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Hichem Karoui: Hard Time for the Hardliners
November 04, 2012
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

Certainly, many people in the Middle East — Arabs and Muslims in the first place — are wondering and speculating about what would happen if Romney wins this election. Of course, Middle Easterners do not vote in the United States, unless they are American citizens. Yet, their region is much more concerned by the outcome of any US presidential election than any other region in the world, Latin America included.

Arab-Americans do vote, and although they are a minority, they have allies to coalesce with and interests to look after. Besides, some persons particularly prominent among them have already served in previous US administrations. They did not serve as “Arabs” but as “Americans,” given the fact that — apart from the native tribes — all the Americans have an immigrant origin, without exception. That is almost equal to saying that, being American, is always being from “somewhere else,” which is definitely a unique feature of the USA.

The Arab lobby — officially called: Arab American Leadership Council PAC (AALC), led by Dr James Zogby — has been active in the electoral cycles since 1996. Its interests are focused on foreign and defence policy. However, against all expectations, the Arab Americans have financially contributed to the campaigns of both Democrat and Republican parties, in Congress. In 2012 for example, they contributed 60% to Democrats and 40% to Republicans. In 2010, 97% of their contributions went to the Democratic candidates in Congress, and only 3% to Republicans. In 2008, AALC contributed 70% to the Democrat campaign, and 30% to Republicans.

Obviously, AALC is pro-Democrat. Even in 2000, when many Muslim Americans sided with George W. Bush, the Arab American Leadership PAC has contributed 71% to the Democrats, and only 28% to the Republicans. Four years later, in 2004, the same lobby stayed the course, with 83% of its contributions to the Democrats and 16% to the Republicans.

Really, the sums are not important at all. Compared to the Jewish lobby, they are peanuts. Nevertheless, the support AALC gave to the Democrats tells us something about the concerns and worries of Arab Americans.

Supporting the Democrats, with a focus on defence and foreign policy, at least indicates that in their eyes, the Republican candidates are dangerous in their pretentions to protect America and the stability of the world while leading a hawkish foreign policy of subversion and destabilisation. Nonetheless, while the military budget is less important under the rule of a Democratic president, this may not be interpreted as a tendency to be more prone to compromises in international affairs. Actually, Democrat and Republican US presidents waged and led wars, coups, counter-coups, and several covert operations abroad.

AALC may feel closer to the Democratic Party for any reason, but how to justify all the wars and the acts of subversion, with no particular connection to the US security, led or ordered by Democratic presidents?

Surely, Romney is allied to hardliners. Yet, his rhetoric and positions on military spending are considered Republican mainstream. His choices are those of his party, and his party has decided to stick to the dogma of “4% for freedom” proposed by the Heritage Foundation. The argument is that the base defence budget should be fixed around 4 per cent of the national GDP. Thus, if Romney wins, his minimum defence spending in 2013 alone would result in a hike of about $96 billion. As The Washington Post’s Suzy Khimm noted, “That’s about a 17 per cent increase over 2012 spending levels — nearly the same amount by which the public wants to decrease the defence budget, according to the Stimson Centre recent study.” Again, we must remember that this is Romney’s choice only because it is a Republican mainstream. This is even more evidenced by the team advising Romney on foreign policy. Observe that many of them have already served under Republican presidents.

Take Mitchell Reiss for example. At the time of George W. Bush, he was director of policy planning at the State Department under Colin Powell, and a special Envoy to Northern Ireland peace process under Condoleezza Rice.  Although Reiss has advised Romney in 2008 and 2012, he has been disavowed by the candidate himself, on the issue of supporting negotiations with some groups like the Taliban. Romney told the reporters, “The right course for America is not to negotiate with the Taliban when the Taliban are killing our soldiers. The right course is to recognise they’re the enemy of the United States.” It was like throwing the man under the bus, would some say.

Take Dan Senor, another of Romney’s foreign policy advisers. This is a pure neoconservative pundit who made his reputation of “rosy time seller” while serving as spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, after the invasion of 2003. Senor is also a founder, with two other neocons (William Kristol and Robert Kagan), of “The Foreign Policy Initiative,” viewed as a the revival of the defunct “Project for a New American Century,”(PNAC). In July 2012, Senor told reporters that Romney would support “a go-it alone Israeli attack on Iran,” (Associated Press, July 29, 2012), although he moderated his tone later. Not amazing, for a former intern of AIPAC.

Another of his advisers is Eliot Cohen, who served in Bush II administration as adviser to Condee Rice, and on the Defence Policy Board under Donald Rumsfeld. I have already talked about his authoring Romney’s strategic paper, “An American Century,” last week, (The Gulf Today, October 28, 2012).

We also find in the same team other neocons and hardliners associated with the G.W. Bush administration, like Robert Kagan, John F. Lehman, Michael Chertoff, Paula Dobriansky, Roger Zakheim...

Kagan was a co-founder of the PNAC; Lehman is a hard militarist supporter and an affiliate of the PNAC; Chertoff was a vocal proponent of many “war on terror” policies; Dobriansky is also known for her militarist stances and her affiliation with the PNAC...

It is therefore clear that if the Republican candidate, Romney, wins this election, the US policy in the Middle East would follow the same hard line advocated by the neoconservatives. It is also expected to be a hard time for America and the hardliners.

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The author is an expert in US-Middle East
relations at the Arab Center for Research
and Policy Studies (Doha Institute)

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