Al-Ahram Weekly Online   9 - 15 October 2008
Issue No. 917
International
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

High time to move beyond clichés

The Palin-Biden debate left a lot to be desired, writes Ramzy Baroud

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One should rightly assume that the weight of the US financial crisis, the full impact of which is just beginning to be felt, and the widening military debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan, would compel new thinking amongst leading US politicians. And then again, maybe not.

Aside from tactical and rhetorical differences, presidential candidates and their vice-presidential hopefuls are yet to strictly champion and act upon a truly different leadership strategy: Barack Obama's current foreign policy visions are more or less those of President Bush in his second term. Republican candidate John McCain, however, advocates a less solid and increasingly confusing set of principles: he strives to distance himself from a discredited, unpopular president, position himself as a man of experience and resolve, yet pander to the religious right and defend a hawkish strategy that is no less destructive than that championed by the neoconservative-designed Bush Doctrine, which led to two major wars and a near-complete loss of US credibility and leadership abroad.

More alarmingly, however, are both candidates' choices for their vice-president. Obama, who has repeatedly cornered his old rival Hillary Clinton with the tireless accusation that, unlike him, she is a Washington-insider, has chosen Senator Joe Biden, the embodiment of what partisan politics is all about, and someone who, prior to his candidacy, seemed much closer to McCain's views, than to those of Obama. On the other hand, McCain, picked Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running mate, simply because he wished to exploit Obama's fallout with a supposedly disgruntled female constituency following the defeat of his Democratic rival, Clinton.

Back to the seemingly odd choice of Biden. Columnist Susan Abulhawa rationalised Obama's decision. "Biden, the self- proclaimed Zionist, assuages Israeli and Jewish American fears that Mr Obama might not be so accommodating to Israel." This view was corroborated repeatedly in Israeli media, but most importantly by Biden himself in the first vice-presidential debate on 3 October. To outdo Palin's passionate answer to a question about Israel, where she asserted that a McCain-Palin administration "will never allow a second Holocaust", Biden cut to the chase: "No one in the United States Senate has been a better friend to Israel than Joe Biden. I would have never, ever joined this ticket were I not absolutely sure Barack Obama shared my passion." Palin graciously opted out of this who-loves-Israel-the- most debate: "I'm so encouraged to know that we both love Israel, and I think that is a good thing to get to agree on, Senator Biden. I respect your position on that."

In case there was the slightest doubt about where he stands, he told a Jewish Democratic audience in Florida, on 23 September, "My support for Israel begins in my stomach, goes to my heart and ends up in my head. I promise you, I guarantee you, I guarantee you, I would not have joined Barack Obama's campaign as vice-president if I had any doubt, even the slightest doubt, that he shared the same commitment to Israel that I share."

Unlike the Palestinian-Israeli problem, where both parties are clear on their love for Israel and their total dismissal of Palestinians, the Iraq debate is much convoluted. Republicans continue to push mantras of a victorious America with global military responsibilities. Democrats, on the other hand, wary of the unpopular Iraq war, feel the need to paint a different image, albeit a more confusing one. Yet, ironically, according to Biden: "Barack Obama offered a clear plan; shift responsibility to Iraqis over the next 16 months. Barack says it's time for them to spend their own money and have the 400,000 military we trained for them begin to take their own responsibility." Not only does Obama's plan, articulated by Biden lack clear finality, and can always find reasons to justify the delay of the promised withdrawal (such as the Iraqis are not taking responsibilities, the Iraqi army is not yet ready, and so forth), it lacks any hint of moral liability. After all, the US invaded, under flimsy excuses, a sovereign country to control its oil and to extend US-Israeli hegemony in the Middle East. Pointing the finger at the Iraqis for Bush-made disasters is highly dishonest, to say the least.

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