Wish? First of all, there was an alternative policy, backed no less by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, of working with the military to get rid of Mubarak personally, make some reforms, but to keep the regime in power. But Romney probably doesn’t understand this and he can’t say this, since the current debate doesn’t sit well with supporting a dictatorship.
Second, rather than wishing for better foresight, Romney could have listed the ways in which Obama helped make a Muslim Brotherhood victory more likely. But that lies outside his own strategy. He even added, “When there are elections, people tend to vote for peace.”
This is, then, basic American political culture: democracy and economic development solves problems and that is how the Middle East can be fixed. Politicians will nowadays not publicly contradict that notion. Romney does point out, that Obama has not made America strong at home and has not stood behind having a strong military:
“And if we’re strong in each of those things, American influence will grow. But unfortunately, in nowhere in the world is America’s influence will grow. But unfortunately…nowhere in the world is America’s influence greater today than it was four years ago.
Finally, well into the debate, Romney gives one example why that’s true, that Obama didn’t support the anti-regime demonstrators in Iran. But he never extended that point to the Arabic-speaking world.
Obama replied that America is stronger than when he became president. First, “We ended the war in Iraq.” Actually the war was won under his predecessor using the “surge” which Obama opposed. On another level the war in Iraq goes on forever. It’s merely the U.S. troops which are gone.
Second, “we were able to refocus our attention on…the terrorist threat” from al-Qaida. But his predecessor did that on September 12, 2001.
Third, the United States is “beginning a transition process in Afghanistan.” Yet that transition might be to a Taliban regime.
Fourth, “Our alliances have never been stronger, in Asia, in Europe, in Africa, with Israel….” That claim would bring snorts of derision (only in private) from a great many governments, especially in the Middle East. But there is no way for many Americans to know that.
None of my rejoinders are likely to overturn Obama’s ability to claim that we now have peace. (I hesitate to add, in our time.)
The tipoff might be that when Romney speaks of having a stronger military, Obama replied, “We need to be thinking about cyber security. We need to be talking about space.” It is his usual stress on the visionary over the actual; his ideological need to rewrite all of the most basic strategic and diplomatic principles.
When Obama said, “I will stand with Israel if they are attacked,” I could not help but think that his policies make it far more likely that Israel will be attacked.
Incidentally, a cute little bit of misdirection came when Obama said, “So that’s how I’ve used my travels, when I travel to Israel and when I travel to the region.” The unwary viewer is left to believe that Obama visited Israel as president.
On the Iran issue, Obama said, “As long as I’m president of the United States Iran will not get a nuclear weapon.” If he serves only one term that promise will be secure. But how is he going to stop Tehran from doing so? One trick here is definitional: If Iran has everything it needs to make nuclear weapons but for the moment doesn’t assemble them than Obama can say he succeeded.
Obama does point to his strong sanctions and to evidence that Iran’s economy is in serious trouble. He concludes that he is offering “Iran a choice.”
They can take the diplomatic route and end their nuclear program or they will have to face a united world and a United States president, me, who said we’re not going to take any options off the table.
One problem is that Iran may not see itself bound by that choice. The other problem is neither Romney nor anyone else has a solution, certainly not one that is politically palatable for Americans. Obama falsely accused Romney of favoring “premature military action.”
But that is Romney’s difficulty. He can assert that he would provide tougher leadership more likely to intimidate Iran, and many Americans will believe him. Yet there is no alternative policy he can articulate. And so Romney is left to say that he, too, would support Israel; he, too, views “a nuclear-capable Iran” as “unacceptable to America”; and that he, too, wants diplomacy to work. He can make some points about how sanctions can be strengthened around the margins but that isn’t a game-changer for the election.Barry Rubin
About the Author: Professor Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. See the GLORIA/MERIA site at www.gloria-center.org.
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