Obama announces his re-election bid

President Obama promises to run an innovative campaign, but it could cost $1bn.

And – he's off. Barack Obama has officially announced his re-election bid, after one of Washington's worst-guarded secrets. In typical tech-savvy style, it was first revealed in emails and text messages to grass-roots supporters, with a short video on barackobama.com – before the neccessary papers were filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Everything was already in place – the 2012 website complete with all-important donation button, the campaign HQ in Chicago . . . and running the whole show is the former White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina, unusually ensconced in that high-rise Chicago office some 700 miles from Washington, DC.

David Plouffe, who ran Obama's victorious campaign three years ago, told the New York Times that Messina's team was "going to innovate – and make what we did in 2008 seem somewhat prehistoric". Hard to see what they could do to transform the campaign paradigm this time around, but let's wait and see.

One thing, of course, hasn't changed – cold, hard cash: Messina has already been wooing potential donors and Obama has got a series of fundraisers in the diary, all aimed at attracting up to a billion dollars (yes, you read it right) even though he's extremely unlikely to face any challengers at the primary stage. If he meets that target (and a $30,000-a-head dinner at Harlem's Red Rooster restaurant plus a New York reception the other week managed to pull in a cool $1.5m), he'll become the first billion-dollar presidential candidate, at the helm of the most expensive campaign ever.

In contrast to 2008, the bulk of the money will be raised not from the grass roots, but from wealthy backers with deep pockets. Messina has already asked them to bring in at least $350,000 each this year – not exactly small change. But all neccessary to combat the Republicans' formidable money machine – its own party coffers boosted by groups like American Crossroads, which hauled in millions for the midterms in 2010.

So let's assume he gets the money: what are the odds for 2012? It's usually hard to beat an incumbent, and even though Obama's ratings are hardly stellar, there aren't exactly any standout stars in the Republican field. Indeed, none of the various runners and riders has yet declared officially.

Reasons to be cheerful?

After months of uncertainty, however, the planned 4 April launch date is feeling like pretty good timing for the White House – the Democrats have been cheered by the latest jobless figures, down to 8.8 per cent, with almost a million and a half jobs created this year.

It all offers some hope that the economy could start rebounding just in time for next November's poll. Battles over spending cuts and union rights in key states such as Wisconsin have also rallied the Democratic base.

Yet there are considerable hurdles to leap – not least the fight over this year's federal budget and the threat of a government shutdown, still very much alive. Despite the administration's best efforts, the flagship health-care reforms are no more popular now than they were a year ago, while the stimulus bill has not yet proved its electoral worth.

Most urgently, Obama is grappling with a series of crises overseas, the military intervention in Libya holding out the prospect of a long-drawn-out commitment by US forces.

So the next 18 months are all about "winning the future" – the Obama slogan that's meant to transcend talk of hope and change. Once again, the key is energising his core supporters – including those young people who were the heart and soul of the triumph in 2008 – and reaching out to those independents who are wavering over the choice ahead.

The presidential battle is joined. Now it's up to the Republican hopefuls to put their head above ground and enter the race for real.

Felicity Spector is a deputy programme editor for Channel 4 News.

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue