Josh Rogin reports:
President Obama said Sunday that the United States is still "working on" democracy and a top aide said he has taken "historic steps" to improve democracy in the United States during his time in office.
The remarks came as Obama met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev -- one of the U.S. president's many meetings with world leaders ahead of this week's nuclear summit.
Kazakhstan, which has been touting its record on combating nuclear proliferation, is a key player in the NATO supply network to Afghanistan and currently heads the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Some observers see a conflict between Kazakhstan's chairmanship of the 56-nation OSCE, which plays an important role in monitoring elections in emerging democracies, and its own widely criticized human rights record.
But if the Obama administration saw any disconnect, it kept its criticism to itself.
"In connection with the OSCE, the presidents had a very lengthy discussion of issues of democracy and human rights," NSC senior director Mike McFaul said on a conference call with reporters Sunday. "Both presidents agreed that you don't ever reach democracy; you always have to work at it. And in particular, President Obama reminded his Kazakh counterpart that we, too, are working to improve our democracy."
The Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Weisman asked McFaul to clarify.
"You seemed to be suggesting there was some equivalence between their issues of democracy and the United States' issues, when you said that President Obama assured him that we, too, are working on our democracy," Weisman said. "Is there equivalence between the problems that President Nazarbayev is confronting and the state of democracy in the United States?"
"Absolutely not ... There was no equivalence meant whatsoever," McFaul said. "[Obama's] taken, I think, rather historic steps to improve our own democracy since coming to office here in the United States."
McFaul might want to clarify what the "historic steps" are that President Obama has taken to "improve our own democracy." Obama has had exactly one significant legislative victory, an overhaul of our health care system. McFaul can't seriously mean that passing a bill that no one read and required cutting back room deals with labor unions was an improvement to our democracy, can he?