State Department replacing online country profiles, highlighting Obama policies

The State Department has started to replace its just-the-facts online profiles of foreign countries with new ones that appear to largely highlight U.S. relations since President Obama took office -- a move that comes on top of efforts to update the official profiles of past presidents with Obama-themed factoids.

The agency has so far swapped just a fraction of the nearly 200 country profiles. The new versions are hardly sensational in their promotion of Obama administration policy objectives, but do appear to put more of an emphasis on them. Several now highlight Obama initiatives like pursuing "strategic" talks with China and South Africa, and ending discrimination against transgendered individuals in Brazil.

The changes were discovered by the Heritage Foundation's Jim Roberts. Roberts likened the changes to the move by the White House to tack on Obama accomplishments at the end of the online bios of past presidents, which drew ridicule earlier this year.

"We're seeing the same sort of modus operandi," said Roberts, an editor at the conservative Washington-based think tank and a former State Department employee. "It seems pretty shameless to me."

The detailed overviews on foreign countries known as "background notes" are being replaced by what the State Department is calling "fact sheets." The fact sheets are generally shorter, and focus more on modern developments.

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For example, the previous State Department profile on Brazil was 4,100 words and included a litany of facts about the country's history and demographic details.

It has since been replaced with a 2,100-word version that no longer includes such analytical information as the country's size, population and gross domestic product. However, the new U.S. embassy-written version twice mentions Obama by name and cites several of his initiatives.

"Education cooperation continues to thrive as President Obama's '100,000 Strong in the Americans' goal and Brazilian President Rousseff's 'Science without Borders' initiative create opportunities for new academic and research partnerships," the new profile reads in part.

The State Department, though, disputed the idea that politics played a part in the changes.

"There's no merit to the idea there's a political motive," an agency spokeswoman told She also pointed out the new profiles include links to the old ones and said they provide a resource for people interested in "the state of U.S. relationships."

It's not uncommon for even the older State Department pages to mention the policies of the president at the time. But the new versions at times play down other administrations' contributions.

The new profiles for at least five sub-Sahara African countries make no mention of the program started by President George W. Bush in 2004 to fight the AIDS epidemic in that region. The previous profile for Tanzania, for example, noted Bush's efforts and that the program -- called the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief -- had through 2011 helped provide $1.8 billion for HIV and AIDS care and prevention.

However, the new profiles for Tanzania and Uganda mention only "the president's efforts" to combat AIDS.

Over at the South Africa page, though, the Obama administration's movement on the anti-AIDS front is prominent.

"In 2010, Secretary Clinton and South African Prime Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane signed a Partnership Framework, creating a five-year plan to tackle HIV/AIDS in South Africa through the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)," the site says.

Roberts called the revisions to take out Bush's efforts "egregious."

"And does this set thing up for future revisions? The profiles should show an interest over many decades, as opposed to political immediacy," he said.

He called the changes "yet another taxpayer-subsidized campaign commercial for the Obama administration."

Most of the new country profiles start with a brief history of origin and include links to more analytical information. But Roberts claims researchers and others have lost a useful, one-stop site for information about other countries.

The new pages don't always include prominent references to Obama policies. But they are shorter.

The page for China, the world's most populous country with a history dating back to early civilization, was slimmed down considerably and is now roughly half the size of the old one.

It begins with: "The United States seeks to build a positive, cooperative and comprehensive relationship with China by expanding areas of cooperation and addressing areas of disagreement, such as human rights."

The page then highlights the "economic track" of a May 2012 economic forum, including "measures to enhance macroeconomic cooperation, promote open trade and investment, enhance international rules and global economic governance, and foster financial market stability and reform. "