Yemen and joined up with extremists there.  It now turns out that our intelligence community knew of other red flags -- that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula sought to strike not only American targets in Yemen, but the United States itself.  And we had information that this group was working with an individual who was known -- who we now know was in fact the individual involved in the Christmas attack.

The bottom line is this:  The U.S. government had sufficient information to have uncovered this plot and potentially disrupt the Christmas Day attack.  But our intelligence community failed to connect those dots, which would have placed the suspect on the "no fly" list.

In other words, this was not a failure to collect intelligence; it was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had.  The information was there.  Agencies and analysts who needed it had access to it.  And our professionals were trained to look for it and to bring it all together. 

Now, I will accept that intelligence, by its nature, is imperfect, but it is increasingly clear that intelligence was not fully analyzed or fully leveraged.  That's not acceptable, and I will not tolerate it.  Time and again, we've learned that quickly piecing together information and taking swift action is critical to staying one step ahead of a nimble adversary.

So we have to do better -- and we will do better.  And we have to do it quickly.  American lives are on the line.  So I made it clear today to my team:  I want our initial reviews completed this week.  I want specific recommendations for corrective actions to fix what went wrong.  I want those reforms implemented immediately, so that this doesn't happen again and so we can prevent future attacks.  And I know that every member of my team that I met with today understands the urgency of getting this right.  And I appreciate that each of them took responsibility for the shortfalls within their own agencies.

Immediately after the attack, I ordered concrete steps to protect the American people:  new screening and security for all flights, domestic and international; more explosive detection teams at airports; more air marshals on flights; and deepening cooperation with international partners.

In recent days, we've taken additional steps to improve security.  Counterterrorism officials have reviewed and updated our terrorist watch list system, including adding more individuals to the "no fly" list.  And while our review has found that our watch-listing system is not broken, the failure to add Abdulmutallab to the "no fly" list shows that this system needs to be strengthened.  

The State Department is now requiring embassies and consulates to include current visa information in their warning on individuals with terrorist or suspected terrorist connections.  As of yesterday, the Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, is requiring enhanced screening for passengers flying into the United States from, or flying through, nations on our list of state sponsors of terrorism, or other countries of interest.  And in the days ahead, I will announce further steps to disrupt attacks, including better integration of information and enhanced passenger screening for air travel.

Finally, some have suggested that the events on Christmas Day should cause us to revisit the decision to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.  So let me be clear.  It was always our intent to transfer detainees to other countries only under conditions that provide assurances that our security is being protected. 

With respect to Yemen in particular, there's an ongoing security situation which we have been confronting for some time, along with our Yemeni partner.  Given the unsettled situation, I've spoken to the Attorney General and we've agreed that we will not be transferring additional detainees back to Yemen at this time.

But make no mistake:  We will close Guantanamo prison, which has damaged our national security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for al Qaeda.  In fact, that was an explicit rationale for the formation of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.  And, as I've always said, we will do so -- we will close the prison in a manner that keeps the American people safe and secure. 

Our reviews -- and the steps that we've taken and will continue to take -- go to the heart of the kind of intelligence and homeland security we need in the 21st century.  Just as al Qaeda and its allies are constantly evolving and adapting their efforts to strike us, we have to constantly adapt and evolve to defeat them, because as we saw on Christmas, the margin for error is slim and the consequences of failure can be catastrophic.

As these violent extremists pursue new havens, we intend to target al Qaeda wherever they take root, forging new partnerships to deny them sanctuary, as we are doing currently with the government in Yemen.  As our adversaries seek new recruits, we'll constantly review and rapidly update our intelligence and our institutions.  As they refine our tactics, we'll enhance our defenses, including smarter screening and security at airports, and investing in the technologies that might have detected the kind of explosives used on Christmas.

In short, we need our intelligence, homeland security and law enforcement systems -- and the people in them -- to be accountable and to work as intended:  collecting, sharing, integrating, analyzing, and acting on intelligence as quickly and effectively as possible to save innocent lives -- not just most of the time, but all the time.  That's what the American people deserve.  As President, that's exactly what I will demand. 

Thank you very much.

Thinking About Avatar This Morning

Like many Americans this past week I went to see Avatar last night with my dad and my two sons.  The buzz on the web about Avatar has been intense, and much more favorable than what the critics have mustered up so far.  Count me in as one of those who thought it was something more than a traditional film, so full of imagination and visual power that it was different in kind than most films today.  It was, perhaps, a portent of what is to come, as advances in animation and 3D - and the ability for visionaries like Cameron - to imagine what to do with these extraordinary new tools available to them today.  

But what is sitting with me this morning is its message.  At its core is a very direct anti-Americanism, or least an anti-corporatist/militarist America, and in that sense it feels very much like a film originally conceived and reactive to the global image of America during the Bush era.  

Without giving away too much for now, I kept thinking that in many ways this film was really designed for a global and not just an American audience.  At its core it is an attempt by a harmonious people to repel the advance of what can best be characterized as American imperialism.  This sentiment is sure to strike a chord with a great many people in the developing world today, and speaks to something that I have been concerned about for some time - that for many in the world today the US has become the latest manifestation of West's imperial/colonial tradition, a tradition which frankly did a great deal of damage to many societies and cultures across the world. 

For American audiences this idea of America as an imperial power rather than as history's most powerful  inspirational liberator will create a narrative dissonance, a non-comforting message during this holiday season.  In our historical narrative and understanding of ourselves, America was born through the overthrowing of an arrogant, greedy colonial power, and has remained - WWII, Cold War - in our minds liberty's greatest global champion.  There really isn't a narrative available in the US today that positions us as imperialists/oppressors, which is why this film will be so jarring for some, and why I think its ultimate audience is global, not here in the US. 

That for many the experience of Western imperialism/colonialism has been so culturally devastating, and there is a great worry and fear rampant in the world today that America rather than a brake on that global tradition has become its latest champion is a global dynamic that I think many American elites are simply unprepared for today.  I have felt it in my travels these last few years.   There is a restlessness out there as societies across the world mature, modernize, and their people become more educated, affluent and information rich.  There is a growing desire for self-determination alive in the world today by the world's rising powers and people, a sense that as they master the first stages of modernization they want to manage the next stages with less intervention  - cultural, economic, political - by the West.  Fareed Zakaria has described this dynamic as the "rise of the rest," which for us here at NDN is seen as a new stage in the recent extraordinary wave of globalization which has spread across the world these last 20 years.  

We are in so many ways entering a new stage in the geo-politics of the globe, something that I still think we are simply not talking enough about here in the US. For many I know there was a naïve sense that with Bush gone the global American image and cultural power would be in "recovery," returning to where it was before the misguided and damaging years of Bush.  But as the current Administration is discovering, the global Pax Americana which kept the world peaceful and prosperous needs to be seen now as a relic of 20th century global politics, and not something that is going to convey to this new century.  New global arrangements, with America in the lead but playing a different role, will need to be fashioned.

So while I am not agreeing with the characterization of the US in Avatar, it cannot be dismissed as the rantings of a Hollywood liberal.   Cameron is tapping into something deep and powerful flowing through the world's rising people today, and in that sense this great movie really be even greater than the historically significant special effects so many have focused on so far. 

Go see it.  It is an incredible film, one of the best I've ever seen.  And feel free to share your thoughts about it here.

Update: In a very short period of time Avatar has broken $1b in receipts, with only a third of that coming from the US.  It has become a truly global media event, quickly.

Update Mon Jan 4 - Gideon Rachman pens this interesting column in the FT, "America is Losing the Free World," which explores some of the same themes.

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