Monday, September 17, 2012

Energion Political Roundtable: Q. 5 -- Presidential Candidates and Violence in the Middle East



Do you approve or disapprove of President Obama's and Governor Romney's responses to the violence in Egypt and Libya and now in other countries in the Middle East?

The United States has been tangled up in conflicts that embroil the Middle East for more than half a century.  There are a number of reasons for this, with our reliance on oil to fuel our cars and the rest of the economy, oil that has been coming from the Middle East.  In order to keep the supply going, we’ve made partnerships with “friendly governments,” which have been for the most part authoritarian regimes.  Many of those regimes have fallen of late, but there’s a latent anger against American presence in the region.  There’s frustration with economic realities that need a scapegoat, and the US has been a convenient one – in part it’s fueled by what people see in movies.  There are also religious and cultural differences to take into account.  Then add in the American alliance with Israel, which occupies land that Muslims consider holy and their own. 

To put it simply – the situation over there is complex, and American foreign policy doesn’t deal well with complexity.  Just this morning I heard Joe Scarborough rant about them hating us, because they hate us.  He was quoting intelligence figures.  But why?  Is it simply because “they” are Muslims and we are not?  Oh, for the halcyon days of the Cold War, when their nukes and nukes made for peace!

I write all of this as a preface answering the fifth question of our Energion Political Roundtable.  The question our moderator put before us concerns the way in which the two main Presidential candidates addressed the protests and violence stirred, at least in part, but an intentionally provocative “film” (I’ve not seen it), that  Muslims find offensive.  As I offer my answer, I need to affirm my bias – I’m a supporter of the President.  Be that as it may, I shall try to offer a thoughtful response. 

I’ll begin with Governor Romney, whose initial response and perhaps instincts was to offer a thoroughly politicized response to an ongoing crisis in foreign regions.  He did so before he knew the facts, but seems to have thought he could score points.  In my opinion this decision is appalling.   Even many Republicans were horrified at his actions.  Now, he has the right and responsibility at the appropriate time to explain how he would respond to such a crisis, but doing so in the midst of the crisis was at best craven.  He seemed to want to score political points when American men and women were in danger.  By putting himself into the midst of this fray, he broke an unwritten rule of Presidential politics of long-standing.  If you’re the challenger to the incumbent, and a crisis occurs overseas, don’t interfere.  Don’t confuse the situation by presuming that you’re the President.  Remember that the incumbent has information you don’t have.  In my mind Romney showed himself to be ignorant of what’s happening in the Middle East and shows that he lacks wisdom and good judgment.  If we take him at his word, it appears that he wants to stomp loudly as well as carry a big stick.  He puffs out his chest and declares that such things wouldn’t happen on his watch.  I’m wondering how he would manage to “keep the peace,” when history shows that such things have happened on the watch of every President – from Eisenhower through Reagan to Clinton and now Obama.  As I said, I’m biased, but I do think that Mitt Romney showed himself to be ill-equipped in temperament to be President. 

As for President Obama, while I don’t always agree with his decisions when it comes to foreign policy – I’d like to see him push Israel harder on both the Palestinians and Iran, and I’m not happy with his embrace of some of the left-over Patriot Act rules – but in this case I believe he has handled this difficult situation about as well as he could.  As they say, these are “interesting times.”  That is, these are especially unsettled times in our world, and this is especially true in the Middle East.  There political structures and powers are evolving, and the American government doesn’t always know what to make of these relationships.  Thus, the President noted that for now Egypt is neither ally nor enemy.  Do we yet know what the future holds with these countries?  We preached democracy, but democracy, as we learned in our own nation, takes time to fully bear fruit.  These are nations that are evolving new structures and identities, and we need to give them time to bear fruit.  Of course, that makes for difficult relationships.  And just because have the largest army in the world, doesn’t mean we can impose our desires on another sovereign nation.  So, I thought he exercised wisdom and patience.  He surely didn’t apologize or offer sympathy to those who oppose the United States.  What the President seems to be doing is rely on diplomacy to settle the situation down. Long term, however, we need to do a number of things, from leaving Afghanistan militarily and seeking a permanent peace between Israeli’s and Palestinians, but at least the latter is far in the future (unfortunately).  

What I appreciate about the President’s response is that it seemed to take into consideration the complexity of the moment.  He spoke movingly of the lives given in service to country and began to converse with leaders in the region.  But I think we need to understand that as long as America is engaged in unsettled places, the possibility of such events will always be a reality. For now, let us keep our eye on the situation as it continues to play out.   And as for me, I will pray for the time when swords will be turned into plows!  

You can offer your thoughts and questions for the roundtable sponsored by Energion Publicatons at  http://energion.net/2012/09/the-great-energion-political-roundtable/   Check out the thoughts of the other participants as well – Allan Bevere,  Elgin HushbeckJoel Watts, and Arthur Sido.

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