With the United States presidential election less than one week away, Your Middle East has taken a look at how the media has analyzed the two candidate’s foreign policy platforms towards the Middle East.
Although some commentators have noted that Obama and Romney’s rhetoric on MENA region policy is not all that different, many publications have sought to highlight the contrasting opinions in both candidates’ approach to the Arab world.
The Christian Science Monitor, for example, posted a story about Obama and Romney’s differences regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and also pointed out Iran as a major point of contention between the two. On the issue of Iranian nuclear containment, Romney has criticized Obama as a weak appeaser while Obama has sought to paint Romney as a warmonger.
Major news outlets, however, have also conducted in-depth analyses that undermine claims of a strict and set Romney-Obama divide on foreign policy. The New York Times highlighted Romney’s critique of Obama’s first-term foreign policies:
“'President Obama abandoned the freedom agenda,' Mr. Romney told the newspaper Israel Hayom, referring to President George W. Bush’s democracy policy, 'and we are seeing today a whirlwind of tumult in the Middle East in part because these nations did not embrace the reforms that could have changed the course of their history in a more peaceful manner.'”
But later, The New York Times addresses these statements to show an undercurrent of similar viewpoints between Obama and Romney:
"The critique was the latest attempt by the presumptive Republican candidate to undercut Mr. Obama’s handling of international affairs. But once the incendiary flourishes are stripped away, the actual foreign policy differences between the two seem more a matter of degree and tone than the articulation of a profound debate about the course of America in the world today.
…Despite the campaign positioning, on the most fundamental international issues, the president and his challenger generally share the same goals, even if they would get there in different ways.
They both would press the battle against Al Qaeda through drones and special operations while drawing down troops in Afghanistan. They both would try to stop Iran’s nuclear program through sanctions and negotiations without ruling out a military option. They both would support rebels in Syria while keeping American forces out of the conflict."
Romney’s sentiments towards the Middle East have particularly come under scrutiny since becoming the GOP candidate. His longstanding personal relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — the two met in 1976 while working for Boston Consulting Group — has been covered by many major media organizations, including an April 2012 New York Times article. Romney has also been criticized for lacking foreign policy experience in an official political capacity. Brad Bannon of U.S. News and World Report wrote a scathing review of how this issue could seriously diminish his prospects of becoming president:
"Romney's lack of foreign policy experience has reared its ugly head many times during the campaign. The first incident was Romney's trip abroad which he started in grand style by insulting our closest ally in the war on terror, Great Britain. In last week's debate, Romney clearly didn't do his homework. If Romney had prepared well, he would have known that the president had spoken out against terrorists in his speech at the White House, the day after the attack on our diplomats in Libya. Have Romney's critics made too much of Romney's blunder? No, because a slip up on a detail like that can start a war."
The New York Daily News similarly accused Mitt Romney of “faking it” when it came to presenting a viable solution for many of the issues plaguing the Middle East in the third presidential debate, hosted in Boca Raton, Florida, on Oct. 22.
Romney’s foreign policy leanings were further highlighted after a video clip, showing Romney at a fundraiser denouncing Palestinian’s interest and efforts in the Arab-Israeli peace process, was made viral in a September post from the Mother Jones blog (watch the video here). In an article posted on The Washington Post’s Campaign 2012 news page, the reporters wrote:
"Apart from the immediate political fallout, the remarks could compromise the GOP presidential candidate’s standing as an honest broker in the peace process should he win the election…
The candidate’s more pessimistic comments on peace in the Middle East put him at odds with the Republican Party platform, which expresses support for 'two democratic states — Israel with Jerusalem as its capital and Palestine — living in peace and security,' adding: 'For that to happen, the Palestinian people must support leaders who reject terror, embrace the institutions and ethos of democracy, and respect the rule of law.'
Romney’s comments could marginalize the more moderate Palestinians seeking peace negotiations with Israel and empower the armed groups, which argue that peace talks are futile."
Although the Mother Jones video was circulated widely through many news outlets, Matt Baum, the Marvin Kalb Professor of Global Communications at the Harvard Kennedy School, said he expected a greater media response to those particular comments about the Arab-Israeli conflict.
“It received some coverage, but not a lot,” Baum said in an interview with Your Middle East. “I think it was overshadowed by the headline of that video clip, which was the 47 percent comment.”
Jewish news outlets tend to favor Romney over Obama, citing Romney’s stated willingness to strengthen the US-Israeli relationship. Shmuel Rosner of the Jewish Journal reports:
"Relations with Israel is the key: While the panel believes that policies toward Iran can be altered, that Romney will be able to do tomorrow what Obama proposes today (and vice versa), it does not believe that Obama’s strained relations with the Israeli government can be changed much. Prime Minister Netanyahu is the likely candidate to be Israel’s next prime minister (with the obvious caveat: Israel’s political landscape is fast changing)."
Strains in Obama’s relationship with Netanyahu also made recent headlines. When reports circulated that Obama and Netanyahu would not meet individually during the Israeli Prime Minister’s visit to the US, a media firestorm resulted. Reuters called the incident a “highly unusual rebuff” and an “apparent snub” that resulted from Netanyahu’s calls for Obama to take more decisive action against Iran and its potential nuclear capabilities.
Obama has been credited with a cautiously successful term with regards to foreign policy goals, accompanied by some significant disappointments from supporters and opposing factions alike. Foreign Affairs’ assessment of the Obama administration notes both successes — including the weakening of al Qaeda and imposing sanctions on Iran — and failures such as the stalemate in the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and the worsening US-Pakistani relations. Foreign Policy writes that,
"The Obama approach has been relatively nonideological in practice but informed by a realistic overarching sense of the United States' role in the world in the twenty-first century. The tone has been neither that of American triumphalism and exceptionalism nor one of American decline. On balance, this approach has been effective, conveying a degree of openness to the views of other leaders and the interests of other nations while still projecting confidence and leadership.
Judged by the standard of protecting American interests, Obama's foreign policy so far has worked out quite well; judged by the standard of fulfilling his vision of a new global order, it remains very much a work in progress."
A large portion of the media’s criticism of Obama stemmed from his decision to increase the usage of drone strikes to combat alleged militants in countries such as Pakistan and Yemen. A continuation of former President George W. Bush’s policy, this decision has heralded a number of questions inquiring as to the transparency of the Obama administration and the morality of drone warfare. A recent New York Times editorial decried the use of drones and Obama’s willingness to utilize these methods of force, stating,
"How can the world know whether the targets chosen by this president or his successors are truly dangerous terrorists and not just people with the wrong associations? (It is clear, for instance, that many of those rounded up after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks weren’t terrorists.) How can the world know whether this president or a successor truly pursued all methods short of assassination, or instead — to avoid a political charge of weakness — built up a tough-sounding list of kills?
It is too easy to say that this is a natural power of a commander in chief. The United States cannot be in a perpetual war on terror that allows lethal force against anyone, anywhere, for any perceived threat. That power is too great, and too easily abused, as those who lived through the George W. Bush administration will remember."