Categorized | Sharkansky_Ira, USA

World depends on U.S.; yet elections decided on domestic issues

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By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM — It should be no surprise that the excitment of the American presidential campaign deals with domestic issues. The American voter is not responsible for his or her country being the most prominent in the world, with its hands almost everywhere. They are concerned that jobs, housing, and other needs are more or less available, with the standard of living likely to improve or not, for themselves, their aged parents, and offspring starting independent lives of their own.

Also important are values. Republicans seeking their party nomination are competing about conservatism. Voters perceive Rick Santorum to be most attractive on social issues concerned with religion and family, while Newt Gingrich leads on the economic cluster of things that conservatives like. Mitt Romney has the money and may be best positioned to actually make a good run against Barack Obama, but he has not convinced the core of his party that he is right enough on either social or economic issues.

All that is understandable from an American perspective, but regrettable for the rest of us who depend on the United States. Most of us are not concerned that the American standard of living should be even greater than what it already is compared to what we enjoy, or whether Americans fascinated about things that do not appeal to us will get what they want from one candidate or another.   What do these candidates know or care about things east of New England, south of Texas, and west of California?

Israelis take some pleasure in those moments when candidates compete about who would do more to assure our security. Ron Paul is not part of that competition. All the other Republicans and the incumbent are saying good things about us.   It’s hard to rank their enthusiasm, or to be sure about their sincerity.   I doubt that most Israelis care whether or not the United States actually moves its embassy to Jerusalem.

What would really be in our best interests, along with those of our adversaries and others in this region and elsewhere would be a president who understands, who appoints aides who understand, and would be modest about what they do not understand. We do not need another George W. Bush seeking to bring democracy to Iraq, or trying to remake Afghanistan. Nor Barack Obama’s certainty about pressure on Hosni Mubarak and intervention in Libya. The first has produced for us a vacuum in what had been a stable neighbor, whose record on human rights was not in the lower half of what people in this region endure. The second contributed to a regime collapse and a flow of its munitions to Gaza, facilitated by the collapse of the regime in Egypt. For Americans unfamiliar with anything this far east, Egypt is between Libya and Gaza.

A lack of wisdom at the top has been matched by sloppy implementation of whatever it is the American government is trying to do. The list includes those videos of torture in Abu Ghraib, several wedding parties bombed in error, and most recently the burning of Korans and the rogue soldier’s slaughter of civilians.   Now the primary concern of Israelis is that Barack Obama will recognize that dealing with the Iranian leadership is not like bargaining with antagonists in Washington.   A recent Index of Globalization adds its confirmation to the notion of the United States as more inward looking, and more reliant on itself than just about every Western democracy.    Being independent is an advantage of a large and wealthy country. Yet the other sides of that are parochialism, as well as political aspirations and military activities that go beyond what it has learned.

Syria is another spot in the phenomena of Arab Spring/Summer/Winter/ and now a second Spring that some applauded as the onset of democracy. Barack Obama repeated that claim during his AIPAC speech. Many of us who actually live in the Middle East are doubtful in the extreme. One election in Egypt does not amount to democracy. Whoever fills the places to be decided in upcoming months will not have an easy task getting the army out of the economy or politics, or creating other elements of democracy like a critical media, free expression, the moderation of those who gain power, and an independent judiciary.

No one should praise the Syrian regime headed by Bashar al-Assad, but prior to the rebellion that began a year ago it had kept the lid on an explosive mix of religious and ethnic groups. Christian and Druze minorities have been the last to join the rebels, out of concern for what the Sunni majority would do to them and to the minority Alawis who have been running the country. Most recently the army may have crushed opposition in several cities, leaving behind a bloody mess resulting from shelling residential areas and the killing of civilians meant to send a message to others who might think about rebellion.

Car bombings at key points in Damascus suggest that rebels may be changing their tactics and adopting the terror learned from others in this region. The leaders of one rebel organization say that it wasn’t their work, but most likely that of Syrian security forces willing to kill civilians in order to make the point that the regime was fighting against extremists.

We shouldn’t expect such things to become central issues in the American presidential campaign, but we still hope for wisdom at the top in deciding whether, and how to deal with them.   Good luck to us.

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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.  He may be contacted at [email protected]

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