Before Kenya’s vote, read Daniel Branch’s The Fire Next Time

If you missed it, amid all the international media scene setters, and very last minute diplomatic appeals, take 9 minutes for “The Fire Next Time: Why memories of the 2007-08 post election violence remain alive.” from Daniel Branch in The Elephant.

Much wisdom on why Kenya has remained stuck following “the debacle of 2007”.

“Africa is a Command” – Bush to Obama to Trump

By electing President Obama we got through with race and became post-racial.  Now that we have elected Trump we are surely done with “political correctness”, so lets us speak plainly.  What is “Africa” as seen from Washington?
Well, surely Africa is a playground for so many characters, but that is nothing new at all, and we don’t really like to focus on that.  From Trump children big game hunting to politically engaged ministers and ex-diplomats involved in unusual investment schemes, Africa abides.  With election campaigns to run and autocrats to lobby for in Washington.  And missions and aid and economic investment programs continuing apace with varying degrees of pep and power in accordance with the visions and priorities of policy makers.

The thing that is new from U.S. vantage in this century is the overriding common legacy of the Bush and Obama administrations: AFRICOM (recognizing that the new command was primarily planned by the Bush Administration but did not “stand up” until Obama was almost in office).

I never had strong opinions about whether having a separate combatant command for Africa would be better or worse than than the status quo under CENTCOM, et al, that existed in my time working in Kenya and Somaliand in 2007-08.  It has escaped my attention if there are many Americans who see our policies in Africa during the Cold War as a highlight of our better angels, and I think on balance our aspirations for our relations in Africa in this century are higher than back in the past; nonetheless, largely staying out of Africa directly with our own military during the the Cold War and its initial aftermath may have reduced risks that are now potentially at play.

I think it is fair to say that ten years in the December 2006 Ethiopian operation to remove the ICU in Somalia with our support has not over time convinced all skeptics.  In fairness, perhaps, as with the French Revolution, it is still too early to tell.

So did having AFRICOM as a separate combatant command from late 2008 (with a new “whole-of-government” flavor and hardwired entre for USAID and State Department involvement) result in wiser judgment and better execution in terms of US national security and/or related and ancillary command objectives in recent years?

It is hard to judge because it is a big command (aside from the answer being, in substance, classified) but the experience with regard to the Libya intervention in particular is not altogether encouraging.

Would having CENTCOM engaged from Tampa rather than AFRICOM from Stuttgart have made a difference in some way to our consideration of intervention and our planning-perhaps more hard questions initially to Washington from a more “war wary” perspective as opposed to input from an entity with the bureaucratic equivalent of the “new car smell”?  [If inexperience was not a factor, what do we need to change to avoid future repetition if we agree that something went wrong on Libya?]

One way or the other, Trump takes office with AFRICOM at his command, a vast range of relatively small training interactions of a primarily “military diplomatic” nature all over, large exercises and larger programs with many militaries, active limited and largely low profile (from outside) “kinetic” operations  across a wide “arc of instability” and the war in Somalia with a new legal opinion, for what its worth, tying the fight against al Shabaab more explicitly to 9-11 and al Queda.  Along with a real live emergency in South Sudan and several other critical situations from a humanitarian and stability perspective.

I have declined to be persuaded by a dark view of the intentions behind standing up AFRICOM (versus the status  quo ante and any realistic alternatives).  Perhaps this is merely self protective since I am, after all, American, but also worked for much longer in the defense industry than my brief foray in paid assistance work.  But it is my attempt at honest judgment from my own experience.  Regardless, we are where we are, and Donald Trump will be giving the orders at the top to AFRICOM and whatever anyone had in mind, the fact that it is a military command rather than a civilian agency makes a great deal of difference in terms of the latitude that he inherited along with possession of the American White House.

Needless to say I hope it turns out that he has a yuge heart and bigly wisdom however fanciful that hope might look from what he has said and done so far.

As it was in 2007, is it now in 2016? “Too much corruption” in Kenya to risk a change in power at elections?

imageI wrote about my most important conversation from the 2007 campaign in Kenya here in installment 13 of my “War for History” series:

Fresh from my first meeting with the American Ambassador with his enthusiasm for the current political environment and his expressed desire to initiate an IRI observation of the upcoming election to showcase a positive example of African democracy, I commented to the Minister over breakfast in our poshly updated but colonially inflected surroundings on the seeming energy and enthusiasm among younger people in Nairobi for the political process. I suggested that the elections could be an occasion of long-awaited generational change.

He candidly explained that it was not yet the time for such change because “there has been too much corruption.”  The current establishment was too vulnerable from their thievery to risk handing over power.

Unfortunately I was much too new to Kenyan politics to appreciate the gravity and clarity of what I was being told, and it was only after the election, in hindsight, that I realized that this was the most important conversation I would have in Kenya and told me what I really needed to know behind and beyond all the superficialities of popular politics, process, law and diplomacy. Mea culpa.

After we ate, the minister naturally left me with the bill for his breakfast and that of his aide. . .  .

With the latest news of scandal from the Ministry of Health, following the National Youth Service and Devolution Ministry scandals, it would seem that we are on familiar ground. The Minister from my 2007 breakfast remains an interlocutor and leader of the formation of the “Jubilee Party” now as he was of the “Party of National Unity” as Kibaki’s 2007 re-election vehicle.  (Same person who explained later which bills he would use to bribe which voters based on poverty and gender.)

In the 2007 campaign, the local World Bank representative and US Ambassador Ranneberger provided significant public support for the Kibaki Administration on the corruption problem faced by the re-election campaign in the wake of the Anglo Leasing scandal and the revelations by John Githongo and others. See Part Five of my Freedom of Information Act Series.

(I understand that Ranneberger was outspoken against corruption later, after the disaster of the stolen 2007 election and the PEV; also that he was publicly against corruption in the very early part of his tenure in 2006, before the Kibaki re-election geared up and, perhaps coincidentally, before the the Ethiopians entered Somalia to restore the TFG and displace the ICU. I stand by my characterization of his public voice to Kenyans during the campaign.)

My government has been awfully quiet
about the burgeoning scandals in the Uhuruto administration. It’s interesting to remember that then-Senator Obama was noted for his “tough love” and blunt words on corruption during his 2006 visit to Kenya (again in the very early days of Ranneberger’s tenure). Part of this season’s “public diplomacy” has been a “partnership” agreement to fight corruption between the Obama and Kenyatta administrations from the President’s Nairobi visit last year, but we don’t seem to talk about it much publicly in terms of implementation.

It is none of my business who Kenyans vote for next year.  It may be that most Kenyans, like the majority of Americans, are likely to end up voting in ways that are fairly predictable “culturally” for the time being and will filter their perceptions of government performance accordingly.

But it does not have to be the case that my government tacitly enables corruption in Kenya’s government.

I don’t like to pay to replace Kenyan public services in vital areas like health that Kenya’s government could well afford but for greed and corruption. I don’t like to see sophisticated Kenyan elites take Westerners for useful idiots to enrich themselves and their personal networks while stealing from the poor and sick.  And even if we are not willing to seriously undertake the hard and potentially risky challenges to meaningfully and consistently support democratic reforms–because it seems dangerous while Kenya is again a “Front Line State” in a neighborhood where other places where we have looked away from corruption, like South Sudan and DRC, are worse off, or because its a nice place to live and have meetings and do small things to help poor people and animals at (American) taxpayer expense or for whatever reason–I want my government to find and uphold its own democratic integrity to rise above playing footsie with fakers in Kenya.

In the meantime, it has been more than a year now with no documents from my 2015 Freedom of Information Act request about our assistance through USAID for the corrupted IEBC procurement process for the 2013 election, but IFES is soliciting proposals from Kenyans for innovation grants for 2017 under the big new USAID program “KEAP” for 2017.  If we are not transparent, at a minimum, we cannot assist democracy or good governance.

We have all sorts of great, worthwhile assistance programs in Kenya, but in the big picture we work against ourselves and limit meaningful progress by supporting or coddling crooks and their offspring.

image

Stronger together?  Scott Gration, Hillary Clinton and the road ahead

I was reading Ambassador Scott Gration’s autobiography, Flight Path: Son of Africa to Warrior-General, and had his experience in mind in some respects in my last post which went a bit further than I have previously in its breadth of frustration with how American policy gets made from Washington for Kenya.

General Gration’s memoir is worth reading and I’m glad I was able to take time for it while waiting for the election here in the U.S. to be over.

If you have read about Ambassador Gration’s alleged email hygene at the time he was forced aside as U.S. Ambassador to Kenya in the summer of 2012, and have read the news dribbling out over the last 22 months over the Secretary of State’s email hygene and the related practices of her key staff in Washington, it becomes unavoidable to recognize that the purge of the Ambassador didn’t really have to do with the email or personal computer use issue asserted prominently in the publication of the report of Acting Inspector General’s review of the Embassy that was the “public”–meaning talked about anonymously to reporters then released afterwards–reason he was forced out.

It may well be that within the State Department bureacracy that General Gration stepped on toes of people who didn’t even know that the Secretary of State herself was operating from her private family server in Chappaqua, New York instead of the State Department’s U.S. Government system.  

Reading the media from the time, it seems, perhaps, that there was concern that he could be promoted (which could make people who didn’t like his management style unhappy).  Who knows?  And who has time for that sort of office politics speculation?  Regardless, when Secretary Clinton’s Cheryl Mills called Ambassador Gration to tell him it looked like he needed to fall on his sword, she obviously knew all about the private email server–just not that it would end up revealed on the front page of the New York Times two-and-a-half years later.
The bottom line for me is General Gration is an American who had a great career in the military, serving in a number of important foreign affairs related roles, who grew up in Africa, including significant time in Kenya, and is fluent in Swahili and other local languages.  He bonded personally with Senator Obama during their professional interactions, agreed that we needed to do some things differently in our interactions in the world, and did a lot to help President Obama get elected.  As an Obama ex-Republican, and recently retired General,  in a Clinton State Department he may have been a bit of a “fish out of water”, especially in a job that is most frequently a top plum for the career Foreign Service.

Secretary Clinton will be President-elect shortly.  This has been a foregone conclusion for quite a long time as the Republicans essentially defaulted on an election that would have been very winnable by almost any conventionally qualified or even broadly likeable candidate.  Secretary Clinton will come into office facing a range of difficult security and international affairs challenges, but with a lot of accumulated experience.  It seems to me she would be a smart leader not to leave someone like General Gration with a figurative knife sticking out of his back but rather find a way to use his accumulated talents and experience to serve the country.

Reading Graton’s book, I have an appreciation for his perspective, his courage, his work ethic, his faith–even if I have not personally warmed to some of the diplomatic language regarding “partnership” between our government and Kenya’s that he, like other officials, frequently used.  We are at war and have been for a long time, and it is not going as well as we need it to.  We have to find solutions beyond war to bring security for our interests and freedoms for others.  

“Stronger together” is a great slogan against Trump in this campaign, but it also reflects were we need to go as a country after the election to become the kind of global leaders we want to be.  Gration may be the kind of person that could help us avoid mistakes and build relationships (whether he was the best person to run a particular embassy at a particular time).  [I update to correct the Hillary Clinton campaign slogan from “Better Together” to “Stronger Together”]

The fever ailing the American body politic stems in some part from the infection of Kenya “birtherism” from 2008

We have a hegemonic two party political system in the United States.  Neither party attracts the identification of a consistent majority of voters, yet most “independent” voters primarily vote for one party or the other rather than choosing between candidates on a case-by-case basis.  During the period of their hegemony the Republican and Democratic parties have changed their regional, ideological, cultural and racial make-up without losing their shared control of substantially all of government at a federal and state level.

At present, American politics is primarily about culture, which is reflected in what political scientists identify as an ideological separation in which the two parties in Congress no longer substantially overlap, especially due to the defeat of liberal and then moderate Republicans especially in the Northeast and Midwest and the success of “tea party” and other movements and political funding mechanisms that have moved Republican representation well to the right.  At the same time, the Democratic Party has to a lesser but perhaps growing degree moved left and does not seriously try to compete in large swaths of the country that were its traditional strongholds.

The specific policy issue that constitutes a near absolute “litmus test” divide between the parties remains abortion, which is primarily determined in the courts and is little legislated on at the federal level.  While each of the parties has reinforced the rigor of the divide on that issue in recent years they have moved to “sort” across a whole diverse range of issues– most any issue that arises really.

This divide between the parties, culturally derived, then generates reverberation back into the broader culture.  While most Americans don’t care that intensely about politics and politicians as such, we seem to me to be becoming more disputatious about issues that come to the fore in politics and governance, more suspicious of each other, less willing to accord legitimacy to opinions we don’t reflexively agree with, and less inclined to listen and learn in a way that would support mutual persuasion and/or compromise.

Shortly after returning to the United States from Kenya in the summer of 2008 I remember being struck in reading Rick Perlstein’s then new sociopolitical history Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America how glad I was to have been too young to have had to really deal with the depth of divisions of “The Sixties” and the “culture wars” and “generation gap” of that era.  Unfortunately these divisions have been gearing up since that summer.

Some of this is surely just the ordinary social cycle, some of it is the inevitable stress of an unprecedented era of seemingly permanent war, along with economic trauma from globalization and the finance crisis, but just as the political strategies of Richard Nixon and George Wallace and others had broader consequences of historical import from the late 1960s and 1970s, the decision of so many leaders and elected officials in the Republican Party to actively or passively indulge and humor the bizarre conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was secretly born in Kenya and somehow smuggled into the country as an infant is to me a factor that future historians may view as quite profound.

Obama was a candidate of thin experience with significantly opaque aspects to his background with some legitimate controversies–this was always fair game politically for the Clintons and for Republicans.  But, when you are mute or noncommittal when conspiracy theorists turn the basic facts of what could be seen as a uniquely American success story aside from divides of policy, party and ideology into a sinister, evil conspiracy resulting in a wholly illegitimate and unlawful usurpation of the White House by the clear winner of the election you cannot expect to easily manage the impacts over time.  Surely any upstanding, patriotic citizen who actually believes the conspiracy is duty-bound to oppose the usurper?

Most senior Republicans could never have believed any of this–I am afraid they just did not have the courage to confront it because they knew it had profound traction at the grassroots as consistently confirmed by polling.  John McCain as Obama’s GOP opponent (and International Republican Institute chairman) was notably above the nonsense personally but he was also notably outside the cultural mainstream of the party even by 2008 and more so now.  The problem was not so much the campaign as the deligitimization of the elected President.

Thus now we have Donald Trump, unapologetic carnival barker of the birther conspiracy from its revival in 2011, as the dominant front runner for the Republican nomination for President to the chagrin of probably most people of his generation who have actually been involved in the party over the years.  Whatever happens from here on out in this particular election campaign which remains partially in flux, the nature and trajectory of one of our only two parties, at the least, has been profoundly impacted.  And the consequences will continue to play out well after the next President takes office.

Trump campaign rally

See also Abramoff’s Africa and “Obama’s America”

Again: Is Uhuru on his way to being the next East African authoritarian American darling?

Is Uhuru on his way to being the next East African authoritarian American darling? [originally I asked in April 2013; we are moving that much more quickly along the path with Secretary Kerry’s current visit ahead of Obama in July, as further allegedly necessitated by the Uhuruto administration’s conspicuous incompetence on “security”]

President Obama releases message to Kenyans on election

President Obama’s Message to the People of Kenya
February 5, 2013

Habari yako. Over the years, I have been greatly moved by the warmth
and spirit – the strength and resolve – of the Kenyan people. And I’ve
been grateful for my connection to Kenya, and the way you’ve welcomed
me and my family to your beautiful country – from my father’s village
in Alego, to bustling Nairobi.

In my visits, I’ve seen your progress. Kenya has lifted people from
poverty, built an emerging democracy and civil society, and sustained
a spirit of hope in the face of great difficulty. After the turmoil of
five years ago, you’ve worked to rebuild communities, reform
institutions and pass a new constitution.

Now, Kenya must take the next step in March, with the first national
elections under your new constitution.

We all know what makes for successful elections. Kenya must reject
intimidation and violence, and allow a free and fair vote. Kenyans
must resolve disputes in the courts, not in the streets. Above all,
the people of Kenya must come together, before and after the election,
to carry on the work of building your country.

The choice of who will lead Kenya is up to the Kenyan people. The
United States does not endorse any candidate for office, but we do
support an election that is peaceful and reflects the will of the
people.

This election can be another milestone toward a truly democratic Kenya
defined by the rule of law and strong institutions. If you take that
step, and reject a path of violence and division, then Kenya can move
forward towards prosperity and opportunity that unleashes the
extraordinary talents of your people – especially young people. If you
continue to move forward, you can build a just Kenya that rejects
corruption, and respects the rights and dignity of all Kenyans.

This is a moment for the people of Kenya to come together, instead of
tearing apart. If you do, you can show the world that you are not just
a member of a tribe or ethnic group, but citizens of a great and proud
nation. I can’t imagine a better way to mark the 50th anniversary of
Kenyan independence. And I say to all of you who are willing to walk
this path of progress-you will continue to have a strong friend and
partner in the United States of America. Kwaheri

 

It’s nice to have the American election over with more than 3 months to go in Kenya . . .

Donkey

Mara Herd

With the same division in Congress and a second Obama Administration to be formed, at least the opportunity for continuity and maximum cooperation exits on the U.S. side in addressing the challenges presented by another possibly controversial and high-risk election in Kenya.

 

Abramoff’s Africa and “Obama’s America”

We of a certain age, born in the early 60’s at the tail end of the baby boom, grew up in the Ford and Carter era and went to college in the Reagan years–young enough to avoid being fully confronted by Vietnam and Watergate and young enough, if we didn’t live in the Deep South at least, to take the basics of “civil rights” for “black” Americans somewhat for granted.

Jack Abramoff grew up in Beverly Hills.   He poured his energies into powerlifting and then went off to Brandeis and became a leader in the “conservative movement” youth insurgency through the College Republicans.   Barack Obama grew up primarily in Honolulu, went to an elite prep school and found his rebellion through embracing the “black” and to some extent “third world” sides of his identify.   He started at Occidental and then transferred to Columbia where he first discovered his taste for participation in politics in speaking to activist students in support of divestment in South Africa in opposition to apartheid.

For Abramoff, however, South Africa was about the Cold War and he played aggressively on the other side of the divestment issue as national College Republican chairman.   Access to expenses-paid junkets to South Africa, sponsored by the apartheid government, were a part of the “coinage of the realm” of the Abramoff political operation in maintaining loyalty and control within the national level of the College Republicans in the middle Reagan years.   Those of us who were College Republican state chairmen would be sent lots of papers and materials about the alleged communist nature of the African National Congress, Winnie Mandela and “necklacing”, and such–as well as supporting the Reagan Administration’s “constructive engagement” policy and opposing divestment.

This is not to say that supporting the “Contras” in Nicaragua wasn’t perhaps Jack’s first policy priority, along with supporting the the administration on El Salvador–or that there wasn’t greater romance with the Mujahadeen fighting an assertedly religious “good war” against the Soviets and their allies in Afghanistan–but South Africa was treated as an important issue–and the inter-related effort of backing Jonas Savimbi and UNITA in Angola had special resonance.

In 1986, Congress overrode Reagan’s veto to impose sanctions on the South African regime, rejecting the “constructive engagement” approach.  The late Rep. Howard Wolpe (D-Mich) as chair of the Africa Subcommittee of House Foreign Affairs led on the sanctions effort.

When the sanctions went into place against the South African government, Abramoff helped found the “nonpartisan” International Freedom Foundation (IFF), with headquarters in Washington and a Johannesburg office, to continue this fight, among others.  What most people didn’t know until groundbreaking investigative reporting by Newsday in 1995 was that the International Freedom Foundation was directly funded in substantial part by the South African regime to advance its cause in the “marketplace of ideas” through information operations.

A respectable Washington foundation, which drew into its web prominent Republican and conservative figures like Sen. Jesse Helms and other members of Congress, was actually a front organization bankrolled by South Africa’s last white rulers to prolong apartheid, a Newsday investigation has shown.

The International Freedom Foundation, founded in 1986 seemingly as a conservative think tank, was in fact part of an elaborate intelligence gathering operation, and was designed to be an instrument for “political warfare” against apartheid’s foes, according to former senior South African spy Craig Williamson. The South Africans spent up to $1.5 million a year through 1992 to underwrite “Operation Babushka,” as the IFF project was known.

The current South African National Defence Force officially confirmed that the IFF was its dummy operation.

The IFF issued publications and studies and hosted events featuring establishment heavyweight speakers including Henry Kissinger (IRI’s 2009 “Freedom Award” honoree and benefactor of blessing on V.P. nominee Sarah Palin in the 2008 presidential campaign of IRI Chairman McCain), and attracted a significant chunk of the leadership of the “movement conservative” wing of the GOP to its advisory boards, according to Newsday.

With the blow up of the Iran-Contra affair and Oliver North and others out of the White House, a private foundation with funding from a foreign government was a timely mechanism to influence public opinion, although the South African funding was obviously secret and presumably not known to most of the people who were involved (just as I didn’t know as a College Republican chairman earlier that Jack was getting public resources for the “CR” campaign for the “Contras” from Oliver North’s cronies in the government).

It was about this time that Obama first visited his father’s home country of Kenya according to Dreams from my Father.  Michael Ranneberger, Ambassador to Kenya from 2006-11, worked Angola/Namibia during the early Reagan years under Assistant Secretary of State Chester Crocker, known as the originator of “constructive engagement”. Meanwhile, Jack by 1988 was producing his first movie, Red Scorpion, secretly funded by the South African military according to sources in the Newsday story and filmed in South African-held Namibia.  Jack was visiting Savimbi and helping to promote him in Washington, along with his friend Grover Norquist.

By the time of the 1995 Newsday reporting, Nelson Mandela was the elected President of South Africa, and the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission under Bishop Desmond Tutu was exposing the stories of the apartheid regime in return for immunity.  Compared to the assassinations and paramilitary operations,

“[i]n South African government thinking, the IFF represented a far more subtle approach to defeating the anti-apartheid movement. Officials said the p!an was to get away from the traditional allies of Pretoria, the fringe right in the United States and Europe, “some of whom were to the right of Ghengis Khan,” said one senior intelligence official. Instead, they settled for a front staffed with mainstream conservatives who did not necessarily know who was pulling the strings.

Fast forward to the 21st Century: Former Congressman Wolpe served on the Board of the National Endowment for Democracy and headed the Africa Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center at the time I joined the International Republican Institute to head to Nairobi in 2007 and was subsequently appointed President Obama’s special representative for Africa’s Great Lakes Region.  Ambassador Johnnie Carson, a career Foreign Service Officer, worked the sanctions issue during a stint as a House staffer under Wolpe.  His subsequent Foreign Service career included an appointment as Ambassador to Kenya at the time of Mwai Kibaki’s election in 2002, as well as ambassadorships to Uganda and Zimbabwe.  Carson served as lead of the Africa division of the National Intelligence Council through the later G.W. Bush years, including during the controversial 2007 Kenyan election and then was appointed Obama’s Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.

Abramoff had set up as a lobbyist upon the takeover of the House of Representatives by the Republicans in 1994, the year before the Newsday story.  His work as “superlobbyist” for the Mississippi Choctaws and other Indian tribes in the casino business was the subject of a front page puff-piece in the New York Times and similarly in the Wall Street Journal while I was working in the defense industry here in Mississippi early in the George W. Bush administration.

By 2006, Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate from Illinois, Jack was indicted and the Republicans lost their House majority briefly, in part because of the multi-layered scandal involving Jack’s lobbying relationships, especially with some of the House Republicans.  Obama went on to the White House and Jack went to jail for a while, although he is back writing and speaking for “limited government” as an antidote to the type of business relationships with elected officials he once enjoyed.

On balance, during those years before Obama briefly joined the Senate Foreign Relations Africa Subcommittee in 2007, it was Jack Abramoff rather than Barack Obama who was substantially and consequentially engaged in the politics of Africa and of America’s relationships in Africa.  Obama did oppose apartheid, while Abramoff advanced the cause of South Africa’s apartheid regime.

It is for this reason, among many others, that I am substantially “turned off” by the hyperventilating conspiracy theories about Obama reflected in Dinesh D’Souza’s campaign movie “Obama’s America” and the rest of the propaganda from the U.S.-based hard right about Obama and foreign policy.

Walking the Talk–American Democracy on global display in Presidential Debates

Since the origins of this blog spring from my experience with American “democracy promotion” or “support” I want to take a minute to reflect on and appreciate the value of last night’s debate.  While most of us who have been around awhile as participants and observers in American campaigns have some disquiet about the state of our democratic process, I think these debates are a great reminder of the “blessings of liberty” reflected in political competition in our constitutional republic.

There are instances where we don’t live up to the ideals that we preach to the rest of the world–for instance we probably would not legally qualify for foreign assistance from ourselves under our own statutes for various reasons I’ll write about someday–but we do have real elections that matter (but don’t matter quite so much that we kill each other about them, or fundamentally reorder our system of government with each new president).

A few personal observations:  I think both candidates last night did a credible job and gave the American electorate and the global audience a reasonable sense of their own strengths and weaknesses as leaders and drew out their differences and similarities on a number of important issues.  We have a closely divided electorate and this would be a close election regardless of either of the nominees unless one of them really imploded as a candidate–fortunately that hasn’t happened.

I agree with those who feel that our two parties have ossified into positions where they don’t overlap the way they have traditionally, and that this presents problems in actually conducting the business of government and in just getting along constructively and accomplishing things that we can broadly agree on.

Nonetheless, even though the candidates sparred vigorously last night, they are both campaigning to the center in the general election.  There are consequential policy differences, but also great limitations built into our system.  And in all honesty, I tend to think that in spite of everything, they are both decent men–slippery politicians, but not bad people–and that we will muddle forward however the undecideds in a few swing states break.  We have a lot of challenges and a lot of work to do, but the American people will decide the future of our society for better or worse regardless of who wins or loses this election.  And that is the way that it should be.

While our present party system may not be something that we would hold out as an exemplar or should seek to “export”, and our campaign finance situation is not something we would want to recommend to others, I am pleased with the world watching our general election debates that we are offering an example of American free speech, open democracy and free journalism.  The challenger and the incumbent square off on the same stage on agreed rules and the voters get a fair chance to hear both sides.

Kenya is to have presidential debates this time–I hope this can be a positive way to elevate the campaigns and focus on national issues and the abilities of the candidates.