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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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

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