By Ahmad Azizi
By Ahmad Azizi
Morocco World News
New York, November 6, 2012
In most countries, citizens are preoccupied with earning their daily bread, receiving adequate healthcare, ensuring quality education for their children, and other quality-of-life matters; thus attention to global or foreign issues comes as a second priority. But particularly in the case of Americans, it is a distant second.
The primary factor that drives any population to be interested in following international issues and development is concern for the effect those issues or developments could have on their own lives or on their nation. That is perhaps why Westerners are less inclined than people in Developing Countries to follow international news, although the latter ones have a lot more to worry about in terms of domestic issues.
In America, when people do care about international news, it is often about countries such as Afghanistan in which the U.S. has military presence, or about the prices of oil of which the U.S. is a leading consumer. In American presidential electoral campaigns, one finds that the candidates allocate disproportional time, resources, speeches and campaign advertisement to domestic issues at the expense of foreign issues. The same is true for media coverage of the candidates’ positions, which is hugely skewed in favor of domestic matters.
This produces an ironic situation. The world’s attention to the possible outcome of the U.S. presidential elections and its effect on America’s foreign policy exceeds that of American citizens themselves.
Yet, for some segments of the population, international issues carry a little more weight. For Arab Americans and American Muslims, the United States foreign policy is a major concern. This is not to say that they are not concerned for domestic issues, such as the economy, healthcare, and education, which remain the top concern. But Americans who have immigrated or who descend from immigrants from Arab and Muslim countries are particularly interested in American foreign policy issues because a great deal of American foreign policy is related to those countries.
The American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, the American military operations around the Muslim world, and most of all, the unreserved support for Israel are causes of grievance for most of the Muslim world even among people who have a favorable view of the U.S. This is similarly reflected on the Muslim population in the U.S. as well as on Arab-Americans. Although the majority of Arab-Americans have traditionally identified with Republican political views, the policies of the last U.S. Republican administration towards Arab and Muslim countries after the September 11 terrorist attacks have contributed to a change of heart for many Arab-Americans. Incidentally, the opposite can be said about American Jews, who have traditionally been Democrats for the most part, but have started leaning Republican as unreserved support for Israel has been increasingly shown by the Republican primary support base, i.e. the neo-conservative evangelicals in the southern states.
Another issue of current concern is the American support for democracy throughout the world. To the surprise of some and dismay of many, the United States took a shy and reactive role in response to the Arab Spring, which can be considered the most important international event of the year 2011. The American response started as a wait-and-see response and lagged behind that of most Western countries in calling for the fall of dictators who ruthlessly crushed their peoples’ peaceful protests. Even after paying lip service to democratic movements, the U.S. did not follow through with actions.
In response to the Libya revolution, the United States did intervene on behalf of the Libyan people, and American intervention did play a crucial role in assisting the rebels in liberating their country, but the American administration preferred a drive-from-the-backseat policy. This shy approach invited criticism later from countries such as the BRICS (Russia, China, Brazil, India and South Africa). I would even go further and claim that it played a role in emboldening Putin and company to try to come across as a second global superpower, which is perceived rather than rooted in reality given the incalculable differential between the United States and its adversaries in economic, social, military, cultural, scientific and other areas.
In response to the Syrian revolution, which has also been witnessing a dire humanitarian disaster, Obama’s administration resorted again to the wait-and-see approach instead of playing a leading role in this issue that has consequences on the stability and security in an area in which the U.S. has a major interest.
The outcome of all of these policies can be considered a negative legacy for the Democratic administration currently occupying the White House. It has in fact provided campaign ammunition for President Obama’s political foes, who have accused him of playing into the hands of U.S. adversaries and severely tarnishing the stature of the United States as the world’s superpower and leader of the “free world.”
But upon more profound consideration and comparison with Republican views and policies, one finds that the presence of a Republican president in the White House would not lead to much different outcomes.
In the Syria case, we cannot overlook the fact that Republican Senators have called for arming the rebels and have visited Syrian refugee camps in Turkey. The Republican presidential candidate has accused Obama of wasting an opportunity to “win Syria to the camp of the free world and curb the influence of Iran in the Middle East.” Obama has been accused of failing to stand up for U.S. values, not to mention allowing Russia and China to further their interests in the Middle East at the expense of U.S interests.
But while all of those accusations are true, Governor Romney has not offered a different course of action or policies on Syria. His approach would not be much different than Obama’s, which is evident from his responses to the questions raised during his third debate with the incumbent of the White House. Whereas the two candidates gave diametrically opposite views regarding domestic issues, which were the subject of the first two debates, their views were not fundamentally different during the third debate, whose subject was foreign policy.
The case of U.S. support for Israel is another case in point. Neocons incessantly accuse the Obama administration of not showing enough support for Israel, partially because of Obama’s “reconciliatory” discourse on the question of Palestine. But the truth of the matter is that Obama’s announcements about the Middle East peace process and the Palestinian state are in line with the previous official U.S. position. He has continued his predecessors’ unwavering full support for the Jewish state. In fact, military and security cooperation with Israel has reached unprecedented levels under Obama.
The bottom line is that both parties compete in showing unlimited support for Israel. Their announced positions on Israel rival those of the Israel’s own hawkish hardliners. In other words, both major political parties in the US want to be “more Catholic than the Pope” regarding Israel.
Similarly, Republicans criticized Obama’s intervention in Libya but when it was time to take serious decisions in the Congress, they supported him. On Afghanistan, Governor Romney did not offer much different future course of action than that proposed by Obama.
On Iran, Obama has not been as hawkish as the Israeli government, and for that he got heat from conservatives in the U.S. But, again, when asked about what he would do if elected president, Romney said that diplomatic solutions should be pursued all the way while drawing a red line before Iran could be able to make a nuclear bomb, which is a position not much different than the one being implemented by Obama’s administration.
Having argued that U.S. foreign policy would not be much different regardless of who wins the White House on Tuesday, I want to digress and go back to the Syria issue to stress that this argument does not mean that the U.S. position and policies on Syria would remain the same after the election. To the contrary, there is, in fact, merit to the prevalent raised expectations of a more active and positive U.S. position after the election. This is because of the unfortunate fact that the dynamics of American politics makes it difficult for the American president to take courageous actions in the year preceding his second-term elections. And intervention in Syria, undoubtedly, requires courage because of the various factors that come into play in this matter.
Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, a pillar of U.S. foreign policy has been the fight against international terrorism. This, coupled with the (misguided) notion that arming rebels in Syria could put dangerous arms in the hands of terrorist, has lead to the U.S. shying away from providing more than symbolic support for the Syrian revolution. In addition, the fatigue that came about as a result of U.S. miscalculated intervention in Afghanistan and, particularly, Iraq, thereby overstretching the U.S. military and budget, means only one thing: international intervention, regardless of whether it is warranted or not, would not be a popular proposition. Also, the arrival of conservative Islamists to the helm of power in Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Libya only makes matters worse for the U.S. president who faces the daunting dilemma of supporting Arab people’s democratic choice knowing that it would lead to support for none other than those who supposedly show enmity towards the U.S.
For all the above reasons, any concrete positive contribution by the United States to resolving the human and humanitarian crisis in Syria would require courageous decisions—decisions that can only be made when the president is free from the overshadow of impending elections. This can be one area where we should look forward to concrete development in U.S. foreign policy after the presidential elections.
Ahmad Azizi is a Political Adviser in the United Nations in New York. He is a member of Morocco World News’ editorial board.
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