US Elections And The Middle East
By Dinouk Colombage
When the euphoria of the Conventions had passed and the political commentators got down to rating the chances of the candidates, Barack Obama seemed the favourite in the upcoming election. Last week’s incidences in the Middle East have now left questions over both candidates and their foreign policy approaches.
9/11, a day of remembrance, took place last week and once again the date proved to be an explosive time with US Middle East relations. A day after the memorials US Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, along with three other members of his embassy were killed when an armed mob stormed the compound in Benghazi.
The mob was reacting to anti-Islam film which originated from the US and is said to mock the Prophet Mohammed, the US was quick to condemn the film.
US investigative teams, along with the Libyan Authorities, are tracking down those responsible for the attack on the embassy. While back home in the US attention has returned to Mitt Romney and Obama as they both look to tackle this issue of growing resentment towards America in the Middle East. US elections have often been a battleground where opponents will look for any avenue to attack their rival. But one thing all political figures have agreed on is that no candidate will attack their opponent (if he is the President) when they are dealing with a national security issue. On Wednesday Romney made that very mistake when he criticised the US’ response to the ongoing demonstrations in the Middle East. Citing a statement from the US embassy in Cairo, Romney complained that the Obama administration was too soft on America’s enemies. The statement from the embassy condemned the anti-Islamic film while supporting the Muslim world. This statement was released prior to the demonstrations which have now engulfed the Middle East and seen several US embassies, including those in Egypt and Libya, come under heavy pressure from demonstrators. Of course Romney did not stop there, while the Obama administration expressed outrage over the death of Stevens he continued to try and gain political mileage by accusing the White House of “following a terrible course.”
His comments have not gone down well with most political figures, including those from his own party. Republican Vice-Presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, condemned the killing but failed to echo Romney’s anti-Obama sentiment. Romney’s latest blunder on the foreign policy stage provided the Democrats with further ammunition. In an interview after the incident Obama described Romney as “shooting from the hip first and aiming later.” Judging by Romney’s previous comments regarding the British Olympics, the President’s description seems justified. While Romney’s conduct towards these incidences is comment on his lack of readiness for the job, anti-US sentiment is a wake-up call for the Obama administration as well.
Libya, Egypt and Yemen are countries which enjoyed the support of the US during the Arab Spring last year. Now public opinion in those countries has quickly turned on the sole superpower.
During the uprising in the region protesters in Egypt and Yemen enjoyed the vocal support of the US, while the Libyans armed struggle to overthrow Mohammed Gadaffi was supported by the US and its allies in the form of NATO airstrikes. America’s support during that period appears to have had little impact in improving relations between the States and the Muslim world. In Yemen hundreds of protesters stormed the US embassy and tore down the flag. In Egypt thousands of protesters, including member of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood, have spent two days protesting outside the embassy. While President Mohammed Morsi has called for calm on the part of the people, he has not requested that the people refrain from protesting. While in Libya the death of Stevens, although being linked to a minority group, highlights the resentment towards the US.
Obama has failed to grab hold of the situation, following the protests in Egypt he said “Egypt is not an ally”, however, last year when the new regime came to power Obama was quoted as saying “Egypt is an ally of the US in some instances”.
Certainly this backtrack by the President will not sit well with those who have been critical of his foreign policy. The Obama administration has been described by their opponents as being “apologetic” on their foreign policy issues; of course this was not the time for Romney’s camp to pull out that card. While the 2012 Presidential election is sure to be dominated by the domestic issues, this past week has shown that regardless of whoever is the next President the upcoming four years are going to be a test for their foreign policy.