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Obama, Romney Largely Agree on Middle East Policy


One of the discussion areas between the two major party U.S. presidential candidates has been North Africa and the Middle East.

While President Barack Obama, the Democratic Party’s White House candidate, and his Republican Party challenger Mitt Romney may have strong differences on a number of domestic policy issues, their views on the Middle East don’t have many sharp contrasts.

Arab Spring

Both presidential candidates voice support for the Arab Spring, the popular uprising in Arab nations that has toppled autocratic governments in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt.

President Obama demonstrated his support in his U.N. address on September 25. “The world has been captivated by the transformation that’s taken place. And the United - the United States has supported the forces of change,” he said.

Former Governor Romney, in a speech on October 8, pledged his effort to continue U.S. support for democracy advocates in Arab nations should he be elected.

“I will begin organizing all of our diplomatic and assistance efforts in the greater Middle East under one official, with the authority and accountability necessary to train all of our soft power resources on ensuring that the Arab Spring does not fade into a long winter,” he said.

Libya

An armed man waves his rifle as buildings and cars are engulfed in flames after being set on fire inside the U.S. consulate compound in Benghazi late on September 11, 2012.

An armed man waves his rifle as buildings and cars are engulfed in flames after being set on fire inside the U.S. consulate compound in Benghazi late on September 11, 2012.

On September 11, 2012, an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others.

Mitt Romney harshly criticized the president in their second debate for what he says is a lack of candor about the origins of the Benghazi attack.

"There were many days that passed before we knew whether this was a spontaneous demonstration, or, actually, whether it was a terrorist attack," he said.

President Obama gave a strong response to Romney regarding Benghazi.

“The day after the attack, Governor, I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened, that this was an act of terror," he said.

Syria

A rebel fighter retreats for cover as enemy fire targets the rebel position during clashes at the Moaskar front line, one of the battlefields in the Karmal Jabl neighborhood, of Aleppo, Syria, October 24, 2012.

A rebel fighter retreats for cover as enemy fire targets the rebel position during clashes at the Moaskar front line, one of the battlefields in the Karmal Jabl neighborhood, of Aleppo, Syria, October 24, 2012.

Both candidates say they support those trying to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and agree that the U.S. military should not get directly involved.

But President Obama says his support for the opposition does not extend to providing weapons.

"We have to do so making absolutely certain that we know who we are helping, that we’re not putting arms in the hands of folks who eventually could turn them against us or our allies in the region,” he said.

Former Governor Romney took a very different stance on weapons in the final debate.

“I want to make sure they get armed, and they have the arms necessary to defend themselves, but also, to remove Assad. But I do not want to see a military involvement on the part of our troops,” he said.

Iran, Israel, Palestinians

Both President Obama and former Governor Romney are emphatic in their support for Israel, especially in the face of Iranian threats against the Jewish State, as they both stated during the final debate.

“Israel is a true friend. It is our greatest ally in the region. And, if Israel is attacked, America will stand with Israel. I’ve made that clear throughout my presidency,” said the president.

"If I’m President of the United States - when I’m President of the United States - we will stand with Israel. And, if Israel is attacked, we have their back, not just diplomatically, not just culturally, but militarily," said the Republican challenger.

What hasn’t been discussed much by either candidate is U.S. efforts for resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Iraq

One Middle East Analyst, Khaled Elgindy at Brookings Institution, says the ethnic and sectarian conflict seen in Iraq after the 2003 war should caution both presidential candidates that Washington ultimately cannot control the Arab Spring.

"The United States - cannot determine outcomes. Of elections, of uprisings, of a political process. We cannot pick ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ on the ground and expect to come out victorious," said Elgindy.

Elgindy says that in these countries, their disparate elements need to find ways of reconciling their political and other differences in order to develop inclusive, representative governments.
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    Jeffrey Young

    Jeffrey Young is a Senior Analyst in VOA’s Global English TV.  He has spent years covering global strategic issues, corruption, the Middle East, and Africa. During most of 2013, he was on special assignment in Baghdad and elsewhere with the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).  Previous VOA activities include video journalism and the “Focus” news analysis unit. He also does journalist training overseas for VOA.

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