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The American calamity threatening us - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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We have long been accustomed to seeing a US election season, whether presidential or parliamentary, shifting into a carnival of absolute support for Israel and a willingness to defend its security at the expense of the Arabs, their rights and aspirations. At the same time, we have also grown accustomed to some candidates showing a certain level of ignorance when it comes to foreign policy, and on several occasions they have committed grave and sometimes funny gaffes.

So far, Republican candidate Mitt Romney has made numerous gaffes, not only in foreign policy issues but in a number of domestic ones as well. This has made him an easy target for media criticism as well as the ridicule of commentators, to the extent that some believe his electoral campaign has been hit by deadly shrapnel as a result of his countless slip-ups and confusing statements. Romney’s most recent blunder came during a speech he gave before a number of wealthy figures and conservative fans, who had paid generously to attend the event in support of his campaign, if only to listen to conservative rhetoric and hear their Republican candidate attacking Barack Obama. Yet Romney’s comments during this private gathering were leaked and published a few days ago, attracting fierce criticism and leaving his electoral campaign potentially dead on its feet. This could be seen as good news to many people who see the Republican as a genuine political calamity, and consider his opinions to be dangerous both domestically and internationally.

Perhaps Romney was speaking in such a candid and improvised manner on this occasion because he felt he was sitting amongst his fans; committed conservatives and allies who were ready to pay tens of thousands of US dollars just to have dinner with him in support of his electoral campaign. Perhaps he was also spontaneous because he didn’t think gathering was being filmed or broadcasted, so he could speak without restrictions. Yet in the age of the internet, with iPads and smartphones equipped with high quality cameras and recording devices, there is no dinner hall or conference center where a politician can talk freely and be safe from a possible information leak, especially if what he is saying could implicate someone or cause embarrassment. As a matter of fact, Romney’s leaked speech was of great benefit to the general public because it shed new light on his character as well as on some of his controversial and concerning opinions.

The Republican candidate’s rhetoric was particularly damaging when he spoke about sensitive domestic issues, highlighting his perception of the poor and his views on blacks and Hispanics (Latin Americans), although he was trying to focus his address mainly on foreign policy. In a controversial manner, he touched upon peace in the Middle East – something he believes is unobtainable – and placed the blame on the Palestinian people whom he says have “no interest whatsoever in establishing peace”. He also claimed that granting them an independent state would threaten Israel’s security.

At present, the American voter is not greatly concerned with foreign policy issues, especially at a time when an economic and financial crisis is prevailing. Romney referred to this during the disastrous gathering when he said “one of the other things that’s frustrating to me is that at a typical day like this, when I do three or four events like this, the number of foreign policy questions that I get are between zero and one”. Perhaps it is unfortunate for the wider world that US presidential candidates do not receive many questions about their foreign policies, otherwise we would know more about them. The US is still a superpower and its policies impact upon the whole world, especially the Middle East where the most important issues are linked to America, its moves and strategies.

Romney, who boasts that some of his campaign advisors previously worked with Benjamin Netanyahu, claimed that talk of a possible Palestinian state is futile because the Palestinians do not want peace in the first place and are “committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel”. As for the notion of pressuring Israel to offer concessions to the Palestinians in order to move the peace process forward, Romney considered this to be “the worst idea in the world.” To some, this rhetoric may seem to be a repetition of the stances adopted by numerous US politicians and candidates who have sought to flatter Israel and have competed to offer their absolute support to protect its security. Yet Romney in particular is alarming because he links his rhetoric, whether about the Middle East or other parts of the world, with his own belief that US foreign policy must be based on force. During the private gathering he said that “everything I do will be calculated to increasing America’s strength”, and that his foreign policy is “speaking softly but carrying a very, very, very big stick”.

Romney’s critics are fortunate that these latest revelations will alarm many voters, and may prompt them to vote against him. With utter disdain, Romney spoke of the 47 percent of the electorate that he claimed would vote for Obama regardless, who “are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it”. Romney said that “my job is not to worry about those people”. The Republican candidate was referring towards America’s poor with these statements, the majority of which are blacks and minorities. In another part of his address, Romney also seemed to be mocking Obama’s Kenyan roots when he said “had he [Romney’s father] been born of Mexican parents I’d have a better shot at winning this”. This comment enraged many of those of Latin American descent, who believe that the electoral system is still biased against them and prevents their candidates from running for the presidency.

Barack Obama may have angered and frustrated many who cherished dreams following his victory in the 2008 elections, due to the great expectations everyone held around the world as well as in the US. Nevertheless, he is still a better option than Mitt Romney, as the world certainly doesn’t need a president carrying “a very, very, very big stick”!

Osman Mirghani

Osman Mirghani

Osman Mirghani is Asharq Al-Awsat's former deputy editor and senior editor-at-large.

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