The State Department says recent changes to its official foreign country profiles that include Obama administration accomplishments are simply a way to provide unique information — not to tout the current president’s achievements.
The Heritage Foundation’s Jim Roberts first noted the changes to the State Department’s “Background Notes” series on Thursday, which recall the White House’s edits earlier this year inserting Obama factoids into the official biographies of past presidents. The department’s website states only that as of May 2012, Background Notes “are in the process of being replaced by Fact Sheets that focus on U.S. relations with each country.”
“The old Background Notes were sui generis—useful reference materials that were more comprehensive than the practical but choppy CIA “Factbook” and other U.S. government publications,” Roberts wrote. “Now, though, State has dropped everything from the Background Notes but the section on relations with the U.S. No more historical context, no recounting of complex and long-standing issues in the country. Just cut to the chase—that is, the time when the current administration came to power.”
Roberts — who used to write the Background Notes when he worked for the State Department — compared Brazil’s new “Fact Sheet” with the last George W. Bush administration-era version, which doesn’t mention any U.S. president by name. He found that the 300-word section on U.S.-Brazil relations took up just 7 percent of the 4,100-word Bush document.
Conversely, fully 70 percent (830 words) of the Brazil Fact Sheet, which is focused exclusively on U.S. relations with Brazil, discusses President Obama either directly by name (twice!) or in the context of the plethora of programs his Administration has launched with Brazil, including a shared “commitment to combat discrimination based on race, gender, ethnicity, or lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) status; to advance gender equality; a bilateral instrument that targets racism; support for HIV/AIDS prevention, promotion of clean energy technologies in Brazil, and mitigation of climate change.”
But it isn’t simply inserting language about Obama’s accomplishments: A look at other countries’ new profiles reveals what seems like an effort to gloss over the past — specifically, the previous occupant of the White House. The new Mexico Fact Sheet, for example, mentions the Merida Initiative — a U.S.-Mexico partnership to fight organized crime — but not that it began under George W. Bush, as the previous version did. The new page for Iraq does not mention Bush by name once, while Obama’s name appears in it three times.
A State Department spokeswoman told TheBlaze that emphasizing Obama’s achievements over those of his predecessor is “not a valid way to look at” the new profiles.
Instead, she said the decision to change the Background Notes was made because much of the information previously featured — geographic or economic data on each country, for example — is now widely available elsewhere on the Internet, which wasn’t the case when they were first created for print 30 years ago. Indeed, the new Fact Sheets feature links at the bottom of the page to the State Department’s official country page, U.S. embassy page and others. The new series is meant to provide information unique to the State Department, the spokeswoman said.
And this State Department certainly is unique: As Roberts at Heritage noted, the department’s budget has increased from $38.7 billion to $50.2 billion since Obama took office, with thousands of people added to the payroll.
“Seems pretty easy to tell what many of them are doing,” he wrote.
(h/t Heritage Foundation)