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US Presidential candidates and the Middle East


From a distance, here are impressionistic views of an American citizen on how American presidential candidates stack up on foreign policy. These views are impressionistic because they represent not the unknowable substance of the candidates' real foreign policy knowledge and positions, but only what they may show us in their Web sites and public foreign policy statements, fileted through my own faulty perception of those views. If these impressions are incorrect, I hope that readers will hasten to correct them.

The Iowa caucus results may not mean much. It is hard to believe that Mike Huckabee, for example, can really become a national candidate based on those results, or that Rudy Giuliani is really finished as a presidential candidate. But these non-binding popularity contests give us a sense of what Americans want and what is important to them.

I hasten to interject that this is not yet another Middle Eastern Bash the USA article. There seems to be an unfortunate Middle East consensus across a broad spectrum of opinion that the US is malevolent - ranging from Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan to Rami Khouri in Beirut, to the pages of Al Ahram in Cairo, all of whom, along with Professors Walt and Mearsheimer and former President Jimmy Carter, tell us that the United States is prisoner to the Zionist lobby, and on to Caroline Glick in the Jerusalem Post and many other right wing Zionists who insist the U.S. is about to sell out Israel and is in the grip of the Arab lobby. With Yair Lapid, I believe that the US has its heart in the right place, it is fundamentally right, even if it makes many mistakes. However, having your heart in the right place is not always enough. "He meant well" can be a very sad epitaph.

It seems from the material at their Web sites that the candidates in the recent Iowa caucuses were not running on their foreign policy platforms and were not chosen because of them. This seems certainly true of Mike Huckabee and Barak Obama. Foreign policy takes up a tiny part of their campaign rhetoric, which concentrates instead on social issues, abortion, taxes, medical care, immigration and the other trivia of domestic politics. Most of the candidates do not seem to have a coherent vision of the world outside the United States other than specific issues such as the war in Iraq, terrorism, Iranian nuclear development, and in a few cases, the Israeli-Arab conflict and specific issues such as Cuba.

For example, Lebanon does not seem to exist at all on the public political globe of the United States. Lebanese should not feel too insulted, because Russia and European countries don't seem to be there either for most candidates. This may not be due to actual ignorance, but rather, it may reflect what candidates and their advisers believe that their voters consider to be important.

The major exception to the above impression is Hillary Clinton, who presents us with a competent and professional overview of US foreign Policy in an address before the Council on Foreign relations, and likewise in a recent Foreign Affairs article. To be sure, there are some question marks raised by her stands, and there are not enough specifics. She wants to fight Al-Qaeda everywhere, but doesn't explain how America will fight Al-Qaeda in Iraq after withdrawing from that country. Her Foreign Affairs article has this acute observation

Avoid false choices driven by ideology. The Bush administration has presented the American people with a series of false choices: force versus diplomacy, unilateralism versus multilateralism, hard power versus soft. Seeing these choices as mutually exclusive reflects an ideologically blinkered vision of the world that denies the United States the tools and the flexibility it needs to lead and succeed. There is a time for force and a time for diplomacy; when properly deployed, the two can reinforce each other. U.S. foreign policy must be guided by a preference for multilateralism, with unilateralism as an option when absolutely necessary to protect our security or avert an avoidable tragedy.

That is sound advice, except that everyone's choices are driven by their ideological views of the world, and everyone's ideology somehow seems to dictate a single type of solution. The only tool Republicans seem to have is the US armed forces, and the only solution suggested is "blow 'em up." The only tool the Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, seem to have is the diplomatic corps, and the only solution is negotiations and alliances.

Overall, by comparison with others, Hillary Clinton gives the impression that she is "the foreign policy candidate." In her Web site summary, however, she chooses to ignore geopolitical realities and focus on platitudes and nostrums. She tells us, as do other Democratic candidates, that America has to form alliances and must negotiate even with enemies. Democrats have all hit hard at this failure of the Bush administration, but for the most part they don't tell us who the allies should be, what the goals of the alliances ought to be, or what the negotiating positions should be with various enemy states, or what would induce hostile states to adopt positions favorable to the USA. Being for democracy and human rights and education is fine. Everyone supports all the good things surely. The question is how to get them. Hillary is specific and aggressive on at least one point:

Hillary has put forth an aggressive plan to support public schools in developing countries in an effort to achieve universal primary education for the 77 million children around the world who aren't in school because they are too poor.

We should not belittle the value of education, but it cannot be the only substantive policy point in a foreign policy presentation, unless it is a presentation to the PTA. On the basis of her CFR speech and her Foreign Affairs magazine article, we can assume that Hillary knows better than that, but apparently her advisers and campaign people understand the importance of not overestimating the intelligence of the public.

All the major U.S. candidates are against terrorism. Don't laugh. In a free election in the Middle East, that unanimity could not be taken for granted, and that stance would not necessarily be popular. In Iran or the Palestinian territories, it would not be a viable political stance. However, most of the candidates seem to be unaware of how woefully unprepared the United States is to fight terrorism, or what has to be done to correct the problem. Nobody gets into the problem of where all the billions went in Iraq, or why US forces never seem to be able to prevent terror attacks there.

All the major Democratic candidates promise to withdraw from Iraq no matter what, and all the Republican candidates promise that US troops will stay in Iraq no matter what and fight to victory. They must all be intelligent enough to realize that arising contingencies may force them to pursue different policies, but in a democracy, you need to tell the people what you think they want to hear in order to win elections.

All the major Democratic candidates, including Hillary Clinton, seem blessedly ignorant of the relation between economic well being and foreign policy clout. All over the world, American prestige is sinking not only because of policy errors, but because of the precipitous fall in the value of the dollar and obvious economic problems experienced by the United States. Among Republicans, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani seem to have grasped the problem to some extent, though it is not clear that their solution is realistic. Mike Huckabee also understands the competitiveness problem. He seems to believe that abolishing the income tax will solve it. None of the candidates has overestimated the intelligence and knowledge of their audiences. Romney, for example, tells us, "There are a lot of Asians." Now I bet you didn't know that, did you?

I was unable to find out if any of these candidates have a plan for solving the knotty problem of Israeli-Arab peace. John Edwards, who has a relatively broad discussion of foreign policy, doesn't seem to be aware there is an Israeli-Arab conflict. He does have some good ideas like improving US Humint capabilities, but seems to offer too little. The farthest any of the others will go in discussing the Israeli Palestinian conflict is to boldly proclaim that they will encourage negotiations. They must've all concluded that anything they are liable to say beyond that is going to lose votes. Either that, or they really have no idea what to do or what stands to take on the issues.

Hillary Clinton apparently gives the most "information" about her position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Not surprisingly, much of it is familiar to most of us from a certain previous administration. In her Foreign Affairs magazine article, Hillary Clinton declares:

Getting out of Iraq will enable us to play a constructive role in a renewed Middle East peace process that would mean security and normal relations for Israel and the Palestinians. The fundamental elements of a final agreement have been clear since 2000: a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank in return for a declaration that the conflict is over, recognition of Israel's right to exist, guarantees of Israeli security, diplomatic recognition of Israel, and normalization of its relations with Arab states. U.S. diplomacy is critical in helping to resolve this conflict. In addition to facilitating negotiations, we must engage in regional diplomacy to gain Arab support for a Palestinian leadership that is committed to peace and willing to engage in a dialogue with the Israelis. Whether or not the United States makes progress in helping to broker a final agreement, consistent U.S. involvement can lower the level of violence and restore our credibility in the region.

Actually, comparison of Israeli and Palestinian casualty rates prior to beginning of the US-sponsored peace process at the U.S. sponsored Madrid conference and since then would appear to indicate the opposite. Thousands of Israelis and Palestinian Arabs have died or been seriously wounded as the result of a "process" that was started on the initiative of the United States. An extremist Hamas government is installed in Gaza as the direct result of US interference. Yet the U.S. has been unable to do much to stop the violence and bring about a stable and reasonable situation. Hillary believes that the solution is the same as the one worked out by Clinton the First in 2000. That may be so, but the problem, Hillary, is that nobody seems to know just how to attain that solution. Hillary also doesn't explain how or why getting out of Iraq and leaving a mess there is going to put the United States in a strong position to mediate Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Barack Obama tells us:

Regional Diplomacy: Obama will launch the most aggressive diplomatic effort in recent American history to reach a new compact on the stability of Iraq and the Middle East. This effort will include all of Iraq's neighbors including Iran and Syria. This compact will aim to secure Iraq's borders; keep neighboring countries from meddling inside Iraq; isolate al Qaeda; support reconciliation among Iraq's sectarian groups; and provide financial support for Iraq's reconstruction.

. What if the instability of Iraq is partly due to the fact that Syria and Iran have no interest in the security of Iraq or the success of American efforts there? What if Obama launches this big effort and it fails, then what?

About the Israeli Palestinian conflict Obama tells us:

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Obama will make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a key diplomatic priority. He will make a sustained push working with Israelis and Palestinians to achieve the goal of two states, a Jewish state in Israel and a Palestinian state, living side by side in peace and security.

Previous administrations have "made progress" on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but that progress has not necessarily been in the right direction. If we have much more progress, we may all be dead. Obama doesn't tell us how he's going to succeed where Bill Clinton and George Bush got it wrong. He doesn't tell us what he proposes to do about Jerusalem, about the refugee problem or the other issues. He doesn't seem to know they are issues. He knows about at least one issue. He wants a Jewish state in Israel. He doesn't seem to know that Palestinian leaders have rejected the idea of a Jewish state in Israel, and that might just cause some problems.

Governor Huckabee has a whole page about Israel. He tells us the U.S. has to be committed to Israel, but doesn't elaborate on how that commitment might be expressed or balanced against commitments to other countries. He doesn't mention the peace process.

All the candidates seem to understand the importance of energy independence for American foreign policy, and at least mention the issue. Governor Huckabee makes the boldest promise of all: He is going to achieve energy independence for America by the end of his second term as President! This may seem impossible to ye of little faith. But remember that Governor Huckabee is a man of faith, and faith can move mountains. He is going to spend a lot of money to achieve energy independence. The source of this money is not clear, since Governor Huckabee wants to abolish the income tax. The Lord will provide.

Governor Huckabee may show more insight than many other candidates about what is wrong with the Bush administration Middle East policy:

Right after September 11, with wounds fresh and emotions running high, President Bush declared that all other countries were either for us or they were for the terrorists. Such a black-and-white stance doesn't work in the Arab and Muslim worlds, where there are more shades of gray than you'll find at Sherwin-Williams.

The soundest foreign policy statement of any of the candidates is just horse sense. In just about a year, one of these people is going to be running the United States, and effectively, the world. Scary, isn't it?

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000664.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 5 comments

Is it possible that you meant to write "filtered" rather than "fileted?"

Posted by Holly in Cincinnati @ 01/07/2008 01:59 PM CST

Well, you seem to have a clear outlook on the candidates, and Americans in general, that is "from your point of view". However, you missed it regarding some Americans such as myself. A vast portion of Americans agree that all of these candidates are numb skulls, and simply don't have a clue. But, there are those, that support these candidates because they too, are morons without a clue. I will first say that when it comes to the middle east, nothing seems to work because everyone on that side of the world consumes themselves with greed, so they blow up and kill those that do not give to them what they whine for. The wars in the middle east have been going on since before I was born, and nothing has changed. There are still a bunch of idiots killing inocent people over some land mass, or because one does not agree with the others system of religious beiefs. Hmmm, so lets go blow them up in a cafe, or maybe kill them and their children while riding a bus through town. Or maybe, just fly freaking jet airplanes with non-military citizens on board, into skyscrapers. Let me tell the mid-eastern idiots over there something; if it was up to me, all of the middle east would suffer the same consequences that Japan did for attacking our soil. The big "Destroyer" is what it will take to rid the planet of such scum roaches as there are over there. So, all the foreigners always have something to say about what is wrong with the Americans and our foreign policies. Why don't you weigh that against your own actions over there every day. You people are plumb nuts! You can't get along with each other, you don't know how to do anything but whine, fight, and kill innocence. People in the middle east act like a bunch of undisciplined children. Also, Americans choke down on a daily basis, what foreigners say about our economy, or our dollar falling, or always a negative cut-down about us. Yet, WE are the first to come to everyones aid all over the world when disaster strikes. Oh they suck it up from us when that happens, because noone else is extending a hand. So as far as I'm concerned, I hope they all choke on what they've been given thus far, and it is my prayer that all their land is forever barren, because of their lack of appreciation for what American dollars have done for them. America has tried to do right by everyone, and has never went into a foreign land to occupy, and take over for our benefit. We have fought to defend and spilled much blood for people that we don't owe, or even know! We ALWAYS rebuild them after we come to their aid and defense, and then we go home, only without the souls of the many that we came with,,,,, oh and billions of dollars more in debt because of it! Iran kidnapped fifty two American hostages in 1979, and kept them inprisoned for 2 years. America did nothing! Our embassies have been bombed and Americans have been killed, along with military facilities, the first attaempt to bring down the World Trade Center with a terrorist bomb in the parking garage, and hi-jacked a TWA airliner with a bomb many years ago, that crashed to the ground killing hundreds. An American military vessel was bombed by a crew of middle easterners in a rubber ducky boat, killing many sailors. The ship was only docking for fuel, America was not in the region for conflict, nor had we threatend anyone, or any nation. Again, AMERICA DID NOTHING! Well, THAT is because of the spineless politicians we call Democrats. Both were Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton. So you wonder why we are now making the choice to fight back? I believe we have the perfect right to do so after all that has been leashed out on our people for no good reason. YES, we are justified in going into Iraq and killing Sadams ASS! He threatened to assassinate our president at that time, George Bush. He also defied every atempt to do good business with him when we ask him to stop killing his own people and also invaded his neighboring country to rape and pillage for his own pleasure. You are right about one thing. The empty headed people that we have running for president now is a scary thing, because they are clueless. Especially Hillary Clinton, boy I bet she'd love to pay off a few more terrorist in an attempt to keep them happy, it sure worked for her husband when he appeased the terrorists the entire time he was in office, only still to have hundreds of Americans killed in many attacks on our people! But never forget this, America is not run by a president. America is run by the hard neck American people, and we will remember all that has been lost because of idiots like these. We will also choose our time to rise up all at once against the middle east, just as we did when we removed two Japanese cities from the world map! So, keep it up why don't ya. You people havent seen anything yet. And if you think for one second that America can not handle itself, just because it APPEARS we are having trouble in Iraq, Don't fool yourselves. We havent brought out all our vengence yet. Oh, and you brought a bit of sarcasm with the comment about the Lord providing? Well, if you check your history, you will find that it is indeed historical fact and truth, that NO people, nation, or kingdom has survived while defiling God! Never in the history of mankind on this planet! The entire Holy book prophesied that Kingdoms would collapse from defiling God, such as Rome, Tyre, Egypt (and look at it today), and all other nations mentioned in the Bible. Every Nation and kingdom that has puffed up at God have been destroyed, just check it out for yourself why don't you. There were over four hundred prophecies foretold by over forty men inspired by God to write. This took place in a span of three thousand years, and in some cases one did not know the other, nor did one know what the other was writing. Yet, in the end the book told the same story, and was about the same person. Now you have to ask yourself, what are the chances that all of those factors could have taken place such as they did, only by chance? I don't think so, and anyone seeing crooked with only half of one eye knows that God is ruling authority and that He will see after His children. People in the middle east had better get their heads on straight and wipe the fog from their eyes, because there is one last prophecy that is about to come to pass, that was spoken two thousand years ago, and whoever thought they were going to some great place to be with a bunch of virgins have been grossly misinformed! There are people that know things in America that politicians do not know. There are also forces in America that one can not pull asunder. So, whatever the foreign idiots continue to attempt to prove by their stupidity against us, I have to hint a bit of wisdom their way. In the last days, it's not some lame skull president in America, or our foreign policy that gets under your skins. No, something else entirely that is about to get under your skins, and you will not mistake it whatsoever when it comes upon you. WE WIN, YOU LOSE!


Posted by Michael Harts @ 01/20/2008 05:08 AM CST

"The only tool the Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, seem to have is the diplomatic corps, and the only solution is negotiations and alliances".

I have to say, this wasn't noticeably the case during the last Democrat administration. Bill the C blew plenty of s*** up. Just ask the Sudanese and the Serbs.

Posted by Spike @ 02/06/2008 03:05 PM CST


Posted by soperson @ 03/18/2008 02:20 AM CST

The fairy tale is over.

Obama's pixy dust is wearing off.

A few in the corporate media are finally starting to reveal some details about this man's judgment.

I speak of Obama's long association with his spiritual advisor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Obama says he didn't know Wright was far, far left. While that is hard to believe, it says that Obama is not a very discerning judge of character. And it shows poor judgment for a presidential candidate to allow such an extremist to serve on his campaign.

Rev. Wright says AIDS was created by the US government to kill black people.

Come on!

"I didn't know about that man, Rev. Wright." Is that what Obama is telling us?

But there is more to come.

Obama's friend, William Ayers, is an unrepentent terrorist.

An Obama fund raiser, Rashid Khalidi, supports terrorists.

Wait till these tidbits come out. Maybe they won't release them till after Obama wins the nomination.

These associations with radicals show that Obama does not yet have the judgment nor the experience to be at the top of the ticket.

Posted by soperson @ 03/18/2008 02:24 AM CST

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