That Iranian embassy gaffe? It wasn't a gaffe, says Bachmann

Presidential hopeful tries to spin latest GOP foreign policy slip.

So, she was only talking hypothetically. When Michelle Bachmann, Republican Party candidate and Minnesota Congresswoman, suggested that in the wake of Britain's withdrawal of embassy staff from Tehran, she would do "exactly" the same if she were president, reporters had simply got the wrong end of the stick.

Well, here's what she originally said:

That's exactly what I would do (if I were president). We wouldn't have an embassy in Iran. I wouldn't allow that to be there.

The US hasn't had an embassy in Tehran since 1980 when it severed relations during the hostage crisis. Bachmann should have known that -- and later her people claimed she did.

Yesterday evening, her staff issued a statement to suggest that her comments had been (yes) "taken out of context". It stated that Bachmann:

is fully aware that we do not have an embassy in Iran and have not had one since 1980. She was agreeing with the actions taken by the British to secure their embassy personnel and was speaking in the hypothetical, that if she was President of the United States and if we had an embassy in Iran, she would have taken the same actions as the British.

Politico described the attempt to regain foreign policy credibility as "a campaign version of a cleanup in aisle 9" but it would appear to be another example of a Republican candidate wrestling with foreign affairs and losing -- by three falls and a submission.

Last month Herman Cain struggled to recall the details of the Libya conflict ("Got all this stuff twirling around in my head") and in an exchange on 1 November -- with clear echoes of Bachmann's error -- Cain also appeared to be unaware that China has been a nuclear power since the 1960s. In a PBS Newshour interview, Cain said of China:

So yes they're a military threat. They've indicated that they're trying to develop nuclear capability and they want to develop more aircraft carriers like we have. So yes, we have to consider them a military threat.

Now Cain is expected to make a major announcement which may see him exit the race -- not for his foreign policy slips, of course, but for stories surrounding his complicated personal life. "I am reassessing because of all this media firestorm stuff," he's quoted as saying.



Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.