Thousands spent by embassies to buy Obama books
A woman holds a copy of one of President Obama's books while listening to him speak in India last year on his trip to Asia. Photo: Getty Images
October 26th, 2011
09:24 PM ET

Thousands spent by embassies to buy Obama books

By Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jill Dougherty and National Security Producer Jamie Crawford

The State Department Wednesday defended its purchases of books authored by President Obama for gift-giving abroad and for placement in U.S. embassy libraries around the world.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters it is "longstanding practice" to allow embassies to buy books, "to put them out in libraries ... give them to contacts, which they think will help deepen understanding of the U.S. political system, of U.S. political figures and leaders of U.S. history, U.S. culture."

The purchases, she added are "done in strict accordance with government procurement standards."

"It's the embassies themselves that make the decisions what American books to buy. And they make these decisions based on the interest in the country where they are. But these are not decisions that are made in Washington, and they're not decisions that are directed by Washington."

The story, first reported by the Washington Times, said the department had bought more than $70,000 worth of books by President Obama.

Government records show the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, spent more than $40,000 in 2009 on copies of Obama's "Dreams from my Father." The embassy in Greece paid more than $5,000 for "Dreams from my Father" to be used for Christmas gratuities. In South Korea, the U.S. Embassy spent $6,061 for "Dreams from my Father" for the same purpose.

In Indonesia, where Obama spent four years of his childhood, the U.S. Embassy spent almost $4,000 on hardcover copies of the Indonesian version of Obama's book "The Audacity of Hope" for its public affairs office. Just two days after that purchase, the embassy spent $5,000 on English-version copies of both books.

"This is standard practice," Nuland said, "and it's designed to help the world understand us better. And it is conducted in a bipartisan manner and with full transparency."

But Tom Schatz, president of Citizens against Government Waste, told CNN, "If someone wanted to read the president's book they could buy it themselves." He calls the program "a somewhat well-intended idea that wasn't well thought out."

The program, he said, provides money from the taxpayers to the president in the form of royalties. "It is not the amount of money, it's the precedent that is being set. No former president has ever had a book on this list, and in an era where everyone's trying to cut back, it really doesn't look good to the taxpayers to have this being done at the State Department."

A senior State Department official, speaking on background because the official was not authorized to speak on the record, said other politicians and administration officials' books were also in embassy libraries.

"Our embassies do carry titles by and about politicians from both parties, including Presidents Reagan, both Presidents Bush, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, in their collections, and specific books written by other presidents, including 'Decision Points' by George W. Bush and 'My Life' by Bill Clinton," the official said.

However, the examples given by the official were books not published until after the authors left office.

"Obviously, the White House didn't have anything to do with this," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters traveling aboard Air Force One on Wednesday. "I think this is an embassy-by-embassy decision based on what they think ... in buying books makes sense for them in terms of advancing American foreign policy interests."

soundoff (56 Responses)
  1. Cassandra Chu

    DISGUSTING.

    October 31, 2011 at 10:42 pm | Reply
  2. Frank Garrett

    He couldn't get anyone to buy the books so he used our hard working tax payer dollars to buy thousands of copies, of which he makes a profit.

    October 31, 2011 at 10:39 pm | Reply
  3. margy

    Since this Embassys are representing their poor contries of the world, They should give the books to their people to use only on their toilet used everyday. That is the good use for this book! The same as this useless president Obama! Yes it is directed and force to this Embassys to but the book, since they think the toilet "Charmin ultra -soft " is expensive for their people to buy for their everyday use on those nations. So what is wrong with the WH to offer this great book to them?

    October 31, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Reply
  4. Dontbow

    More propaganda by the dictator obamya. Throw this junk in the ocean where it belongs.

    October 30, 2011 at 10:32 pm | Reply
  5. Zoe

    A non- US citizen, I think Obama is one of the best U.S Presidents in recent time... He has no scandals surrounding him and he's not draining his country's money on his own needs like a particular Prime Minister I know. In the article it was implied that the same was done for previous Presidents. More purchases of his book will be necessary since he is the first black President and it will be helpful amongst countries who have large black populations. Obama is an extremely positive figure for countries that still have a plantocracy mentality such as black pride issues or white superiority trauma. "Black man cah be no President yuh kno...daz only ting for dem white man." this is still a major issue in other parts of the world.

    October 30, 2011 at 10:46 am | Reply
    • sbast18

      No scandals??? Have you been paying attention? The media have been extraordinarily good to Obama for some God forsaken reason but the fact is, he will go down in history as having been the absolute worst president our country has ever known. As for his "books". I could care less who is dumb enough to purchase them so long as the taxpayers are not footing the bill.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:10 am | Reply
      • Jilliard

        No real scandals. This has been a REAL problem for the propaganda machine arrayed against Obama (heck, when Chavez starts complimenting Fox news on its coverage of US politics you know something is out of whack), resulting in a bunch of fake scandals – the most recent was the call by Fox news to impeach him over strikes that kill terrorists overseas, but Obama has been the most scandal free first term president in the past 40 years.

        October 31, 2011 at 6:57 am |
    • John

      This is one of those things that I'm glad isn't dictated by Washington. Buying books to show what the US stands for or about our history sounds like a good idea by the embassies. Tho I'm not of the same political party as Obama, I must confess that he's made some very smart moves in foreign policy.

      October 31, 2011 at 10:09 am | Reply
    • oldprof36

      First of all,Obama's reach has become powerful enough that reports which would be exposing information he doesn't want the public to hear are 'stopped in their tracks'.

      I always try to carefully check my information and I have read so much about Obama's tactics that he scares me like no other President!! My reading (which include his books) has helped me realize this man is not to be trusted. He says publicly what he thinks the public wants to hear and then does his own thing behind-the-scenes.
      No scandals?? In my opinion his constant blatant lack of respect for this country, its people, and the disregard of our Constitution IS scandalous!! American voters showered their representatives in Congress telling them they didn't want the Dream Act. It didn't pass, so Obama has used many different tactics to usurp Congress and the Constitution to 'skirt' federal laws to do backdoor amnesty. I could tell so much more but I'll respectfully bring this to an end.
      Regarding the US Embassy book purchases and the White House not being responsible, I don't buy it anymore than the denial about the examples I mentioned. Someone else in his administration always admits to taking action and states the President had no knowledge. Strange...if so many of his people are taking actions without being instructed by the White House, who is in charge of this administration??

      November 17, 2011 at 11:00 pm | Reply
  6. John Ruben

    "However, the examples given by the official were books not published until after the authors left office."Obviously, the White House didn't have anything to do with this," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters traveling aboard Air Force One on Wednesday. "I think this is an embassy-by-embassy decision based on what they think ... in buying books makes sense for them in terms of advancing American foreign policy interests."

    WTF, I was told that the White House selects and assigns the Ambassadors and embassy personnel assignments via the state department and the leader at the White House wrote the book! Really, American foreign policy interests are being guided in a commercially produced and published book by U.S. President while still in office? I guess using taxpayer and voter funded U.S. departments (State and CIA), diplomats, support, allies and official channels just isn't worthwhile any longer. How dangerous is "propagating American foreign policy" through tweets, likes, wikileaks, U.S. taxpayers funded private book distributions, online (Amazon type) purchases and NYTIMES bestsellers? I have not yet read the book, but I will be pretty pissed if it does in fact contain contemporary content as to American Foreign Policy development or strategy...It sounds it might all be about self promotion, with self anointed American Foreign Policy opinions.

    Where is my closest embassy so that I can get a free copy to read?

    October 30, 2011 at 5:20 am | Reply
    • SNP0

      Those books arent for you to read. They're for foreign dignitaries and people of influence so when they are done with the books and have a better understanding, they can spread the good will of the US abroad.

      October 31, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Reply
  7. Lost

    October 30, 2011 at 2:27 am | Reply
  8. jerry

    the sad thing is some of these readers will actually think obamas perspective is American... A travesty this was done in the name of teaching them about American culture

    October 29, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Reply
    • SNP0

      he was raised in hawaii by his grandparents. he has family and friends abroad. they live in asia, africa, and canada. went to school in the US and taught in the US. Has his citizenship. What about him is not american? Most people in this country has ties outside the US.

      October 31, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Reply
  9. TeaPartyIdiot

    No one serving while in elected office should benefit from book purchases through the State Department.

    October 28, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Reply
    • oldprof36

      I strongly agree with you.

      November 17, 2011 at 11:30 pm | Reply
  10. don

    Yawn.

    October 28, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Reply
  11. matt

    another example of this arrogant president's attempt to capture the spotlight. no amount of propaganda will result in obama getting the respect of the world. it is high time to boot out this egoist!

    October 28, 2011 at 12:59 pm | Reply
    • cl78

      amen

      October 28, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Reply
    • KeepFearAlive

      That's Right Matt .. just slam down any ol' comment without even reading the article . .nowhere does it say that the Whitehouse has iny infulence in what each embasy decides.... and you also don't mentionthat presidents Reaon, Both Bush's and Clinton each have Their Books in the Embassies as well ... oh that's right.. the other presidents are white .. so you're gonna be as silent as a Churchmouse on those presidents... what a biased Bafoon you truly are .... you have such a knee-jerk desire and deep seated need to make comment based on article titles without reading a sinle paragraph ... truly a TYPICAL HACK REPUGLICAN...

      October 28, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Reply
      • Godisdead

        Not all republicans are like that. Some of us have a brain.
        Some of us use the Bible to keep our morals and our thoughts in check: we don't use them as a weapon.

        October 28, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
      • oldprof36

        Obama is a 'sitting' president while the other presidents were no longer in office. That is a major difference and is the major issue.

        Also, just a suggestion, but maybe it would be a good idea to not be guilty of what clearly upset you. The name-calling also doesn't give your response much credibility either.

        My biggest issue with this is that our government doesn't have money to keep funding the nation's Disaster Relief Fund but money is available to spend on books? Money wasn't available to put aside to help Americans in the event of major catastrophic events but there are funds to use to buy books...especially, copies of the president's book. That's truly sad.

        If the foreign embassies want to create good will I feel they should have used that money to help the illiterate,hungry, and impoverished instead. Having copies for their libraries required only one or two per embassy!! An ambassador choosing the book to give as gifts...his expense not our governments.

        November 17, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
  12. cl78

    DISGUSTING!!! Not only has our traitor president tried to make us a GODLESS nation, but now he is using TAXPAYER money to promote is atheist ideals over seas. 2012, GOD WILL RETURN TO THE WHITE HOUSE!

    October 28, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Reply
    • Godisdead

      See: why do you have to be the guy who votes based on religion? I'm a republicn, but I think and vote with my head: not with passion and not based on some crazy fundamentalist evangelist's words on "who's the candidate chosen by God". That's all crap. I agree with you: I would love to see Obama out. But not because he's a so called "atheist" ideals, but because he's an awful president. But mark my words: if the republicans vote in some tea-party backed evangelist like Bachmann or Perry, there are a lot of Republicans, like me, who will vote to keep Obama in office. Religion and Politics MUST be separated because fantatics like you are convinced that everything should have the touch of God on it. The only theocracy in the world is the Vatican and it's a not exactly the most powerful government, nor is it the most stable.
      God Bless the USA, but keep the hell out of our politics.

      October 28, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Reply
      • cl78

        Word of warning: the next republican candidate WILL have accepted JESUS CHRIST as his LORD and SAVIOR and will be a TRUE Christian. I don't care if you vote republican or not; you secularists serve Satan and will no longer be tolerated.

        October 28, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • GodIsDead

      Oh really?
      And I bet you think the world was created 6000 years ago, and that evolution never happened.
      Oh, and the world was, at one point in time, covered in water and that Noah and his family repopulated the earth via Incest.
      I have no problem with Christians, but people like you disgust me. This country was founded on religious principles, but not only on Christian values. Most of the founding fathers WERE NOT CHRISTIAN. Washington and Jefferson were renowned for their Deism and their open-ness to religion: Hell, Jefferson was very open to the Muslim religion while in office.
      Secularism does not equal worship of the devil. Technically, I don't worship anything. If anything, Christians like you think you're open. You're not. Your view on the world is so shallow and narrow, it's pathetic. You hide behind a bible that people swear by, you use it as a weapon. Where's your logic? Your reasoning?
      By hiding and using religion as a weapon: you've lost your humanity. You criticize those that are different, and you shun those that believe in something other than what you believe. Which is acceptable: I've come to expect that from close-minded people such as yourself.
      Seriously. What other insults are you going to throw at me?
      "Godless heathen! Burn in hell!"
      what. Those don't phase me. It just bothers me that you think that's an insult and that hurts me.
      It's people like you that make me very ashamed to call myself an American. My friends have died to give you that right: and I'm so sorry that they had to to protect people such as yourself.
      You call God your ultimate protector.
      Have him protect you from cancer.

      "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
      Then he is not omnipotent.
      Is he able, but not willing?
      Then he is malevolent.
      Is he both able and willing?
      Then whence cometh evil?
      Is he neither able nor willing?
      Then why call him God?"

      October 28, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Reply
    • Buford

      Not sure what planet you live on but according to our Constitution "God" has no place in the government in any form. The President is the president of ALL people not only for so called christians. Our President is doing what his job description tells him to do be president of ALL people. The United States is not a christian country and never has been because we do NOT have a national religion. That would strip away my free right of religion.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Reply
  13. jcruzer28

    Obama is actually well respected around the world. The entire planet hated Americans during the Bush era, at least now they can see someone that actually thinks, discusses, then acts. It's really the way any good leader should act, everyone has their own opinions about him and about everything, but you can't really hate or bad-mouth someone like Obama, he really looks like one of the best presidents we've had in a LONG time. No affairs, no scandals, he's not trying to go to war all the time, like some fool. I mean, I really can't complain about a cool, calm, collected, educated president like him. I mean, even with the current political and economic climate, he stays calm and tries to figure things out, its quite impressive.

    October 28, 2011 at 12:39 pm | Reply
  14. imaguard

    I haven't read his books, and I don't want to. I think it's presumptuous of the Department of State to comment that books like these, or specifically THIS one, will "...deepen understanding of the U.S. political system, of U.S. political figures and leaders of U.S. history, U.S. culture." I live here, and still can't grasp how a man with no experience running ANYTHING could become President.

    October 27, 2011 at 9:01 pm | Reply
    • Athensguy

      Well, he is following a guy whose dad gave him an oil company that he then run to the ground in 2 years. We are better of now.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:21 am | Reply
      • Edward Sevume

        I guess that was George Bush! He busted the economy through reckless attacking of other countries! Trillions spent on those was that Obama inherited and never started himself! The high number of human lost during these wars has no price on it! Then come the money injected into the economy started off by Buss to save the banks, and indeed continued by Obama to help jump-start the economy! Look, hating the president emotionally without looking at the facts just shows how shallow a debate in America on having a black president! I do not think a white president had done any better given the circumstances! Objective analysis is very crucial when discussing important things like why the US economy is down after a beating – it is wars, huge embassies abroad, military bases abroad, military support for countries that hate America, it is the internal ethics of consumption without finances(credit) outsourced jobs and expenditure on goods produced not internally ie the money pipes leak off money that is never recycled back into the economy!

        October 28, 2011 at 7:49 am |
    • Edward Sevume

      Whom do you think the American people should have elected? You had McCain the contender and the majority fell for Obama! That is how your system of government works! But still, let me stop at the experience of running things – I do not think that in today´s world, experience of running things helps you when there are unknown unknowns that affect the whole world! The president, as in many other countries, does make decisions with the help of think tanks and given the environment that the US has found itself in (read reply beneath) no president would have done any better! I have been to the States a couple of times and love this country, but see some things that remind me of the third world – unattended bridges, power lines that hung dangerously on poles, dilapidated roads, a health care system that caters for some and leaves out others, heavy fees paid by students to go to university, part of this country uninformed of the fact that there is a world outside it! Excessive borrowing in order to consume, the list is long and in my mind, the problem resides not with president, but with the systemic norms and in some respects, in the psyche of the people. It is this that has to change! The notion that the government has to take care of certain common resources used by all is not foreign but how do you expect the government to do this when its coffers are empty and no one wants to pay taxes? How do you expect the people to have jobs when the salaries are that high and making a profit means that you have to relocate to china in order to make a profit? How do you expect the government to help create jobs when even mentioning that means foul? Look, you cannot have a society where you believe that every person has to fend for him or herself and believe there is going to be something done through collectively agreeing on certain uplifting values for the nation! As those values do disappear, expect America to become the Roman Empire of our day and no president irrespective of tonnes of experience, color of skin, religion is going to change that as long as it does not dawn on the populace that you folks need one another to prosper! You can extrapolate that in economics or politics! A country is as strong as the individuals that form part and parcel of its society! Hope that even another president will tell the US of the importance of this!

      October 28, 2011 at 8:16 am | Reply
    • Edward Sevume

      Whom do you think the American people should have elected? You had McCain the contender and the majority fell for Obama! That is how your system of government works! But still, let me stop at the experience of running things – I do not think that in today´s world, experience of running things helps you when there are unknown unknowns that affect the whole world! The president, as in many other countries, does make decisions with the help of think tanks and given the environment that the US has found itself in (read reply beneath) no president would have done any better! I have been to the States a couple of times and love this country, but see some things that remind me of the third world – unattended bridges, power lines that hung dangerously on poles, dilapidated roads, a health care system that caters for some and leaves out others, heavy fees paid by students to go to university, part of this country uninformed of the fact that there is a world outside it! Excessive borrowing in order to consume, the list is long and in my mind, the problem resides not with president, but with the systemic norms and in some respects, in the psyche of the people. It is this that has to change! The notion that the government has to take care of certain common resources used by all is not foreign but how do you expect the government to do this when its coffers are empty and no one wants to pay taxes? How do you expect the people to have jobs when the salaries are that high and making a profit means that you have to relocate to china in order to make a profit? How do you expect the government to help create jobs when even mentioning that means foul? Look, you cannot have a society where you believe that every person has to fend for him or herself and believe there is going to be something done through collectively agreeing on certain uplifting values for the nation! As those values do disappear, expect America to become the Roman Empire of our day and no president irrespective of tonnes of experience, color of skin, religion is going to change that as long as it does not dawn on the populace that you folks need one another to prosper! You can extrapolate that in economics or politics! A country is as strong as the individuals that form part and parcel of its society! Hope that even another president will tell the US of the importance of this!

      October 28, 2011 at 8:22 am | Reply
    • salvatore

      The books cost a lot less than the contracts awarded to Haliburton during the Bush years so I'm cool with it.

      Ok why is the comment button in Spanish.

      October 30, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Reply
  15. carl

    Obama and his dirty no good politicians lining up for the money...some body occupy the white house

    October 27, 2011 at 8:06 pm | Reply
    • webbtman

      Does Haliburton spark your memory!

      October 28, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Reply
  16. Nate

    Being the first black president, Obama's books carry a little more weight in promoting the U.S.'s image. Hence embassies interest in streamlining them early.

    October 27, 2011 at 7:21 pm | Reply
  17. Flex

    Typically, use creativity to increase consumers spending. More spending is healthy the more healthier become wealthy. Wealthy is most important as Mr. Obama advocated.

    October 27, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Reply
  18. njp289

    If they want the book in embassies, why doesn't he donate them?

    October 27, 2011 at 5:15 pm | Reply
    • aes

      He couldn't donate them because that would violate Government Rules on Gift acceptance. The Dept of State would not be allowed to accept the donation.

      October 28, 2011 at 10:39 am | Reply
  19. Mudgie

    The Bush administration in 2008 hit us with a radical bailout plan with a jawdropping price tag _ a takeover of a half-trillion dollars or more in worthless mortgages and other bad debt held by tottering institutions and CNN is worried about 70,000 for books. Get Real....

    October 27, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Reply
  20. Valerie

    Republicans reject book reading period... too elitist. They rely on Faux news for their gnawl-egde.

    October 27, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Reply
    • Howard

      I guess the embassies overseas are using the
      pages of obama's self-serving, ego centric book
      as toilet paper. The only problem is that the
      pages of this book make their arses dirtier,
      rather than cleaner.

      October 27, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Reply
  21. ezduzit757

    It makes perfect sense for embasies to display books written by the President and other political leaders and to give them as a christmas gifts in foreign countries. This is just much ado about nothing.

    October 27, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Reply
  22. darlenedesktop

    DON'T HATE CELEBRATE!

    October 27, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Reply
  23. Matt

    Politicians using taxpayer dollars to enrich themselves... wow what a surprise. Gotta love how the state department says they followed the rules... yea those rules written by those who enrich themselves at the expense of the taxpayer. If I am not mistaken the King of England was following the rules when he taxed us in the 1760's and 1770's.

    October 27, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Reply
    • Dan the man

      And they wonder why the people are occupying places and going nuts! The hypocrisy is to much to bear!!

      October 27, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Reply
  24. cento

    Call me whatever you want, I don't care, Obama rocks!

    Obama/Biden 2012

    October 27, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Reply
    • Raj

      Obama, best US president ever

      October 27, 2011 at 8:49 pm | Reply
  25. Howard

    It's just more obama self-promotion, like his endless photo ops, and continuous campaigning, as obama uses the people's money to get get himself reelected. obama will say, or do anything to get reelected.

    October 27, 2011 at 12:22 pm | Reply
    • emmydogg

      yep, giving gifts of the presidents book to foreign nations(that can't vote) will get him reelected. big brain on you!

      October 27, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Reply
    • Seraphim0

      Apparently, you suffer from a lack of reading comprehension. You miss the part where they flat out stated that these purchases are not directed or suggested by the white house, right? Each Embassy decides what to buy.

      October 27, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Reply

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