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Dr Musa A Keilani: Obama a better choice
October 24, 2012
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

There is a big question over whether a re-elected Barack Obama for a second term in the White House or his Republican challenger Mitt Romney as US president would serve the interests of peace in the Middle East.

Obama and Romney met for their third and final presidential debate and discussed foreign policy and came up with nothing new.

Both restated their known positions on the issues related to the Middle East such as Iran’s nuclear programme, the Arab-Israeli problem and conflicts that involve direct and indirect US engagement (and that means almost all of the conflicts around the world).

Most people in this region tend to favour Obama in the November elections only because at the outset of his first term he displayed an understanding of the key issues hampering an improvement of relations between the US and the Arab and Muslim worlds. It is not something that the region could expect from Romney, who belongs to the Republican camp that has always avoided looking at the root causes of the strain in the US relationship with the Arab and Muslim worlds. Not that the Democrats are much different, but Obama has shown a better understanding of the issues involved although he has not been able to do much.

By the time Romney, if elected, could come to grips with the responsibility of running the White House, it would be time for him to seek re-election. The Middle East could expect little from him in terms of any action to address the crises in the region.

The most recent inkling that Romney has offered about his foreign policy approach was in a speech titled “The Mantle of Leadership.”

Romney essentially blasted Obama for not being more like George W. Bush when it comes to American foreign policy. But he overlooked that Obama has continued virtually every foreign and “national security” policy established by his predecessor.

Commentator Jack Hunter writes: “The only thing dumber than a Democrat who thinks Obama’s foreign policy is different from Bush’s is a Republican who thinks the same. And perhaps the only thing dumber still is a Republican presidential candidate who — at this late date in 2012 — believes that the Bush-era of neo-conservatism is the way to win over voters. It might be a way for Romney to win over his foreign policy advisers, but not American voters.”

An optimistic thought is that Obama, who has indicated that he wants to be a president who made a real difference to his country’s relations with the rest of the world, will not be burdened with some of the problems he faced during his first term that handicapped him from taking realistic action.

Indeed, it remains to be seen whether he would be able to sidestep some of the political imperatives that have always tied down a US president while dealing with such sensitive issues as the Arab-Israeli conflict, mainly the Palestinian problem.

Clearly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who knows that Obama has little credibility for him, and the pro-Israel lobby in Washington favour Romney as the winner in the November elections. Netanyahu has already set his lobbyists at work in an effort to prevent a second term Obama White House.

Philip Giraldi, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer, a contributing editor to the American Conservative and executive director of the Council for the National Interest, observes that Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate, has not been invited to the Obama-Romney debate. The reason, he says, Johnson is able to make a strong argument on foreign policy issues.

According to Giraldi, Johnson, a former Republican governor of New Mexico, “believes that so-called defence spending should be used for defence, that the United States ‘should resort to military action as the last option and only as provided in the constitution,’ and that our foreign policy should be ‘reoriented toward(s) the protection of US citizens and interests’.”

Giraldi says that Obama and Romney, by contrast, believe “it is the responsibility of our president to use America’s great power to shape history,” as Romney put it in a recent speech.

The commentator says: “In a debate limited to Obama and Romney, you will not hear anyone question, as Johnson does, whether frustrating Iran’s nuclear ambitions is worth launching yet another war in the Middle East. You will not hear anyone wonder, as Johnson does, whether occupying Afghanistan for 13 years was the only way to ‘make sure that the Taliban does not come back in and give Al Qaeda a safe haven’.”

Al Qaeda did not exist in the 60s, 70s and 80s, but the US policy towards the Middle East dates back to those years. It could easily be said that the US policy in Afghanistan helped create groups such as Al Qaeda and other similar ones.

What the Middle East needs is a US president who holds his country’s interests over the interests of Israel. From the look of things so far, Obama fits the bill better than Romney.

The author, a former Jordanian ambassador, is the
chief editor of  Al Urdun weekly in Amman

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