State Department international convention guests all support Obama
CHARLOTTE – The State Department sponsored a group of international youth leaders to visit both national conventions this year. Every single one of them interviewed by The Cable prefers President Barack Obama over GOP candidate Mitt Romney. U.S. embassies around the world selected youth leaders for an all-expense paid trip to Florida and Charlotte to ...
CHARLOTTE – The State Department sponsored a group of international youth leaders to visit both national conventions this year. Every single one of them interviewed by The Cable prefers President Barack Obama over GOP candidate Mitt Romney.
U.S. embassies around the world selected youth leaders for an all-expense paid trip to Florida and Charlotte to see the American political process up close. Many of the youth leaders had obvious predispositions towards the Democratic party, while others said they were convinced to be in favor of the Democrats after seeing both conventions and hearing from both teams.
Alex Buliga is a member of the political executive board of the youth organization of Moldova’s Democratic Party. He told The Cable that the Moldovan Democratic Party is similar to the American Democratic Party in many ways.
"We are keeping in close touch with the [American] Democratic Party and our vice president and the chief of foreign affairs of our parliament are here [in Charlotte] and are supporting President Obama," he said. "For the last four years, the relationship between the USA and Moldova is much better in comparison to how they were in the Bush administration. Mitt Romney is a Republican like Bush, so that’s why we support Obama."
The U.S. Embassy in Moldova called him personally and asked him to write an essay to apply for the trip, Buliga said. He said that after his Tampa experience, he can’t trust the Republicans.
"We saw how many lies the Republicans tell. We watch Politifact and we saw how they lie and if you tell lies you don’t deserve to become president," he said, referring to the independent fact-checking website Politifact.com.
Sara Ibrahim is a barrister in London and was invited by the U.S. Embassy there to attend the conventions. As a former liaison between the embassy and the Young Fabians, a group full of what she called "well-known left leaning figures," her political inclinations were not a secret.
"I’m very much supporting President Obama," she said. "I think Obama actually understands the economy. I have been amazed how the Republicans have been saying things which are completely contrary to the economic orthodoxy… In the UK, we’ve got a conservative government and a lot of cuts, and let me say to the American people it’s not very pretty when you’ve got to face austerity."
Amadu Gallow is the founding of a youth advocacy and pro-development group called This Generation in Gambia. Unlike other State Department guests, he was not supporting Obama before the trip, but he is now. Gallow said the Romney team didn’t impress him on foreign policy.
"Before I came here I wasn’t sure, but now I’m with Obama," he said. "I have not heard anything concrete from the Romney team on foreign policy, especially their readiness to give aid to Africa. There was nothing said on Afghanistan. At least a minute of silence should have been given to those people who are fighting and dying out there."
Romney’s singling out of China and Russia as foes also turned him off to the Romney campaign, Gallow said.
The guests’ experiences were colored by the fact that the State Department couldn’t get them actual credentials to enter the arena in Tampa, so they had to watch the convention events on a television and get periodic briefings from GOP officials. They do have credentials here in Charlotte and are looking forward to attending Obama’s speech Thursday.
Gobi Alam from Bangladesh runs an NGO and teaches youth there. He sits on the U.S. ambassador’s youth council and was nominated by the embassy for the Tampa-Charlotte experience. He said he is also supporting Obama, partially because he thought the Republicans didn’t treat him and the rest of the group well in Tampa.
"I think Obama didn’t do great over the last four years but he did enough to secure his place," Alam said. "We tried to reach out to Republican speakers and very few of them responded. But we are here in Charlotte and we have a lot of contacts and we have tickets as well."
Qiu Chen is a journalist from Hong Kong whose magazine pushes for freedom of expression and focuses on youth issues. She was nominated for the trip by the U.S. consulate there. She said the trip has convinced her to support Obama over Romney and most of the other State Department guests feel the same way.
"All my friends in the program like Obama," said Chen.
The Cable asked the State Department contractor in charge of the program, Karen Shatin, what she thought about the fact that all the guests seem to be Obama supporters. She said there were some right-leaning guests who were just not around at the moment. She also said the GOP didn’t give the international guests enough foreign-policy information to go on.
"I think they’ve already heard a lot more about foreign policy here in Charlotte in a few minutes than they heard the whole time in Florida," she said. "The Obama campaign seems to be talking a lot more about foreign policy."
The group is a guest of the International Visitor Leadership Program, which is part of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
"The goal of the program is to expose the group to the U.S. political process. It’s really a person-to-person exchange program, building relationships between the visitors and their U.S. counterparts," Shatlin said.
One of the Republicans who did meet with the group was Grover Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform, and several of the guests said Norquist heavily criticized Romney’s policies.
"It didn’t seem like he was a huge fan of Mitt Romney but he is definitely not a fan of President Obama," said Shatin. "He definitely knows what he stands for, and that’s about all I can say."
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin
More from Foreign Policy
Can Russia Get Used to Being China’s Little Brother?
The power dynamic between Beijing and Moscow has switched dramatically.
Xi and Putin Have the Most Consequential Undeclared Alliance in the World
It’s become more important than Washington’s official alliances today.
It’s a New Great Game. Again.
Across Central Asia, Russia’s brand is tainted by Ukraine, China’s got challenges, and Washington senses another opening.
Iraqi Kurdistan’s House of Cards Is Collapsing
The region once seemed a bright spot in the disorder unleashed by U.S. regime change. Today, things look bleak.