Obama Stands Up for International Affairs Funding at Google+ Hangout
Monday night President Obama participated in the first Presidential virtual interview ever! This Google+ Hangout event was part of the White House's continued public outreach following the State of the Union Address last Tuesday. Since the president's address last week, the White House has been requesting that people send in questions via all forms of social media, and has been holding Twitter interviews with many of the senior administration officials. This Hangout was the culmination of that week, and it turned out to be a great moment for foreign policy!
Steve Grove moderated the discussion from Google Headquarters in San Francisco, California, and there were five different people on Google+ in the virtual "room," with the President, who were able to speak out at any time. The event was broadcast on YouTube and the White House website so those of us who haven't stepped into the social media realm of Google+ yet could still hear questions asked and answered. You can watch the recording here. Mr. Grove also had some pre-recorded questions that had been sent in via YouTube either by video or comment earlier in the week.
The Hangout began with questions on the economy and jobs. But foreign policy did make its way into the discussion pretty early - and President Obama defended international affairs funding! He was asked by a homeless veteran why we sent so much money abroad to countries like Pakistan that are known to give money to terrorism when there are so many problems here. President Obama said that "aside from it being the right thing to do, it's also important to make sure this is part of our overall security strategy," and went on to point out that all international affairs funding is only 1% of our national budget. He described it as an investment -a way of saving money by sending aid before a full-blown conflict occurs, which would wind up costing us much more overall. He even tied it into our economy by saying that, "instead of charity we are helping them [countries we give aid to] to develop so someday they will be consuming our goods." I couldn't have said it better myself!
The next foreign policy question, however, was less heartening. The President was asked about drone attacks, citing a New York Times article (read the full article here) from earlier in the week on drone attacks in Iraq. The question and article pointed out that he has authorized more drone attacks in his first year than President Bush did in his entire eight years in office. The President responded that the article may have been overblown and that "we're not engaging in a bunch of drone attacks in Iraq, there is surveillance there." He went on to correct misconceptions that civilian causalities are high. "Drones have not caused a huge number of civilian causalities," he said, and the U.S. has been "very careful in how they have been applied." He described that the drone attacks were able to pinpoint known terrorists, and that they were extremely "targeted and focused."
So what are the facts of drone attacks? There isn't really a consensus, partially because the whole process is so secretive. However, the British Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which conducted interviews in Pakistan's tribal area, concluded that at least 45 civilians were killed in 10 strikes during the last year. There were "between 2,292 and 2,863 people . . . reported to have died in the attacks - most of them militants." The civilian casualty rate was calculated at somewhere between 13 percent and 34 percent, which is of course a very large range.
Basically no one really knows, or is saying, the exact damage that drone attacks are doing. It is true they are killing many more militants than civilians; however it is idealistic to believe that there have not been any civilian casualties no matter how "targeted and focused," the attacks are.
The discussion then moved on to education, and even some personal questions. All in all, it was great to hear foreign policy given so much attention (even if every answer wasn't the one we wanted to hear) and it was cool to be part of a historic event. Although right now the idea of a "virtual hangout," may seem futuristic and odd, I think there will come a time, not too far off, when all Presidents hold similar interviews. More and more technology is creating new ways for constituents and grassroots advocates to get in touch with their elected officials, and it was exciting to be tuned into the first of many soon-to-come new political technologies! My Dad remembers the first time his family bought a color-TV, maybe one day I'll be telling my children that I remember the President's first ever Google+ Hangout.
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