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Raghida Dergham Headshot

Obama Is Not a Total Failure... for His Supporters

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New York -- The attitudes of the American Republican Party differ from the general tendencies of the Democratic Party, regarding international relations and foreign policy. Nevertheless, the broad policy of the United States persists regardless of who governs the White House.

Thus, relations with China, for example, will not differ much whether Barack Obama remains in the presidency or loses the electoral battle to Republican Mitt Romney. The process of withdrawing from Afghanistan is yet another example of this.

Yet there are elements of the man's personality, nature and mentality that would certainly affect the political outlook on Russia, for example, or on Iran, or on the role played by the United States in places like Syria. Here, differences emerge in the stances of the two candidates for the US Presidency -- and the primary point of disagreement lies in the fierceness of the electoral battle over the role of the United States at this stage of history.

America seems headed towards a big showdown between the Right and the Left. Barack Obama has been labeled by the Republicans a "Leftist" who threatens to take a turn that would be dangerous for the future of the country if he were to remain in the presidency. Mitt Romney has been forced to head further towards the right in order to satisfy far right-wing Republicans, who had refused to support him, considering him to suffer from "moderation". He thus headed rightwards and entered as a party to the battle between Right and Left.

The popular base is divided over several fundamental issues in defining America's identity. The overwhelming majority of Democrats wants America to be "peaceful" under any circumstances, and to avoid wars whatever the reasons that call for them. This is the majority that considers itself to be defending human rights and the principles of coexistence, yet is willing to overlook human rights violations and the destruction of the principles of coexistence if it were to spare the United States from entering as party to conflict. On such a basis, the Democratic majority has become more isolationist that the Republicans, who have traditionally been the champions of isolationism.

There are those in the political and intellectual institutions who consider isolationism at this juncture to represent the worst investment for the future of the United States -- hence their insistence on maintaining American leadership in the world. They say that it is only evident for the United States to be required to take rigorous stances and military measures if it is to cling to its position as the world's sole superpower. They also say that it is only evident to put a stop to the policy of appeasement that has characterized President Barack Obama's foreign policy, because it has failed, in their opinion, with the likes of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the regime in Syria, and Russia's leadership.

Those who defend the US President say that it is premature to consider his policies to have failed, and point to the reality of Iran being economically besieged, although it was able to break its diplomatic isolation last week when it hosted heads of state at the Non-Aligned Summit. They say that Iran's leadership has grown weak, even if it pretends otherwise, and that it is inevitably on its way out, gradually and along with its ally in Damascus. They are of the opinion that being driven to follow the Israeli strategy based on the necessity of dragging the United States into taking military measures against particular sites in Iran represents the greatest threat to American interests as well as a means of salvation for the regime in Tehran.

The battle against Iran is coming, in the opinion of most, in the wake of the presidential elections. Yet there are those who believe that Israel has not completely sealed off the "window" available to it for forcing the United States to take military action before the elections on November 6, because it does not trust that Barack Obama will fulfill his pledges of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. This is why there is increasing talk in Israel of deals being struck between the US Administration and Iran's leadership behind the scenes at Israel's expense. Yet there are those who believe such leaks to only reflect the apprehensions of Israelis, and nothing more.

The battle is coming, from the point of view -- or according to the wishes -- of some, after the presidential elections, in the form of an American-Iranian confrontation in the Syrian context. Indeed, the American war against Islamic fundamentalism, which the Americans themselves contributed to creating in Afghanistan, was waged in the Iraqi theater. There, former US President George W. Bush defeated fundamentalist terrorism and drove it away from American cities. There, in that war on terror, the neo-conservatives succeeded in raising Iran to the level of a regional player, and strengthened the groundwork for the sectarian battle between Shiites and Sunnis. This was done by deluding their new de facto ally into thinking that it could establish a "Shiite Crescent", based on division from eastern Saudi Arabia through a divided Iraq to Assad's Syria, and from there to Hezbollah in Lebanon, so as for Iran and Israel to be connected as America's allies against Sunni hegemony and fundamentalism.

Today, the United States seems headed in a direction opposite to what it had adopted previously. Perhaps it might be said that this is due to the attitudes of the President in office, but it is most likely due to America's stable long-term strategic policy. The previous policy would have had no chance at success at all, had not the soil of the Muslim world been predisposed for it. Indeed, in the late 1970s, America's alliance with Sunni fundamentalism in Afghanistan had coincided with the Iranian Revolution, which had strengthened the position of Shiite religious rule in Iran. This was followed by the Iran-Iraq war, of which the sectarian element represented a large part. After this came the war on terror in Iraq, from which the Islamic Republic of Iran reaped great benefits. And here we are today, perhaps at the threshold of regional confessional wars, alongside what seems to be early signs of an American-Iranian "war" for which Damascus would be the arena.

Those returning from the Non-Aligned Summit in Tehran, having met with Iran's top leaders, say that those leaders have made clear to all those concerned that they were moving forward in their support of the regime in Damascus with all the strength they can muster, because such a battle is for them a fateful and existential one -- a battle for survival. They say that the revolution of the Syrian people is in the opinion of Iranian leaders only a conspiracy by the "American Satan", which has "mobilized its mercenaries". They say that Tehran has made it clear that the battle over Damascus was its own, and that it would invest everything it can in order to defeat the enemies of the Syrian regime. Iran's leadership will not back down, and it is wagering on the weakness of others. Russia's leadership feels that it has backed itself into a corner, and is unable to emerge from it in a tactful manner that would not make it seem retreating or weak. China's leadership has started to realize the consequences it will face for sliding into a battle with the Muslim World, if it persists in its policies towards Syria in the name of its strategic alliance with Russia -- this is why its Foreign Minister has come out with a different rhetoric this week.

America's leadership seems hesitant, at least under Barack Obama. Indeed, it remains silent for example when it comes to Iran's violations of binding Security Council resolutions that forbid it from supplying weapons to Syria -- an important card in the hands of the West that it has so far been decided not to use. The reason for this is the American elections. Yet this does not mean that such a state of truce will persist after the elections. In fact, there are those who assert that the US Administration has decided that the road to stability and moderation in the Middle East requires stamping out Iran's influence and presence in Damascus, and to head towards fighting Iran in Syria, not getting dragged into direct military action in Iran itself. They say that the Obama Administration is mobilized, but will only implement its decisions after the elections.

The Republicans may not decide for their president to be more mobilized than the Democratic one. Indeed, the two parties share common grounds in their understanding that the battle of Syria may extend into a war of attrition, even after the Assad family leaves power. Mitt Romney would perhaps be more decisive and more confrontational with Russia regarding its role in Syria, and he would most likely be more hostile towards Iran. Yet this does not mean that a Romney Administration -- if he were elected -- would hold a magic wand or would be willing to directly enter into a war in Syria or against Iran, regardless of the radical stances that might issue from it, and the same applies within the framework of the language of Cold War with Russia.

Concerning Palestine and Israel, it is clear that Barack Obama entered the presidency confident in his ability to reach a permanent solution to this conflict, and is ending his term powerless to achieve such a solution. On the other hand, it is clear that it is out of the question for Mitt Romney to even attempt what Obama tried -- and failed -- to achieve, because he does not believe in the bases of the solution Barack Obama believes in. Rather, he is only likely to blindly support Israel, considering it from his point of view to be the United States' only ally in the region. Barack Obama's record of failure to fulfill his promises hurts him precisely because it is a record of failure. Mitt Romney has a record of gaffes. American voters will closely examine both records and decide which of the two is less dangerous for America. The principle of leadership has receded under Barack Obama, yet Mitt Romney has not provided sufficient evidence of his own leadership skills. And that is another thing American voters will examine closely. The economy first, yes -- but the future of the United States lies at the core of the battle over America's identity, and unfortunately the debate is now focused exclusively on a wretched equation between so-called Right and Left.

There remains that Barack Obama can say to Americans that his record is not one of failure, but is rather rife with accomplishments, among them that he freed America from its wars, eliminated Osama Bin Laden, focused on disarmament, established an important relationship with China, avoided confrontation with Russia, used soft diplomacy to isolate instead of hard diplomacy which provokes confrontations, and contributed to spreading American values based on supporting democracy and the ambitions of peoples, as he did with the "Arab Spring" in the Arab region. It is true that George W. Bush sowed the seeds for most of these achievements, but it was Barack Obama who carried them out. There also remains one more element -- that of former President Bill Clinton, who today has become a necessary ally for the man with whom he in the past held relations ruled by hatred, Barack Obama. The Bush Dynasty has receded in the current phase. The Clinton Dynasty is in a position of leadership.

As for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, neither of them is part of a dynasty, but they both represent a true testimony to a beautiful democracy in the United States of America. Each of them belongs to a minority that until recently had been excluded -- and that is what makes America beautiful, despite its many shortcomings.

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