With a few days to go until the US votes in its new president, the atmosphere is tense and the air — both in America and here in the Middle East — is so thick with expectation and desperation that you can almost cut it with a knife.
Deciding America’s future is obviously a matter for Americans, and US allies in the region look forward to working closely with whoever emerges as the winner: Republican incumbent, Donald Trump, or Democratic contender, Joe Biden.
US regional allies are actually very predictable when it comes to dealing with the transition in the White House. And the same — dare I say — applies to whomever ends up winning the race.
Indeed, people should pay very little attention to the huffing and puffing of some enemies of US allies in the region disguised as scenarios of what might happen in case the Democrats win.
As is the case every election year — or “silly season” as the legendary former Saudi ambassador to the US, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, used to call it — there is much that was and will be said in the run-up to Election Day. After the third of November however, the campaigning stops and reality checks in.
This is, of course, no secret to anyone familiar with how American politics work. Yet, some Middle East pundits still compete in trying to predict who would be better for Saudi Arabia.
I refer these so-called experts to this newspaper’s interview with US State Department spokeswoman, Morgan Ortagus, who pointed out that the Saudi-US relationship “always has been bipartisan.”
Also noteworthy, for those critics with short memories, was her reference to US arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which she says that she worked on herself when she was part of the Obama administration.
Critics should also remember that it was President Obama, a Democrat, who vetoed Congress on acts which were against Saudi Arabia; after all, whatever tactical differences of opinion Riyadh and Washington may have had at the time, he would never have acted against the interests of his own country given that US presidents quickly realize the strategic importance of the Kingdom, religiously, economically and politically.
However, we must acknowledge that in the Middle East, there are the views and policies of those in power; and there are the hearts and minds of the people on the street — and these are not always aligned.
This is why we at Arab News are proud to present our second US elections YouGov poll, where we ask the Arab Street — in this case a sample of more than 3,000 people in 18 countries — what their hopes, aspirations and fears are when it comes to the presidential candidates and their policies.
As the numbers show, it seems some things remain unchanged when compared with our 2016 poll, such as the findings that most respondents are skeptical about US foreign policy, with 84 percent saying that the US has not done enough to support Arab countries in their battles with extremism.
Interestingly though, while Biden has proven more popular than Trump, this does not mean that Arabs are willing to sign him a blank cheque.
In fact, one of the most interesting findings in our “Elections 2020: What do Arabs want?”
Arab News/YouGov poll is that (53 percent) of Arabs think Obama left the region worse off, and also a solid majority of (58 percent) think that Biden should distance himself from Obama-era policies.
Regional allies look forward to working closely with whoever wins the election, but hopes are that the mistakes of the Obama era will not be repeated
Faisal J. Abbas
This is an interesting change in attitude; as I am sure we all remember just how popular President Obama was in the region following his famous 2009 Cairo speech. However, it seems that we in the Middle East are finally learning the lesson that actions speak louder than words.
Speaking of lessons, a free (albeit very long) one has recently become available: I refer to Hillary Clinton’s declassified emails, which show the disastrous impact some policies of the Obama administration had, and continue to have, on this region. For those who followed the Obama presidency closely, there was little new to discover in the correspondence. However, for less-keen observers who were taken in by the president’s soaring rhetoric, the revelations might have been heartbreaking.
As vice president at the time, Biden would have had only a minimal say in managing Clinton while she was secretary of state. In fact, blame for setting the region ablaze can be almost exclusively distributed among Clinton, Obama and Ben Rhodes, the president’s “boy genius” of a deputy national security adviser.
So what do these emails reveal about Hillary Clinton? Well, many things, in fact, and here are some of the most alarming:
1 — They expose a close relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been designated a terrorist group by many Muslim-majority countries. Its chief ideologue, the Doha based cleric Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, has repeatedly spewed intolerance and venom against followers of different faiths. In fact, he has called for violent attacks on them. He has issued religious edicts, or fatwas, authorizing attacks on all Jews.
On Al Jazeera Arabic in January 2009, he said: “Oh God, take your enemies, the enemies of Islam . . . Oh God, take the treacherous Jewish aggressors . . . Oh God, count their numbers, slay them one by one and spare none.” He has a similar deep seated hatred of all Europeans. On his TV show in 2013, broadcast from Doha to millions worldwide, Al-Qaradawi lambasted Muslim countries as weak, and called on their citizens to overthrow their governments and launch a war against all who oppose the Brotherhood, describing them as “khawarij,” or enemies of Islam.
2 — The emails reveal how Clinton and her close advisers were hand in glove with the Muslim Brotherhood leadership in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere. They were able to change US policy and to help various organizations attain their sinister objectives by means of the red herring that has come to be known as the “Arab Spring.” Muslim Brotherhood officials were hosted in the US and feted at the World Economic Forum. They were brought together with officials of the International Monetary Fund. Throughout all this, Clinton and her team knew very well that this terrorist organization was the worst possible replacement for the Hosni Mubarak regime in Egypt.
3 — The emails expose the Obama administration’s close relationship with Al Jazeera TV — in contrast with the previous George W. Bush administration, which reportedly wanted the channel’s offices bombed. Al Jazeera was the medium of choice for extremists, especially Al-Qaeda. For years it was the exclusive disseminator of the Bin Laden tapes, and it was Al-Qaeda’s incitement via Al Jazeera that led to a series of deadly attacks on American forces in Afghanistan and later Iraq. Al-Qaeda videos would mysteriously arrive in Al Jazeera offices and then be given space during prime time on Al Jazeera. By supporting the channel, Hillary Clinton stands accused of sleeping with the devil.
4 — On the subject of American lives, another prominent Obama foreign policy failure is exposed in the emails relating to the funding of the so-called Arab Spring through the Clinton Foundation.
Those emails reveal the trigger for the deaths in 2012 of the US ambassador to Libya, John Christopher Stevens, and Sean Smith, a US Foreign Service information management officer. Of course this is in no way an endorsement of Libya’s madman Muammar Qaddafi, but backing Islamist parties has always backfired, and it is astonishing that American officials failed to learn this lesson.
As Dan Kovalik, a contributor to Huffington Post, pointed out, Hillary Clinton and her team knew that “in terms of the alleged goal of promoting regional security, a number of emails reflect the awareness that the bombing campaign, and the toppling of the aggressively anti-Al-Qaeda Qaddafi, might very well open a space for Al-Qaeda and allied forces to take over many parts of Libya, as they actually have.”
Kovalik refers to one particular email (Doc No. C05780521), to Hillary Clinton from her long-time confidant, Sidney Blumenthal, which states that “traditionally, the eastern part of Libya has been a stronghold for radical Islamist groups, including the Al-Qaeda-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. While Qaddafi’s regime has been successful in suppressing the jihadist threat in Libya, the current situation opens the door for jihadist resurgence.”
Kovalik rightly wondered how, in light of this knowledge, Blumenthal could have argued that “winning the war” against Qaddafi was somehow necessary for regional security.
With all the information that the emails contain, one begins to understand why Trump said during his 2016 campaign that Hillary Clinton should go to jail. Of course, that is a decision for due process of law — but in the court of public opinion, there is a clear case against Clinton for responsibility for the loss of American lives and, more importantly for us, for initiating a foreign policy that left this region in flames that we are still struggling to put out.
Good luck to both presidential candidates on Nov. 3. If Biden does win, let us hope that whoever he appoints as secretary of state avoids the mistakes made by the Obama administration — and, of course, remembers not to use their personal email for official business.
• Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News