Wednesday, November 07, 2012

US elections: Should we care?

WHEN Senator Barack Obama was running for president four years ago, the Arabs were hoping he would be another Dwight D. Eisenhower, the one and only American president who stood up to Israel, forcing it - along with Britain and France - to withdraw its forces from Egypt in 1956. Millions were praying for Obama to win and on the day he was elected, I saw tears in many people’s eyes. It felt like a great leader winning the presidency of the United States of Arabia.

The night before the election, I was the guest of a special election television program on the Lebanese Broadcast Corporation (LBC). Many people interviewed for the show in the Arab streets expressed optimism that a president with African and Muslim roots would be more sympathetic to their “just causes.” I had to disappoint them.

Unlike most Arab countries, Americans are ruled by a system not by a person, a government or a dictator, I explained. Even if we assume the best of Obama, he cannot change the course of his country’s foreign policies the way he wants, at the speed he needs and to the extent he aims for. Besides, a US president would be serving US not Arab and Muslim interests. After all, he is their leader not ours, I explained.

Still, I gave him my vote. During eight years of George W. Bush, America went so wrong and wild in its foreign adventures that any man who was wiser would be much better for them and for the rest of us. What we needed was a president who puts US interests first, not that of Israel, the party or special interests groups. He should be serving US political and economic interests, not ideological and philosophical ones.

In 2008, the Republican Party proved that they were bad news for their own country. Their candidate, Senator John McCain, and his running mate Governor Sarah Palin, expressed similar arrogant attitudes toward the world and defended the same irresponsible fiscal policies as Bush.

Senator Barack Obama, on the other hand, showed a more cooperative, appreciative, understanding and libertarian attitude. He was more like diplomatic, eloquent and peace-oriented Bill Clinton, who did his best to solve hot global issues, including Bosnia, Kosovo and Palestinian-Israeli conflicts with mixed results.

Obama’s grasp of economic matters gave us hope that he would be the better president to face and solve the world’s worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. He promised radical change and we were desperate for that.

Four years later, I was almost right. The Nobel Peace Award winner, President Obama, has not brought peace to our region - and none is expected soon.

American heavy boots are still kicking over the same areas his predecessor invaded, less so in Iraq and more so in Afghanistan and Yemen.

Guantanamo prison is still open for torture and its remaining prisoners are not being released or sent to US civilian courts, three years after that was supposed to happen.

Things are getting better on the economic front, but not enough to save the world from the tsunami the American banking system unleashed on us.

America did support good causes, such as the Arab Spring, and helped in removing dictators like Libya’s Gaddafi, Tunisia’s Ben Ali, Egypt’s Mubarak and Yemen’s Saleh. It resisted Israel’s urge to bomb Iran and cause an explosion in the region.

On the other hand, America has so far failed to stop Assad’s killing machine and has provided limited support to the Syrian Free Army. Israel’s interests are still higher on the US list than its own.

So why should we care, again, who will sit in the Oval Office for the next four years? I won’t say the devil you know is better than the one you don’t, because Obama is not that devilish, if he would ever be able to have it his own way.

Understandably, his foreign and financial policies hit a Republican wall in Congress many times with no hope of change if he wins today’s election. 

Still, in comparison, he is a much better choice for us than Benjamin Netanyahu’s buddy, Mitt Romney.

For the world, the latter is just too ideological, naive and unexperienced and he sounds and feels much like the last cowboy in the White House, George W. Bush. Romney has shown an arrogant and militaristic attitude that could spell trouble for the rest of us.

In addition, the first term of any US president is half wasted as he explores and learns his way around and is half spent in preparing for the next election. That is why unpopular and risky decisions and projects most likely take place in a US president’s second term. Therefore, I hope Obama wins this race, and gets four more years to leave a lasting, honorable legacy. 

And to Arabs and Muslims, I would say: Pray for a better, more united and stronger Ummah that doesn’t need to pray for foreign presidents to save its own neck and solve its self-made problems.

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