Monday, January 07, 2008

For Whom Should Arab Americans Vote?

Palm Beach Gardens, Florida

Should Arab Americans support Senator Barak Obama on his way to the White House? Despite America’s heavy entanglement in the Middle East, Arab-Americans remain relatively disengaged from US presidential elections. Arab Americans are too often disheartened by and alienated from mainstream US politicians.

The January 3 Iowa results show Senator Obama one significant step ahead in the presidential race. It also appears that Democrats have a better chance of winning the 2008 elections. The Illinois candidate has fired up the young to actively join the political process. Coming out of Iowa, will Obama also win the votes of minorities in large numbers?

Should Arab Americans approach Obama campaign leaders to negotiate their concerted support? When compared to Senators Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, the two rival front runners on the democratic side, Obama looks better on Middle East issues of justice. To be realistic, Arab Americans and Arabs in general, do not have many close friends among popular American politicians.

Israeli policy experts rate Obama as a moderate supporter of Israel and place Edwards and Clinton significantly ahead of the Illinois Senator in sensitivity to the needs of the Jewish state. Obama has to learn much more about the suffering of the Palestinians and their need for a viable state. But when he is in the White House he would be in a better position to place the US in the position of an honest broker of the peace process.

Among the Candidates there is more variation of opinion on Iraq than there is on the Palestinian question. There is a reason for this phenomenal consensus. Israel has won the public relations race on the Arab Israeli conflict. But public sentiments may change in America with new evidence and a new president. It would help if Arabs could unite in getting their message across, if they are more self- critical and if they choose more creative forms of resistance.

Obama may also pick up the moderate Jewish vote. If Arabs and Jews could only look into the distant future they may realize that neither side will be totally satisfied at the expense of the other, for lasting peace requires cooperation across the religious divide.

Americans are shifting gradually toward soft diplomacy and away from overuse of brute force in solving complex Middle East problems. Arab Americans can help their country in the shift from a blame-the-victim foreign policy to a policy of conflict resolution and responsiveness to social justice.

In an election guide to 2008 US presidential elections, the New York Times (Dec 30 2007) compares and contrasts 15 presidential candidates on six leading issues, two of which are foreign policy items in the Middle East, namely Iraq and Iran. The remaining four issues are health care, abortion, climate change and immigration.

In examining the NYT Guide, it appears that Americans are more worried about how to withdraw from Iraq than about what essentially went wrong in the current Iraq debacle. Arab Americans would want candidates to stop quibbling on when and how to withdraw from Iraq, and to focus instead on partnering with the countries of the region. They want America to lead a process of conflict resolution that includes a clear apology for the invasion and an empowerment plan to contribute to rebuilding Iraq with the help of the Arab and international community. The next US president should take the 9/11 Commission Report seriously.

On Iran, Arab Americans argue for unconditional and direct diplomacy between America and the Persian state. On Palestine, Arab Americans expect the US to play the role of an honest broker in the peace process.

A candidate’s position on the specific of the Iraq crisis -among other issues- does influence the votes of Arab Americans. The NYT guide on US candidates reveals that the majority of candidates voted for the Iraq invasion: six out of seven Republicans and five out of the eight Democrats. Most Republicans supported the surge in troops but the Democrats did not, without exception.

Among the Republicans only Ron Paul was against the invasion and the surge; and he was for immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Among the Democrats Barak Obama, Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel opposed the invasion.

All Democrat candidates favored a programmed withdrawal from Iraq and most Republicans voted for continued presence in Iraq for an indefinite date. Kucinich, Obama and Bill Richardson showed more enthusiasm than other candidates in their Democratic party for immediate but planned withdrawal of soldiers.

On the search for political solutions for Iraq, the Democrat Kucinich and the Republican Ron Paul deserve special credit for their peaceful conflict resolution approach to Iraq.

The rest of the candidates, from both parties, have a condescending approach to Iraq. They assume that Iraq has been a broken country historically; they reason that America came to fix a failing state, but found it extremely difficult to do so. Only the exceptional Kucinich and Paul recognize that the US has actually broken Iraq, and consequently the solution is in radically changing American misguided foreign policy in the region.

In conclusion, Arab Americans should not expect a radical change in Middle East foreign policy, regardless of who wins the 2008 elections. However, if Barak Obama wins there is hope that he will be more open for Middle East justice than other front runners in the current presidential race. The Obama factor includes many other advantages: an international perspective, compassion for minorities and sensitivity to health care/poverty/climate change; and finally, he has a vision for serious change in domestic and foreign policy.

At the end of the race Americans would have voted for hope (for change) or for insecurity (about the future). Obama is about hope. What is good for America should be good for Arab Americans.



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