Commentary

Regional Reactions to the Presidential Debate

Middle East In Focus

Middle East In Focus

This week, President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney met for their second debate. Even though foreign policy accounted for less than one third of the total debate time, the meeting between the two men attracted the attention of not only the voters in the United States, but of many observers and reporters in the MENA region as well. While some of them reflected merely on who performed better, most of them were interested in understanding the implications of the statements and positions of each candidate for their particular countries.

The Gulf Times staff, in an editorial that focused mostly on the performance of the two candidates, noted after the debate that “This time, there were no doubts about Obama’s forceful presence, as he went on the offensive and repeatedly accused Romney of making untrue statements. Obama and Romney consumed a good portion of the latest debate fact-checking one another....Obama might have won the debate, but Romney may still have won on the most important issue. Romney walked away with a strong edge among respondents on who would do the best on handling the economy.

However, there were those who also consider whether the election outcome will have any effect on U.S. policy in the region. Randa Takieddine, for example, in an article for Al Hayat, argues “The elections in the United States will not change conditions in Syria, as long as Bashar Assad remains in power. Whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney is elected president, the priority in foreign policy will be the interest of Israel....The state of war that the regime has created is in the interest of the Jewish state, which is being spared a war against Iran and Hezbollah that will not have guaranteed results; Tel Aviv prefers to see the two of them weakened in Syria. Therefore, no new American administration will do anything new to help end Assad’s regime, as long as Israel is comfortable with the current situation.”

A similar thread is taken up by Saudi Gazette’s Hassan Tahsin, who accuses the United States of doing the bidding of Israel, while also using the latter for its own purposes: “Barack Obama has almost completed four years as president of the United States, the only superpower in the world. During this period, the U.S. administration has not made any positive international initiative toward achieving world peace or saving the world’s people from hunger. The focus of the entire U.S. effort has been to protect its strategic interests, even if it means shedding the blood of people....What are the reasons and motives which prevent the U.S. from considering Israel’s usurping of the territories of Palestine, Syria and Lebanon to be an occupation?”

In Israel there is a very lively discussion on whether Obama or Romney would be more beneficial, and on which of them would provide the unwavering support that so many Israelis (especially on the right) have been asking for. As far as Yedioth Ahronoth’s Dan Calic is concerned, there is no question that Obama’s attitude toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict put him at odds with the Israeli right:  “Time after time Mr. Obama places all the pressure on Israel to make unilateral moves in order to bring this about, while asking virtually nothing from the Palestinians....If Israel was to comply with the long list of ‘bold sacrifices’ can we expect Mr. Obama to require the Palestinians to provide commensurate gestures in order to facilitate his goal of a two state solution?... Well Mr. President, with all due respect, your ever-present ‘unshakable’ commitment to Israel's security is nice talk, but that's all it is.”

It is also well known that the right-leaning Jerusalem Post editorials have been quite hostile at times to President Obama. However, in light of a recently released video by the Romney campaign which implied an unofficial endorsement of the Mitt Romney candidacy, the Jerusalem Post was forced to issue a disclaimer disassociating itself from the campaign video: “In the spirit of the Post’s integrity and good name, we remain neutral in the race between Obama and Romney. As we’ve written before, Obama has proven during his first term to be a true friend of Israel, and Romney’s statements about his policies if elected indicate that he advocates a close U.S.-Israel relationship. It is our fervent belief that the White House and Congress will continue to be strongly supportive of the Jewish state no matter who wins the election, and we reject any attempts by interested parties to use deception and subterfuge to achieve their goals.”

On the topic of Iran, the Lebanese Daily Star’s Rami G. Khouri sees a positive shift in the attitudes of the U.S. foreign policy establishment, and particularly of the Obama administration, vis-à-vis the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program: “Two important things seem to have occurred since the spring: Washington seems to have taken control of the Iran situation from Israel’s hard-line prime minister who had been pushing the U.S. toward imminent war, and there seems to be more flexibility among top echelons of the American establishment on the realistic and achievable goal of any negotiations with Iran....Most Americans oppose war with Iran, and perhaps the Obama administration and others in the policy establishment now feel that achieving legitimate foreign policy goals through diplomacy is preferable to waging war. What a refreshing change that would be.”

Finally, there are those, like The National’s Rashmee Roshan Lall, who wonder whether the American voters will pay any attention to the foreign policy differences between the two candidates or whether foreign policy will even matter when election day comes: “The events in Libya and protests at U.S. missions in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen have enabled the Republican Party to seize on foreign policy as an example of Mr. Obama's weakness. Suddenly, foreign affairs have assumed unusual importance in the election even though they were little discussed on the 2012 campaign trail....In the final analysis, none of this may matter much....On voting day, the American people may not pay much attention to the foreign policy differences between Mr. Obama and his rival. But they will notice the differences those policies make, once they have made their choice for president.”


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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.