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Foreign-policy enters the ad wars: The top 7 campaign spots this month

Foreign policy assumed a more prominent role in the election in September, fueled by the emphasis on national security at the Democratic convention, the attacks on U.S. missions in Egypt and Libya, and the tensions between Israel and the United States over Iran’s nuclear program. And the campaigns and their support groups have taken notice, ...

Let Freedom Ring/YouTube
Let Freedom Ring/YouTube

Foreign policy assumed a more prominent role in the election in September, fueled by the emphasis on national security at the Democratic convention, the attacks on U.S. missions in Egypt and Libya, and the tensions between Israel and the United States over Iran’s nuclear program. And the campaigns and their support groups have taken notice, injecting international affairs — or, more accurately, a selective and often misleading reading of international affairs — into the political ads now blanketing America’s airwaves.

In early September, for example, the Koch brothers-supported Americans for Prosperity released an ad starring a Canadian woman named Shona Holmes, who told the story of how she’d sought treatment for a life-threatening brain condition in the United States to avoid long waits under Canada’s government-run health care system. The message: Oust Obama and repeal health-care reform so that the United States doesn’t become Canada. Holmes even held a press conference in Charlotte during the Democratic convention.

CBS criticized the ad when it was released, noting that the "U.S. law is insurance-based and runs through the private market, while Canada’s is a public system largely run and administered by the government." Bloomberg, meanwhile, pointed out that back in 2009, when Holmes appeared in another Americans for Prosperity ad campaign, a Canadian neurosurgeon had accused Holmes of exaggerating the gravity of her condition (back in Canada, Holmes confronted death threats and a Facebook campaign to deport her).

When the Democrats caused an uproar at the convention by not affirming Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in their platform — and then hastily added the language during a messy floor vote — the right-wing Emergency Committee for Israel, which had run ads slamming Obama’s position on Jerusalem before, pounced. The spot below includes footage of the embarrassing vote on the Jerusalem amendment (with the voice votes of delegates who supported the amendment conveniently edited out), before a narrator asks, "Is this still your Democratic Party? Or Obama’s?"

So far, the Romney campaign hasn’t released an ad attacking Obama over the U.S. mission attacks, but it did release a spot shortly after the incidents denouncing the president for failing seven times to stop China’s "cheating" (code for labeling China a currency manipulator) and losing half a million manufacturing jobs — all while China secured a competitive advantage in manufacturing.

PolitiFact pointed out that the United States has actually created half a million manufacturing jobs since 2010, though that hasn’t been enough to replace the decline that occurred during Obama’s first months in office. And it noted that while Obama hasn’t labeled China a currency manipulator, it has filed seven complaints over China’s trade practices with the World Trade Organization. The Washington Post added that the bar graphs the ad uses to illustrate China’s new manufacturing edge are "totally out of proportion."

The Obama campaign quickly responded with an ad accusing Romney of investing in companies that shipped jobs overseas and investing part of his personal fortune in China. "Romney’s never stood up to China," the narrator says. "All he’s done is send them our jobs." PolitiFact confirmed that Romney did have some Chinese investments (indeed, BuzzFeed reported today that Romney’s blind trust sold shares in a Chinese video company in June), but the Washington Post added that "there is no evidence that Romney, through Bain investments in which he had an active role, was responsible for shipping American jobs to China."

This week, the conservative group Let Freedom Ring released an ad criticizing Obama for supporting a bill as a senator to restrict U.S. military aid to countries that use child soldiers, only to waive the restrictions as president. "Why aren’t you standing up for these children?" the narrator asks.

The statistics, quotes, and assertions in the ad generally check out. In October 2010, Obama granted waivers to Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, and Yemen because, as the Christian Science Monitor put it at the time, these countries were considered "key national security interests." Obama took a similar action the following year. 

Let Freedom Ring released another ad this week denouncing Obama for inviting Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood to the White House and sending Cairo $1.5 billion in foreign aid, when the Brotherhood wants to "conquer" Israel, "undermine" the United States, and renew ties with Iran. The ad doesn’t mention the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, but Let Freedom Ring President Colin Hanna made sure the subtext was clear. "After our embassies were stormed, President Obama’s administration offered apologies while the Muslim Brotherhood stood by as we were attacked," he told US News & World Report on Thursday.

The ad is highly misleading. It begins by showing a fiery speaker pledging to establish a capital in Jerusalem at what the narrator describes as a "Muslim Brotherhood rally for their new Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy." But the spot doesn’t mention that the speaker is the Egyptian cleric Safwat Higazi, not Morsy. To support the claim that the new Egyptian leader wants to revive relations with Tehran, the ad cites a Reuters report on an interview with an Iranian news agency that Morsy denies giving. The narrator makes the contentious claim that Iran is "building nuclear weapons" and cites a line from a 1991 memeorandum for the Brotherhood’s North American wing to prove that the group’s "top leaders" are interested in "taking over America." 

Most recently, the group Secure America Now released an ad featuring Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent warnings about the progress Iran has made on its nuclear program and the need for the international community to move beyond diplomacy and sanctions to stop it. "The world needs American strength," the ad declares. "Not apologies."

What the ad fails to mention is that Netanyahu was not involved in making the spot and that the Israeli prime minister has avoided expressing support for either candidate in the U.S. election. On Friday, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Netanyahu had passed along a message to Obama that he is not trying to interfere in the race. That won’t stop groups like Secure America Now from invoking his words to prove their point, of course.

 Twitter: @UriLF

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