Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Natural allies, but not always comfortable ones

The United States and India are, to borrow the phrase of a recent paper by the Center for a New American Security, “natural allies.” The world’s two biggest democracies, with proud traditions of free speech, separation of religion and state, and racial and ethnic diversity, have much in common, and Indians tend to have more favorable views of the United States than most Europeans.

indiaTies had deepened first under President Bill Clinton and then improved significantly under President George W. Bush, but progress seemed to have stalled in the first two years of the Obama administration. So it was heartening for Indiaphiles to see President Barack Obama finally putting some weight behind the relationship on his trip there, with an array of business deals and an endorsement of India’s bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Obama is right in seeing relations between the two countries as one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century, and there will be real power in their alliance where they can find common ground. But the relationship will not always be an easy one. Not only do they see countries like Iran, Myanmar and Pakistan in very different ways, they have often found themselves in opposite corners on trade and climate change. India also has a long tradition of non-interference, a byproduct of its anathema to internationalizing its own conflict in Kashmir. The CNAS paper also noted that in the past year, Indian and U.S. votes matched in the U.N. General Assembly just 30 percent of the time.

Read our coverage of Obama’s trip here.

Here are our top stories from Washington today…

BP, firms did not cut safety over money-panel

The White House oil spill commission has found no evidence to support accusations that the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history happened because BP and its partners cut corners to save money. “To date we have not seen a single instance where a human being made a conscious decision to favor dollars over safety,” the commission’s Chief Counsel said at a meeting exploring the causes of the Gulf of Mexico spill.

For more of this story by Ayesha Rascoe, read here.

For highlights of the commission’s proceedings, click here.

For a factbox on the commission’s preliminary findings, click here.

Obama returns fire after China slams Fed’s move

President Obama defended the Federal Reserve’s policy of printing dollars after China and Russia stepped up criticism ahead of this week’s G20 meeting. The summit has been pitched as a chance for leaders of the countries that account for 85 percent of world output to prevent a currency row escalating into a rush to protectionism. But there is little sign of consensus. “I will say that the Fed’s mandate, my mandate, is to grow our economy. And that’s not just good for the United States, that’s good for the world as a whole,” Obama said during a trip to India.

Washington Extra – Down but not out

How the Democrats could have done with those numbers a week ago, or more precisely how they could have done with three or four months of numbers like that. The U.S. economy created a net 151,000 jobs in October, hiring hitting its fastest pace in six months. It is a sign that the economy is regaining momentum after a desperately sluggish summer, and might have lifted President Barack Obama’s mood a little too as he makes the long trip to India. USA/

They were subjected to some bitter attacks from their opponents, and even had their detractors within their two parties. Both suffered cruel defeats this week, but if you thought you had seen the back of Nancy Pelosi and Christine O’Donnell, think again. The Republican from Delaware, who ended her remarkably upbeat concession speech with an invocation to have a “party”, has already announced she is pursuing a book deal and will still be fighting against the Democrats. Shades of Sarah Palin perhaps.

Pelosi, meanwhile, says she now wants her old job back, that of House Minority leader. Defeated or not, who would bet against her?

Washington Extra – Dinner party ideas

ron_paulCongress might not get much done in the next two years, but boring it won’t be. Certainly not with Ron Paul as likely head of the monetary policy (aka Fed oversight) subcommittee in the House.

Today, Paul the elder told Reuters correspondent Andy Sullivan that he was looking forward to his new “very, very important” role. The Fed, he said, was ”way too independent” and “totally out of control.” Quantitative easing – the Fed’s controversial program to purchase government securities – is not just lousy economics and lousy monetary policy, he said, it is “central economic planning at its worst.” More here.

Expect more fireworks from other conservative Republicans in the coming Congress, people who believe the Fed is enabling excessive government borrowing through its purchases of government debt, that it is printing money to finance the deficit. Then there is Darrell Issa, likely head of the oversight committee, with the subpoena power to be at least as much of a thorn in Ben Bernanke’s side than either of the Paul clan. It will be interesting to see if any of them can get under the skin of the normally unflappable Fed chairman.

Washington Extra – Chastened, humbled… and shellacked

It was a subdued and chastened president who took the podium for his post-election news conference today. His tone flat, his eyes often downcast, his smile largely absent, Obama admitted the election results were “humbling.” At first, he tried to pin the blame on the tepid economic recovery, but as the questions ground on, he took more and more responsibility for the defeat on himself. For setting a bad tone with business, for not making enough progress on the economy, for failing to change the way Washington works.

Yet there was no contrition about the policies he pursued.  Perhaps this was not the right venue for that, perhaps history will prove him right, but one had the feeling the president believed just as firmly as ever in the policies he had so painstakingly worked out in his long Oval Office deliberations. The Democrats who lost on Tuesday, he said, had already contacted him to say they had no regrets, because they felt “we were doing the right thing.”

OBAMA/Finally, Obama paused for reflection when Reuters correspondent Matt Spetalnick asked how he responded to the charge he was “out of touch” with voters’ economic pain, if he was now going to change his leadership style. His answer seemed to give a window into the human side of a president often described as aloof.

Washington Extra – Time for a change, Take two

For the second time in two years, the American people have delivered a message of change, a message that they think Washington is broken. In 2008, Barack Obama took that message into the White House but has, at least according to these polls, failed to deliver change that most Americans readily believe in.

Now, the conservative Tea Party movement is riding what Kentucky’s new Senator-elect Rand Paul called a “tidal wave” right into the halls of power to “get our government back.”

USA-ELECTIONS/The change the Tea Party is proposing is, of course, very different from the agenda that Obama pursued. The question is whether the new kids on the block will be any more successful in handling the power they have now been granted.

Washington Extra – Midterm, one-term?

As we approach half-time in his presidency, just over half of Americans believe Barack Obama will not win re-election in 2012. Our final Reuters/Ipsos poll showed just one-third of those surveyed still thought President Obama would win a second term. An amazing transformation in the national mood in less than two years since the inauguration.

BRITAIN ECLIPSEA 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll found 39 percent of those surveyed believe Obama should be a one-term president, compared to 26 percent who wanted a second term and 33 percent who were unsure.

But as that oracle of election wisdom (my barber) observed to me today, for all the polls Obama’s chances in 2012 may come down to just one number. The jobless rate. Anything over 8 percent in 2012, and it will be a huge uphill battle for the president, Curtis predicted. Six percent and he stands a chance. Wise words indeed.

Washington Extra – T minus 4

There’s something about the number four.

It’s FOUR days to the midterm elections which still leaves plenty of room for last-minute commotion.

For example, in the Florida (yes, Florida) three-way Senate race, former President Bill Clinton ended up having to issue this statement today: “I didn’t ask Kendrick to leave the race, nor did Kendrick say that he would.”

BASEBALL/Comedian Jon Stewart caps off his weeklong visit to Washington, which included the interview with President Barack Obama on “The Daily Show,” with his Rally4Sanity (there’s that FOUR) on Saturday.

Washington Extra – The relative merits of Obama, Stewart, Palin and baseball

jonIt is unclear to me if appearing on “The Daily Show” will have done much for President Barack Obama’s ratings. But it doesn’t seem to have helped Jon Stewart’s much. Nielsen data just in shows last night’s episode attracted 2.8 million viewers (minus TiVo data), compared to the show’s average of roughly 3.6 million an episode. Not sure if it says much about the president, except that people probably watch the Daily Show for Jon Stewart, not for his guests. Or maybe they were just watching the World Series.

That said, I suspect Sarah Palin would draw higher ratings if she ever graced Stewart’s studio. Instead, the former vice presidential candidate will be on air on Entertainment Tonight this evening. Asked bluntly if she planned to run for president, Palin said she would take a look at the lay of the land, to see if there was anyone else with the “common sense, conservative, pro-Constitution passion” she believes in.

If so, they would get her wholehearted support. If not: “if there’s nobody else to do it, then of course I would believe that we should do this.” As our blogger Toby Zakaria observed, it may come down to a definition of “nobody”, because there is of course likely to be a healthy Republican field, many of whom may indeed share that passion.

Washington Extra – Analyze This

A confusing labyrinth. That is how the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) described the American development effort in Afghanistan, in a damning report on how $17.7 billion in aid and reconstruction money was doled out to 7,000 contractors between 2007 and 2009 with little or no coordination.kabul

With all the criticism that surrounds the Afghan government and the tactics employed by the U.S. military, the major shortcomings in the West’s development effort in Afghanistan sometimes seem to get too little attention. The U.S. Special Representative to the region Richard Holbrooke once said he had “never seen anything remotely resembling the mess” he inherited in terms of the development effort, while former Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani once described the aid effort to me as “dysfunctional and lacking accountability.” It is a view shared by many experts, who see it as a major reason why the West has failed to win more Afghan hearts and minds, and why things are now not going as well as President Barack Obama would have hoped.

Incredibly, SIGAR had tried to analyze contracting in Afghanistan for the years 2002-7, but found much of the data the government agencies had compiled prior to 2007 was “too poor to be analyzed.”

Washington Extra – The octopus is dead, long live the opinion pollster

We start this afternoon with the sad news of the demise of Paul, the psychic octopus who captivated the world this summer with his uncanny ability to predict the results of Germany’s World Cup soccer matches.

Fear not, though. There are other ways to divine the future, and especially the results of next week’s midterm elections.

GERMANY/But first of all Washington Extra would like to categorically deny that Paul, just before taking his last gulp of water, predicted that Republicans would win control of the House and Democrats would cling onto power in the Senate. It’s just not true. And if he did, he was only reading our poll data.