US Presidential Race and Mideast – OpEd | Osama Al Sharif

The United States presidential race is attracting attention outside the US because of the stark contrasts between candidates, especially on the Republican side, over foreign policy and the increasing possibility that outsider billionaire Donald Trump could soon become the presumptive party nominee against the wishes of the GOP establishment.

Trump has triggered heated debates over his audacious campaign promises to ban Muslims from entering the US, allow the use of waterboarding and more to extract confessions from Islamist militants and order the military to target terrorists’ families.

Furthermore, Trump continues to attract independent voters through his anti-immigration rhetoric and his pledge to build a wall between the US and Mexico. In addition to these controversial statements, businesses fear that if elected he would wage a trade war on China and others that could lead to world recession.

His anti-Muslim rants have enraged American Muslims, liberals and even conservatives inside the GOP. Arabs and Muslims all over the world also fear that Trump’s policies will deepen the divide between America and the Muslim world. His rivals in the race have distanced themselves from such positions, but it was interesting that while all re-affirmed their loyalty and bias in favor of Israel, Trump was the only candidate to say that he will try to be neutral in the Israeli-Palestinian struggle hoping that this will help him push both sides to reach a deal.

He later toned down his statement and bragged about how he was a close friend of Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu. This happened after his opponents, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, lambasted him for choosing to be neutral on Israel, which they say is America’s closest ally and the region’s only democracy.

It is important to note that in spite of the ideological and policy differences between Democratic and Republican candidates, all agree on the unequivocal support to Israel.

As the race reaches crucial stages this month, it will soon become clear if Trump will get the necessary number of delegates to win the nomination of his party or if Cruz will be able to deny him that; forcing the issue to be resolved at the party convention in the summer. Cruz is a staunch conservative and his views on world affairs are extreme. He, along with other Republican candidates, has attacked the Iran nuclear deal, saying that it will allow Tehran to build nuclear weapons. His view on fighting Daesh is also extreme where he suggested that the US should “carpet bomb” areas under the militant group’s control.

Rubio, who remains the GOP establishment’s choice, has a more realistic approach to dealing with Daesh. He proposes joining forces with Sunni states to overrun the militant group along with increased US military involvement. Trump, on the other hand, is more general by vowing to intensify bombing the group and working with Russia to defeat them.

Trump’s position on President Assad is also vague. He said that he was against the occupation of Iraq, which he believes had cost the US trillions of dollars, destabilized the Middle East and handed Iraq to Iran.

On the Democratic front former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appears to be on her way to winning her party’s nomination. Most polls show that she will defeat Trump if he was his party’s nominee. Pundits believe her foreign policy will be more hawkish than that of President Obama. She of course is a vehement supporter of Israel and it is unlikely that she would seek a confrontation with Netanyahu, in contrast to the early days of Obama’s presidency. She, on the other hand, may increase US military involvement in Iraq and Syria. But she will continue with other Obama foreign policies, especially the slow opening to Iran and coordinating with Russia over Syria.

Her rival, socialist Bernie Sanders has vowed to remain in the race until the Democratic convention later this year despite his difficult chances to clinch the nomination. If he is chosen as his party’s nominee, he too stands a good chance to defeat Trump in November, according to polls.

Sanders, an American Jew, has dedicated little time to speaking about foreign policy issues during the campaign. Some pundits believe he is a realist who will not lead America into new military interventions. On the issue of Israel/Palestine some critics believe he will be anti-Israel in the sense that he is driven by socialist values of justice and fairness.

He has not commented much on the issue but described it as “depressing and difficult.” It is worth noting that Senator Sanders was among those who boycotted Netanyahu’s Congress speech last year.

With the exception of Trump, US policy toward key regional issues is unlikely to change dramatically under either Clinton or Cruz. Both will adhere to their party’s declared policies on Israel and Iran. On the war against Daesh both are expected to increase US military involvement. For the Arabs no candidate is showing readiness to address core issues that have troubled the region for decades.


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