Blog Posts by Olivier Knox

  • Obama campaign recycles Gingrich hits at Romney

    When you hear some Republicans express worry that the party's long primary campaign could hurt Mitt Romney, maybe this is what they have in mind: The Obama re-election machine on Wednesday recycled some of Newt Gingrich's sharpest attacks on the presumptive nominee on the very day that the former speaker planned to end his presidential run.

    The Web video—a golem of modern political campaigns, fashioned from press releases and commercials—shows clips of Gingrich assailing Romney as anti-immigration, charging that his firm Bain Capital "looted" companies and threw employees out of work, mocking his personal finances ("I don't know of any American president who's had a Swiss bank account. I'd be glad for you to explain that sort of thing"), and suggesting that the former Massachusetts governor's campaign "doesn't seem capable of inspiring" voters.

    The harsh final clip shows CBS correspondent Norah O'Donnell asking Gingrich, "Are you calling Mitt Romney a liar?"After a pause, Gingrich replies: "Yes."

    The video plays off one of the former speaker's verbal tics for its closing message: "Newt Gingrich: Frankly, not Mitt Romney's biggest supporter."

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  • Obama says Afghanistan deal is one where ‘war ends and a new chapter begins’

    President Barack Obama, on a surprise nighttime trip to Afghanistan, told war-weary Americans that he would keep his promise to wind down the unpopular conflict by the end of 2014 but also vowed he would not abandon the strife-torn country prematurely.

    In a televised address from an aircraft hangar at Bagram Air Base, Obama said the daring raid that killed Osama bin Laden exactly one year ago meant that the goal of crushing the al-Qaida network was "now within our reach."

    "I recognize that many Americans are tired of war," Obama said. "I will not keep Americans in harm's way a single day longer than is absolutely required for our national security. But we must finish the job we started in Afghanistan and end this war responsibly."

    Obama, speaking at 4 a.m. local time, highlighted a new security agreement both he and Afghan President Hamid Karzai had signed hours earlier to usher in "a future in which the war ends, and a new chapter begins."

    Obama had a message for those, mostly Republicans, who question his timetable for withdrawal and argue that it risks emboldening the Taliban and their al-Qaida and other extremist allies while demoralizing America's Afghan friends.

    "Our goal is to destroy al-Qaida, and we are on a path to do exactly that," he said. "Afghans want to fully assert their sovereignty and build a lasting peace. That requires a clear timeline to wind down the war."

    But he also took aim at those, mostly Democrats but a growing number of conservatives, who no longer see a clear purpose to America's longest war and "will ask why we don't leave immediately."

    "That answer is also clear: we must give Afghanistan the opportunity to stabilize," the president said from behind a podium emblazoned with his official seal, with several armored vehicles parked behind him. "Otherwise, our gains could be lost, and al-Qaida could establish itself once more. And as commander-in-chief, I refuse to let that happen,"

    Obama, already taking fire from the presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, also offered a broader, ringing defense of his overall stewardship of the "war on terrorism" he inherited from George W. Bush.

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  • On bin Laden raid anniversary, Obama makes surprise visit to Afghanistan

    President Barack Obama on Tuesday paid a surprise visit to Afghanistan, slipping into Kabul under a thick veil of secrecy to sign a long-term partnership deal meant to help bring down the curtain on America's longest war.

    Obama, whose trip came one year to the day after elite American troops killed Osama bin laden in neighboring Pakistan, inked the deal in a ceremony with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

    "Neither Americans nor the Afghan people asked for this war, yet for a decade we've stood together," Obama said against the backdrop of marble columns at the stately presidential palace. "Together, we're now committed to replacing war with peace and pursuing a more hopeful future as equal partners."

    Obama warned that "there will be difficult days ahead" as NATO-led troops work to train Afghan forces to combat the Taliban and their al-Qaida and other extremist allies before the alliance forces withdraw at the end of 2014.

    The president planned to make a roughly 10-minute televised address to the nation at 7:30 p.m. from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

    A White House fact sheet on the long-term pact, fruit of nearly two years of talks, emphasized that the United States did not seek permanent military bases in Afghanistan but would operate from Afghan facilities. The agreement also allows for an unspecificed number of US forces to remain past 2014 to train their local counterparts and target al-Qaida "remnants." And it commits Washington to designating Kabul a "Major Non-NATO Ally," a special status that makes it easier to provide military aid.

    Obama's trip came as he and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney waged a pitched political battle over how much credit the president should get for the daring Navy SEAL raid on bin Laden's fortified compound in Abbottabad one year ago.

    The president left Andrews Air Force Base, home to his blue and white liveried Air Force One, at 12:09 a.m. Tuesday morning and landed at Bagram at 10:20 p.m. local time. He then took a helicopter to the presidential palace in Kabul, where he arrived just after 11 p.m. local.

    The unannounced trip recalled President George W. Bush's Thanksgiving 2003 trip to Iraq, a cloak-and-dagger operation that saw him sneak off his Texas ranch, fly to Washington and then on to Baghdad with a small group of aides and "pool" reporters. Obama's visit also comes on the ninth anniversary of Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech about the Iraq war, a cautionary tale for any president tempted to take a "victory lap" in wartime.

    Obama previously visited Afghanistan in March 2010 and December 2010, and traveled to Iraq in April 2009. Bush visited Iraq in November 2003, June 2006, and September 2007, and traveled to Afghanistan in March 2006. In December 2008, Bush visited Iraq and Afghanistan.

    The TOLONews website that specializes in news about Afghanistan reported Tuesday, citing Afghan officials, that Obama had arrived in Kabul to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. That report was widely picked up in world news outlets, but it was immediately denied by the U.S. embassy in the Afghan capital as well as the White House. That fed speculation that the president was on his way to Kabul but not actually on the ground yet.

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  • Romney’s ‘Swiss bank account’ draws fire from Obama

    This time it's personal (again). President Barack Obama's re-election campaign on Tuesday unveiled a new television ad, set to run in the battleground states of Virginia, Ohio and Iowa, accusing Mitt Romney of sending jobs overseas.

    "It's just what you'd expect from a guy who had a Swiss bank account," the narrator says, as the screen flashes a photograph of Romney and the news headline "Romney Failed to Disclose Swiss Bank Account Income."

    The 30-second ad continues an Obama campaign strategy of picking what seem to be personal fights with the former Massachusetts governor.

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  • Bin Laden raid anniversary has not seen ‘excessive celebration,’ Obama says

    President Barack Obama denied charges that he has improperly politicized the first anniversary of the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, declaring Monday, "I hardly think that you've seen any excessive celebration taking place here."

    The Obama campaign has been criticized by Republicans for a campaign ad that implies Mitt Romney would not have ordered the surprise attack on Bin Laden's Abbottabad, Pakistan compound. Senator John McCain called the ad "a cheap political attack."

    "I think that people, the American people, rightly remember what we as a country accomplished in bringing to justice somebody who killed over 3,000 of our citizens," Obama said at a White House press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.

    "And it's a mark of the excellence of our intelligence teams, and our military teams, a political process that worked. And I think for us to use that time for some reflection, to give thanks to those who participated, is entirely appropriate. And that's what's been taking place," Obama said.

    Romney,  looking to play down Obama's decision to green-light the raid, said Monday that "even Jimmy Carter would have given that order." (In fact, Carter gave "that order," sending elite forces on a mission to rescue the American hostages in Iran, with disastrous results that helped cost him reelection.)

    "As far as my personal role and what other folks would do, I'd just recommend that everybody take a look at people's previous statements in terms of whather they thought it was appropriate to go into Pakistan and take out bin Laden," Obama said.

    "I assume that people meant what they said when they said it," he told reporters. "That's been, at least, my practice. I said that I would go after Bin Laden if we had a clear shot at him, and I did. If there are others who have said one thing and now suggest they would do something else, I'd go ahead and let them explain it."

    During the 2008 presidential campaign, Romney criticized Obama for saying he would order American forces to go after Bin Laden, even on Pakistani soil. "I do not concur in the words of Barack  Obama in a plan to enter an ally of ours. … I don't think those kinds of comments help in this effort to draw more friends to our effort," Romney told reporters on the campaign trail. He specified that what he objected to was openly discussing such operations. Romney also said he would not move "heaven and earth" to get bin Laden, then underlined that he meant that the war on terrorism was not about just one man.

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  • Depressed Bin Laden thought about ‘al-Qaida’ name change, White House says

    (AP)Ever wish you could escape your troubles by changing your name and moving away? Well, according to President Barack Obama's top counterterrorism adviser at the White House, Osama bin Laden knew the feeling.

    Hunkered down in his Abbottabad compound, bin Laden anguished as al-Qaida suffered "disaster after disaster," encouraged its operatives to flee to areas "away from aircraft photography and bombardment" and even thought about changing the name of his notorious international terrorist network, John Brennan said in a speech on Monday.

    Brennan, Obama's Assistant for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, told the World Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington that bin Laden's pessimism was on full display in documents seized from his fortified home in the Pakistani garrison city. West Point's Combating Terrorism Center will display the papers this week.

    Bin Laden worried about recruiting terrorist talent as U.S. strikes killed some of his veterans, fretting that "the rise of lower leaders who are not as experienced" would "lead to the repeat of mistakes," said Brennan.

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  • New Obama campaign video unveils ‘Forward’ slogan, mostly ignores Romney

    Against whom is President Barack Obama running in November?

    Mitt Romney has just one brief, silent cameo in the Obama campaign's new seven-minute ad. The presumptive Republican nominee gets about as much screen time as former President George W. Bush and less than tea party demonstrators or top congressional Republican leaders like House Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

    "Instead of working together to lift America up, Republicans were waging a campaign to tear the president down," the narrator intones, as conservative firebrands Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity appear in archival footage. Then comes Romney's big moment: More than three minutes into the video, we finally get a glimpse of a photograph of him standing at what appears to be a Republican presidential debate with Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

    The video, entitled "Forward," hits home the fact that Obama inherited a historic recession—a downturn that former Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan describes in a news clip as a "once-in-a-century type of event." Bush is seen but not heard discussing the collapse, which the ad says resulted in the loss of 4,400,000 jobs by the time Obama took office in January 2009.

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  • McCain slams Obama for using bin Laden in ‘cheap political attack’ on Romney

    Republican Sen. John McCain on Friday blasted President Barack Obama for casting doubt on whether Mitt Romney would have ordered the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, calling it "a cheap political attack." The Obama campaign leveled its attack in a new campaign ad.

    "No one disputes that the president deserves credit for ordering the raid, but to politicize it in this way is the height of hypocrisy," McCain said in a verbal broadside emailed to reporters by the Republican National Committee.

    "This is the same president who said, after bin Laden was dead, that we shouldn't 'spike the ball' after the touchdown. And now Barack Obama is not only trying to score political points by invoking Osama bin Laden, he is doing a shameless end-zone dance to help himself get re-elected," the senator thundered.

    McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, described Obama as a disaster for American national security—notably taking issue with the Democrat's administration for refusing (thus far) to arm Syria's outgunned opposition.

    "He watches passively while the Assad regime in Syria, Iran's closest ally, kills thousands of its own people in an unfair fight, and his response to this mass atrocity is to create an 'Atrocities Prevention Board.'

    "With a record like that on national security, it is no wonder why President Obama is shamelessly turning the one decision he got right into a pathetic political act of self-congratulation."

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  • Secret Service toughens rules of conduct after Colombia prostitution scandal

    (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)The Secret Service, embarrassed by the Colombia prostitution scandal, moved Friday to avoid a possible repeat incident by toughening its "standards of conduct" with new restrictions on drinking alcohol, a ban on "patronizing of nonreputable establishments," and a prohibition on agents bringing foreign citizens back to their hotel rooms.

    Booze is off-limits 10 hours before an agent's shift starts and should be consumed only "in moderate amounts" while off duty. When the official to be protected arrives, the consumption of alcohol is entirely forbidden.

    Here is the list of the new rules, which Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary provided to Yahoo News:

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  • Obama does rare interview in White House Situation Room

    No, not Wolf Blitzer's "Situation Room"—the real one. President Barack Obama, taking an election-year victory lap of sorts one year after the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, did an unprecedented television interview in the White House's strategic nerve center, the Situation Room.

    NBC's sit-down with Obama will air on May 2, one year after Navy SEALs dropped into the al-Qaida chief's compound in the Pakistani garrison city of Abbottabad and killed him. The network said it had also interviewed Obama's top national security and foreign policy aides, including Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, then-Joints Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough and John Brennan, Obama's homeland security and counterterrorism adviser.

    Can't wait to see what the famous "nerve center" of the White House looks like? You're in luck. The White House threw open the Situation Room doors in December 2009 and produced this video. Still not satisfied? President George W. Bush's administration invited reporters to walk through the newly overhauled Situation Room in December 2006. Here is the New York Times piece written at the time.

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