"When Mitt Romney Came to Town": attack video released

Film accuses Republican frontrunner of contributing to the "biggest American job loss since World Wa

The film that the US political world has been waiting for is finally here. When Mitt Romney Came to Town is an attack video focusing on the Republican frontrunner's corporate past -- but will it have the desired effect of turning GOP voters away from Romney?

The 28-minute film, was released yesterday on the website of the pro-Gingrich super-PAC, Winning Our Future. The Republican candidates are currently touring South Carolina, ahead of the next primary election on 21 January.

The film first caused a stir last week when a three minute trailer was released on the King of Bain website, following a weekend of debates amongst the six Republican candidates.

Although it was released by his supporters, Gingrich has sought to distance himself from the video. Despite his initial criticism of Romney's actions as CEO of the corporate firm Bain Capital, Gingrich has been reminded that his attacks on the former governor of Massachusetts' economic past could easily play into the hands of the Democrats and lose him much-needed votes amongst his own party.

In an interview with Fox News's Greta Van Susteren on On the Record last night, Gingrich said:

Well first of all I'm not attacking Bain Capital, I'm questioning Mitt Romney's judgment, I'm questioning Mitt Romney's decisions. He's the person who has gone around now saying that his business career is one of his two credentials... I've raised the question, which I think is a totally legitimate question -- what about some companies that Bain took over that went bankrupt? And all I've said is, you know, this isn't about free enterprise.

The film, made by Jason Killian Meath -- who worked on Romney's 2008 campaign -- Stuart Stevens, and Russ Schriefer, focuses on Bain's actions after acquiring four companies: the washing-machine company UniMac Corp., K.B. Toys, tech company DDi Corp., and paper company Ampad. The message at the heart of the documentary is that profit-led decisions were made regardless of the effects on the companies -- all of which eventually declared bankruptcy -- or the lives of their employees.

Former employees are interviewed during the 28 minutes, detailing the hardships they encountered after Bain Capital acquired the companies they worked for. "That hurt so bad" one woman says, "to leave my home, because of a man who has fifteen homes." (He does not have fifteen homes, but we do know he just bulldozed his California mansion.)

"Sometimes we'd have to send a machine out without a part on it," says another employee, who blames Bain of ruining the quality of their manufacturing by pressing them to produce more in less time.

The narrator accuses Romney of slashing "jobs in almost every state" before cutting to a video of Romney stating that "creative destruction does enhance productivity. For an economy to thrive, as ours does, there are a lot of people who will suffer because of that."

The film ends with the narrator warning: "Now Romney says he wants to bring what he learned on Wall Street to the White House. What would his Cabinet look like? Who would he put in positions of power around him?"

It seems likely that the film will be an own goal. South Carolina is a conservative state that will not appreciate the fact that the documentary gives ammunition to the Obama campaign, or the blame it places on private businesses for job losses.

Republican voters were struggling to find a candidate to rally behind collectively. This video may just have inadvertenly promoted Romney to the task: it certainly will not enamour voters to his rivals.

Azaz, on Syria's northern border with Turkey. Photo: Getty
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Syria's broken people: how Assad destroyed a nation

 Whoever leads the country after this conflict comes to an end will inherit not just the rubble and ruins, but a ravaged people, too. 

For a moment, the residents of al-Fu’ah and Kafriya dreamed of a better future. After living under siege for more than two years, civilians from these two Shia villages in the rebel-held Idlib province of north-western Syria were finally allowed to leave earlier this month.

Buses arrived to evacuate them to regime-held areas in Aleppo province, snaking through hostile territory. They eventually stopped at an agreed crossover point, between regime- and rebel-held areas in the Rashideen district of western Aleppo.

These journeys are long: it can take hours, sometimes days, to travel just a few miles. Checkpoints, angry negotiations and deep distrust between opposing factions (even when they are apparently on the same side) ensure that such transfers are never as efficient as they should be.

As families waited at the Rashideen checkpoint, with some disembarking to stretch their legs or to let their children play outside, a powerful car bomb exploded. More than 126 civilians were killed in the blast – the deadliest attack of its kind in more than a year.

The fatalities included 60 children. The act was made all the more unconscionable by the way that they were deliberately targeted. A truck ostensibly providing humanitarian relief parked beside the buses and began distributing sweets and ice cream, causing the children to swarm towards it. Then  it exploded.

One of the most striking features of this conflict is its seemingly endless capacity to spiral into greater depravity. Both sides have butchered and brutalised one another in a fashion that would make the Marquis de Sade recoil. At times, it can seem as if each side is competing with the other to adopt more sadistic and cruel methods. When they do, it is ordinary civilians who invariably pay the biggest price.

Even children have not been spared from the privations of this vicious war, as the events in Rashideen demonstrate. Last August, it was the image of Omran Daqneesh, the stunned and bloodied five-year-old boy in the back of an ambulance, which epitomised the suffering of another besieged group: the mainly Sunni residents of eastern Aleppo, encircled by government forces.

To characterise the Syrian conflict as wholly sectarian is reductionist, but factional infighting has become one of its defining elements. The imprimatur of sectarianism is leaving indelible marks across the Levant, tearing the region apart.

Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s embattled president, set the tone for this when the uprising first began in 2011. To undermine the protest movement, he characterised the opposition as Sunni extremists who were driven by sectarian hatred (Assad is from the minority Alawite community; a heterodox Shia sect).

His unaccountable loyalist militia, the shabiha (“ghosts”), brutalised the opposition not just physically but also with sectarian slurs, introducing a caustic and corrosive mood to the uprising. This pathology has continued to metastasise ever since.

The current policy of displacing besieged residents has further enhanced the sectarian aspects of this war. For years, the Syrian regime has used siege warfare to bring rebel areas under control. Once the inhabitants have been worn down, the government moves them to rebel-held areas, away from its sphere of control. In this way, President Assad has consolidated control over important and strategic areas closer to home while edging disloyal elements further away.

Occasionally, new residents are brought in to repopulate evacuated areas, typically from minorities more inclined to support the government. What is taking place is a slow demographic recalibration, in which errant Sunnis are moved to the periphery and loyalist minorities are moved closer to the core.

These transfers are now so common in Syria that a dedicated fleet of green buses is used in the process, and has become an iconic image of this conflict. The buses catch the eye and are used for moving besieged people. Their sanctity is not to be violated. In a conflict that has ignored almost every norm, this one had lasted – albeit with occasional violations – until the assault in Rashideen.

There are moments when important leaders appear to transcend the divide. Moqtada al-Sadr, an Iraqi Shia cleric who rose to prominence after leading a militia against British troops in Basra after the 2003 invasion, recently called for Bashar al-Assad to step aside.

In doing so, Sadr became one of only a few prominent Shia leaders to publicly acknowledge Assad’s bloodshed. His comments came after the chemical weapons attack in Idlib earlier this month, which claimed more than 80 lives.

Statements such as Sadr’s have huge symbolic value, but are easily forgotten in the aftermath of the next atrocity. Speaking to the American broadcaster NBC last October, General David Petraeus summed up the mood of many military planners in Washington when he concluded that Syria may have passed the point of no return. “Syria may not be able to be put back together,” he said. “Humpty Dumpty has fallen and again I’m not sure you can piece it back together.”

His comments came even before the most tumultuous events of the past six months, which have included the fall of Aleppo, the emergence of a more empowered jihadist coalition (composed principally of al-Qaeda members), the use of chemical weapons and now the Rashideen bus bombing.

Petraeus’s remarks were prescient. As a result of the cycle of bitter vengeance and retribution, often fuelled by deep sectarian suspicion, the Syrian Civil War will continue its descent into chaos. When Assad first unleashed the shabiha to quash the protest movement, the militia warned the opposition: “Assad, or we burn the country.”

In this respect, at least, it has kept its word. Whoever leads the country after this conflict finally comes to an end will inherit not just the rubble and ruins but a ravaged people, too. 

Shiraz Maher is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and a senior research fellow at King’s College London’s International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation.

This article first appeared in the 20 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, May's gamble

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