The List

The Horror, The Horror... and the Pity

How the international media is covering the Tea Party.

Thanks to outsized personalities like Sarah Palin and Christine O'Donnell -- as well as recent controversies over immigration and Islam -- this year's midterm elections have attracted more international attention than usual. But as this survey of the foreign press shows, each country seems to have its own unique take on America's anti-incumbent movement.


Narrative: The Tea Party is an Islam-bashing political front

Coverage: While the Tea Party may have begun primarily as an economic movement opposed to the expanded role of the federal government in the U.S. economy, in the Pakistani media it is often described a synonymous with the anti-Islam backlash surrounding the "Ground Zero mosque" and proposed Quran-burning in Florida.

Pakistan's Dawn newspaper has described American Muslims as "living on the edge" ever since the Tea Party and other "right wing zealots" ganged up on the proposed Cordoba Center in lower Manhattan, releasing "venomous discourse" into the national conversation. The rhetoric targeted at American Muslims has been called a "reminder of the treatment meted out to other scapegoats in American history."

In Dawn's telling, the Tea Party has risen in tandem with the "Ground-Zero-inspired Muslim baiting frenzy" and is driven largely by the "bigoted rabble-rouser" Glenn Beck who attacks President Barack Obama as a "closet Muslim." According to Dawn, the same "predatory instinct" that led Americans to enslave Africans and wipe out Native Americans is "gathering mass, once again," this time with Muslims as the primary target.


Narrative: The Tea Party is about fear of American decline

Coverage: In a broad survey article on the history and national reach of the Tea Party movement, Der Spiegel's Marc Hujer and Thomas Schulz argue that, "For the first time since the global economic crisis more than 80 years ago, questions are being raised about America's success model, the principle that this country without a welfare state has always been more successful than Europe."

They take particular note of Beck's warnings against European-style socialism and allusions to Hitler and Stalin, making the case that the Tea Party is a movement of "blue-collar workers with posters of pin-up girls in their lockers." They are reacting, the article argues, against what they perceive to be a shift toward a European social model in which they would lose their privileged position.

According to the authors, "Beck gives a voice to... a rage directed against the architects of the new America."

Writing shortly after the passage of healthcare reform, arguably Obama's most impressive domestic acievement, Hujer and Schulz observe that "the more assured of success Obama becomes, the angrier are the protests."


Narrative: The Tea Party will lead to U.S.-China conflict

Coverage: The government controlled China Daily describes the Tea Party as a "polarizing groundswell ... based largely on suspicion of Obama's background, policies and motives." The movement is blamed for the high level of vitriol directed at incumbents in this election cycle.

But beyond the anti-Obama backlash, the newspaper sees the movement as a sign of the "US' inability to find political solutions" to economic problems. China's role as "the major engine of global economic recovery," according to this view, "embarrasses and threatens the US." In response, movements like the Tea Party promote a zero-sum view of the international economy in which only one country can be prosperous. If this worldview is followed to its logical conclusion, war between the two powers over influence or resources may be inevitable.

According to China Daily, "China's greatest danger is that US policymakers face economic and national security crises they cannot solve."


Narrative: The Tea Party is a movement of conspiracy theorists, reactionaries, and anti-elitists

Coverage: In the French media, the Tea Party has become the pinnacle of American stereotypes -- a movement of libertarian, Anglo-Saxon, conspiracy-theory-driven voters who are, more than anything else, angry that the United States is losing its place in the world. "The Tea Party is the party of no," Le Monde wrote in an editorial on Oct. 20. "The Tea Party is also ... a libertarian movement. ... In the Tea Party, they wish to be left alone, to live as before when everything was going well, when America embodied the Anglo-Saxon status quo, when the Taliban were on the CIA payroll, and when neither the Chinese nor al Qaeda opposed the hegemony of Uncle Sam. Those in the Tea Party are typically white, and 'ok' financially and hence in something of a panic ever since the world began to change as the times changed. They don't worry about climate change, because they cannot imagine how mankind could have in its power to mess up what God created." An earlier blog post from Le Monde placed the summer's conservative rallies, including Glenn Beck's Restore Honor gathering in Washington, as "a chance to feed the rumors and conspiracy theories that have shaken the White House through the summer" -- for example, Obama's secret Muslim faith or his supposed lack of U.S. birth certificate.

Where does this movement arise from? The French narrative places the Tea Party firmly in the American tradition of anti-European, anti-welfare rebellion. That long-underlying current has exploded amid a perfect political storm -- the need to bail out banks, reform healthcare, and tackle climate change. "The tradition of anti-elitism is not new in American history," Le Monde writes. But now, "the president himself is seen as elitist in chief."


Narrative: An ultra-radical right-wing movement in the mold of authoritarians of another era

Coverage: When the Argentinian newspaper Clarin dispatched its correspondent to cover Christine O'Donnell's campaign in Delaware, they were clearly flabbergasted by what was taking place in the United States. Their correspondent wrote about hoping to figure out how someone who is "uneducated, unemployed, having a history of tax evasion, who used to practice witchcraft when she was young, who militantly fought masturbation, and who now defends creationism, could unseat the incumbent Republican."

The Spanish are less mystified and more alarmed. "We don't know if we feel more profound horror or more profound pity," El Pais wrote. The author refers to the Tea Party as an extremist movement and notes that O'Donnell (for example) is "proudly extremist." From there, the newspaper warns that "sometimes totalitarianism results from the best intentions and fanaticism grows in the most benign and public settings. The United States is living in one of these moments ... in which its values are in conflict with one another."

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The List

Who Will Stand Between Obama and the World

10 Republicans who are about to become the new foreign-policy power brokers.

Congress may not be in charge of making foreign policy, but it sure can influence its implementation. Since taking office in January 2009, members of Congress -- drawn primarily but not exclusively from the ranks of the GOP -- have slowed the Obama administration's efforts to advance its strategy when dealing with Russia, Syria, Israel, Cuba, and a host of other relationships. And the midterm elections won't be making things any easier for President Barack Obama.

GOP lawmakers stand to play a huge role in the upcoming debates next year over the promised July 2011 drawdown of troops in Afghanistan, whether to maintain or increase U.S. foreign assistance packages, and how strongly to press countries such as Russia and China to implement new sanctions against Iran.

If current polls hold, Republicans will make significant gains in the Senate and likely take the House of Representatives, elevating a set of lawmakers to new heights of power and complicating Obama's efforts to execute his foreign-policy agenda.

"You can imagine an opposition controlled Congress raising a lot of hay. There will be a lot of static, a lot of flame throwing," explained one senior Republican congressional staffer. "You're not going to see the GOP giving the administration the benefit of the doubt."

Here's a list of 10 GOP figures in Congress who will be crucial actors on the foreign-policy stage when the dust settles after the Nov. 2 election.

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1. Eric Cantor

The Virginia lawmaker, currently the House minority whip, could very well become majority leader in a GOP-controlled House of Representatives if current minority leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) is elected speaker of the House. Cantor, who is particularly active on foreign-policy issues involving Iran and Israel, could see his role expand significantly if he is given the power to set the House floor agenda and therefore determine which bills are considered, in what form, and when.

That could spell trouble for the administration's foreign operations budget, which funds the State Department and sets levels for U.S. non-military assistance around the world. Republicans are threatening to withhold aid to countries they see as not being wholly supportive of the United States and Cantor told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the president's proposed budget might have to be rejected outright if Republicans take power -- after separating out U.S. aid for Israel, of course.

2. Jon Kyl

For months, Senator Kyl (R-Ariz.) has been the GOP's de facto leader on a host of foreign-policy issues, not least of which is the ratification of the New START nuclear reductions treaty with Russia. Kyl is withholding his support of New START until he gets a litany of concessions from the White House, and he might not even support the treaty at all. If the GOP makes significant gains in the election, Kyl will have a strengthened argument for pushing the full Senate vote on the treaty to next year: he could very well argue that the incoming GOP senators have a right to vote on the treaty, complicating further the administration's drive to secure the 67 votes needed for ratification.

An increase in the number of Republican senators will also provide Kyl with more leverage to bargain for all sorts of things, such as more money for nuclear modernization, before he releases other members of his caucus to vote in favor of the treaty. Kyl has also been involved in the ongoing GOP effort to hold up the confirmation of several nominees for ambassadorships, such as Robert Ford and Frank Ricciardone. Increased GOP numbers could force the administration to take more seriously Kyl's demands for more access to State Department communications and more explicit statements on the administration's foreign-policy positions if it wants to see these ambassadors confirmed.

3. Jim DeMint

DeMint (R-S.C.) has been carrying the Tea Party banner in the Senate, staking out foreign-policy positions in clear opposition to the administration and often to the right of the GOP leadership -- such as his outright opposition to the new START treaty. He also uses his perch on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to fight vigorously for his pet projects, such as a global U.S. missile defense shield. Most incoming Tea Party candidates don't focus on foreign policy, but many will owe allegiance to DeMint because he has been filling their campaign coffers. They could be inclined to follow suit with his unilateralist, militaristic worldview, which many see as based on his neoconservative ideology rather than a realistic pursuit of U.S. interests in multipolar world order.

DeMint is also very active on Latin America policy, having interjected himself into last year's debate over U.S. policy toward Honduras. He opposed ousted President Manuel Zelaya, and the State Department eventually followed suit. He is also a leading proponent of the Mexico City rule, under which foreign aid could be denied to international organizations that perform or educate women about abortions.

4. John McCain

The Senate Armed Services Committee has always been known as the one committee where Democrats and Republicans play nice together. But as this session of Congress winds down, that comity has all but disappeared. McCain (R-Ariz.), the ranking Republican on the panel, refuses to sign off on next year's defense policy bill due to his objections to repealing the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

But more broadly, he is poised to lead the Republican opposition to Obama's attempts to significantly reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, starting in July 2011. He will be joined in this effort by Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA), who could become the new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. "If McCain or McKeon sniff out that [Afghanistan commander Gen. David Petraeus wants even one more troop, they are going to go ape shit," one GOP Senate aide predicted. McCain's office is also at the forefront of congressional efforts to press China and Russia to get tougher with Iran, to oppose the closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, and to resist using the defense bill for non-defense-related objectives, such as passing immigration reforms, as the Democratic leadership currently envisions. In short, he could close off the Senate Armed Services Committee as a reliable tool through which the White House could execute its foreign-policy aims.

5. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

If Republicans take the House, Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) is poised to take over the House Foreign Affairs Committee and could drastically alter the committee's agenda and priorities. For example, she is likely to scuttle the drive to ease sanctions and travel restrictions on Cuba, which current chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.) supports. Born in Havana, she is an active member of the Cuban-American lobby and even reportedly said once, "I welcome the opportunity of having anyone assassinate Fidel Castro and any leader who is oppressing the people."

Her ascendancy could also spell doom for Berman's bill on foreign-aid reform. She argues often for more vetting of foreign aid in the hope of finding cuts, and she has also introduced legislation to cut U.S. funding for the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority. She is also highly skeptical of the civilian nuclear agreements that the Obama administration is negotiating with Vietnam and Jordan. A vocal critic of what she sees as the Obama team's cool approach to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Ros-Lehtinen could use the committee as a sounding board for those who want changes in the Obama administration's approach to Middle East peace. "She's no Dick Lugar," said one House aide, referring to her temperate Senate counterpart. "She and her staff often go for the jugular. You'll probably see a lot of contentious hearings."

6. Richard Lugar

The ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Lugar (R-Ind.) will see his foreign-policy role increase not because he stands opposed to the Obama administration's policies, but rather because he will be needed to defend them. Lugar, a noted moderate and six-term veteran, stands as the only GOP senator to promise a "yes" vote on New START, and his advocacy will be crucial if the final vote is a close one, as many expect it will be.

Lugar will also be increasingly alone as other GOP Senate moderates, such as Sens. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Bob Bennett (R-Utah), retire. His ability to serve as a bridge between the administration and the increasingly conservative Republican rank-and-file will be crucial as the White House continues to push its foreign-policy agenda next year. Another scarce GOP Senate ally for the administration will be Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) who, like Lugar, supports new START and robust foreign-aid budgets.

7. Kay Granger

Although not certain, it's likely that Granger, a Texas Republican, would take over the chairmanship of the House Appropriations subcommittee for State Department and foreign operations if the GOP wins the House. That would give her a large role in writing significant sections of the State Department's funding bill. Although she supported the bill put forth this year by current chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), she criticized the increases for the foreign-ops budget, saying, "We also face the continued concern in our own country about our economy and the devastating effects of skyrocketing deficits and debt." She's a strong supporter of a balanced budget amendment, which doesn't bode well for foreign-aid funding in this dismal fiscal environment.

Granger also serves on the defense subcommittee, placing her at the intersection of the debate over how to balance the national security budget and shift resources from defense to diplomacy and development. Here she seems to favor the Pentagon, saying in June, "I want to be sure that we aren't increasing foreign aid at the expense of our troops." Her lack of support of international organizations was criticized by the group Citizens for Global Solutions, which gave her an "F" in its 2007 to 2009 rating. Granger is also on board with efforts to eliminate aid to countries that are not performing on internal reform, as she explained when expressing opposition to funding of the Senegalese government through the State Department's Millennium Challenge Corporation. "We can't just give out money and say we will put up with whatever you are doing," she said.

8. Thad Cochran

As the lead Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Cochran (R-Miss.), along with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), will be key in choosing five new members of the State Department and foreign operations subcommittee. That's right, all the Republican members of the subcommittee except for McConnell are leaving the Senate: Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), Bob Bennett (R-Utah), Kit Bond (R-Mo.), Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), and George Voinovich (R-Ohio).

There's no budget resolution for fiscal 2011 and there's no assurance that State and foreign ops funding will be completed during this congressional session, so Cochran and the new subcommittee members he chooses will be in the position to either defend or attack the version of the bill that's already on the table. Senate appropriators often sit on several subcommittees at once, meaning that their allegiance to any one budget is never assured. Moreover, the State and foreign ops budget is not one of the larger pots of money and has no real local constituency, making it harder to defend than others, such as interior, agriculture, or defense funding. New subcommittee members will have less experience with this funding so will be in a less advantageous position to defend it in the near term. And, after February, they will already face the job of vetting the administration's foreign-ops funding request for 2012, which is when big debates over foreign-aid funding, the civilian role in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the role of the U.S. government in international fora will all come to a head.

9. Olympia Snowe

When Bond leaves the Senate for his retirement, he will make vacant the top GOP seat on the Select Committee on Intelligence. Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch is said not to be in line to take the post due to his other committee leadership assignments, leaving Snowe as the prospective GOP leader on the panel. The Republican leadership might not be crazy about placing a moderate like Snowe (R-Maine) in such a key position, but it doesn't want to alienate her either as the margins in the Senate become slimmer. As a rank-and-file committee member, Snowe has pushed for expanded congressional oversight of the intelligence community and has repeatedly called for reforms in intelligence gathering in the wake of high profile failures, such as the misleading intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Snowe is known for generally working well with Democrats, and helped complete the first Intelligence Authorization bill in several years. In the past, she showed her independence by calling for the Bush administration to explain revelations of domestic surveillance activities.

Snowe is being courted heavily by the administration to make the difference on several other issues facing the Senate, including lifting the military's ban on openly gay service members and New START, which she has not yet indicated whether she will support. If Snowe gets the committee chairmanship, she will be one lawmaker that both Democratic and Republican leadership will be eager to woo.

10. Ed Royce

Royce (R-Calif.) is symbolic of Republican House members who are active on foreign policy and could change the tone of the foreign-policy discussion if the GOP takes over the House. He very well could become chairman again of the House Foreign Affairs Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade Subcommittee, where his staff could hold hearings on the Middle East, Africa, the war on terror, Afghanistan, and any other region sensitive to the administration's national security goals.

Other GOP Republicans whose foreign-policy interest could gain steam if the House turns over include Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) on homeland security, Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) on nuclear issues, Mike Pence (R-Ind.) on budget issues, and Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) on intelligence. "You're going to see a lot of hearings," one GOP staffer warned. "Everything the administration will want to do on foreign policy will get harder, and the tone of the discussion on Capitol Hill will pitch up and to the right."

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