By Ramzy Baroud
US elections are manifestly linked to the Middle East, at least rhetorically. In practical terms, however, US foreign policies in the region are compelled by the Middle East’s own dynamics and the US’ own political climate, economic woes or ambitions. There is little historic evidence that US foreign policy in the Arab world has been guided by moral compulsion.
When it comes to the Middle East — and much of the world — it is mostly about style. The country’s two leading political parties have proven equally to be interventionists. In the last two decades Democrats seemed to lean more toward unilateralism in foreign policy as in war, while Republicans, as highlighted by the administration of George W. Bush, are much less worried about the mere definitions of their conducts. The US administration of Bill Clinton (1993-2001) maintained a draconian siege on Iraq that caused what former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark described as “genocide.” Two years later, W. Bush chose the direct war path, which simply rebranded the ongoing “genocide.” In both cases, hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis died.
Despite the warrior-like saber-rattling by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney about his intentions to transform the Middle East to suit US interests shall he be elected, few would take that as more than despairing attempts at reaching out to the most zealous members and groups of his party, especially those who wield political influence, media access and, of course, funds.
The pro-Israeli gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson is referenced more than others, but there are many others who demand such satisfactory rhetoric before reaching out for their checkbooks. Ultimately, “it’s the economy, stupid” – a phrase that reached legendary eminence after it was coined for Bill Clinton as he unleashed his successful presidential campaign in 1992. Once again, the phrase is likely to be the determinant factor come Nov. 6.
American voters will decide whether to extend President Barack Obama’s mandate by four more years or hand a more impulsive, but equally opportunistic Romney the fate of a country that has long crossed the line of economic recession into uncharted territories since the Great Depression in 1929. Romney, the archetypal American elite with ample wealth, lifestyle and language so detached from the average American is doing his very best to exploit Obama’s failing to rescue the currently tattered, and largely struggling economy. The recovery, despite the hype, is still lacking at best. With a large and growing deficit, and unrelenting government borrowing, prospects for the future remain dim.
“Economic growth has never been weaker in a post-war recovery. Consumer spending has never been so slack. Only once has job growth been slower,” wrote Paul Wiseman, in the Huffington Post (Aug. 15). These were his thoughts on a thorough analysis produced by the Associated Press, which concluded that Obama-championed recovery since 2009 has been the weakest of all 10 US recessions since World War II. The recession which dates back to 2007-2008, scaled back economic growth, caused massive cuts and cost numerous jobs. Republicans often wish to omit the eight-year legacy of George W. Bush and his colossal military expenditure. It is in these instances that the Middle East becomes a victim of omission, for heedless wars and an unprecedented strain on the economy as a result of them seem too trivial to mention. Listening to Romney rambling about his prospected foreign policy, one gets the impression that another war is already in the making. Destination doesn’t matter, what matters is that Romney appears strong, decisive and ready for a combat at a moment’s notice.
Democrats are focusing their strategy on dividing their campaign messages between the economy (placing the recovery within generally upbeat news of positive economic indicators) and other issues that matter to large sectors of American society: Health care, abortion, immigration, civil rights questions, and so on. With the economy continuing to follow an impulsive line of logic, both parties are still busy defining the very problems facing their nation, leaving the task of devising real solutions, if any, to a later date.
The heavy sense of disappointment felt by many Americans is unmistakable. Long gone is the ‘hope and change’ fervor of Obama’s last election campaign. Democrats are no longer offering sensational answers; it’s mostly about braving the difficult journey ahead. Republicans seem more united by their own aversion of Obama than their affinity to Romney. The latter’s lack of consistency, inability to form and staunchly defend a cohesive vision, and clearly expressed disinterest in 47 percent of American voters (per a leaked video recording) makes him hardly the long-awaited savior. Moreover, disorganized and divided Republicans between traditional conservatives, Tea Party supporters and religious zealots among others are hardly ready for the coveted ‘landslide’, as boldly anticipated by Keith Edwards in the American Thinker (Oct. 2).
The importance of the elections is barely accentuated by the political forte or aptitudes of its main candidates, but by the historic transition that the United States is currently undergoing. This not just within the realm of the devastated economy, but in its global standing as well. Here is where the Middle East mostly fits in: The timing of the region’s own transition — exemplified by ongoing revolutions, political upheavals and civil wars — couldn’t be any more challenging or inopportune. Just as US foreign policy was reconsidering neoconservative war wisdom, momentous events throughout the Middle East are wreaking havoc on an already disorderly American retreat. Unable to completely shift from its militant policy of old, the Obama administration is trying to weather the storm until the elections are over.
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Oct. 1, Romney recharged, with the hope of challenging mounting accusations that see his foreign policy expertise as deficient and misguided. “Our country seems to be at the mercy of events rather than shaping them,” he wrote, once more demanding action against Iran, even more US support of Israel, and greater intervention in Syria, Libya and elsewhere. His administration, he said, will “encourage liberty and opportunity” to replace extremism in the Middle East. Although some real differences may be underscored between both candidates on various issues in the Middle East, both are strong supporters of Israel, both tirelessly vying for the backing of the strong pro-Israel lobby in Washington. Obama, however, until now at least, refuses to concede to Israeli demands of agreeing on ‘red lines’ on Iran’s supposed quest for a nuclear bomb. Romney is exploiting that diversion to the maximum.
There is little that Middle Eastern countries can expect from the outcome of the upcoming elections. The region seems propelled by its own dynamics, despite insistent US attempts at intervening or meddling to ‘shape outcomes’ of ongoing conflicts. Equally important, regardless of who will reside in the White House, the sluggish economy and the fear of getting entangled in new military adventures, will likely redefine future US relations to the region.
This article appeared in Arab News and is reprinted with permission.