Both U.S. presidential candidates must address the Middle East issue
OP-ED by Ghanem Nuseibeh
While the U.S. presidential election campaign continues to revolve around topics focusing on the character traits of the two presidential hopefuls—Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton—there has been a glaring omission from the first debate. Both nominees failed to have any serious discussion on their respective strategies for the ongoing crises of the Middle East.
Instead, the world watched the first debate in September with a mix of amusement and amazement as both Clinton and Trump sparred on issues of infidelities and tax evasion.
But the Middle East cannot afford to be used by American politicians at such a petty and childish level, as seen in the first presidential debate. And many in the region are hoping that the next two debates will focus more on a serious and sober debate about the Middle East.
The U.S. cannot afford to ignore the region which is going through its most challenging period in modern history. The crises are not only local, but have major implications for the stability of the region as a whole and for the viability of the EU and for the strategic allies of the U.S., such as Israel and the Arab states.
All of us, and the American public, deserve to have the Middle East discussed and argued in the next two debates, on October 9 and 19, so that the region receives the serious attention it merits. More so, the presidential candidates have a duty to their electorate to highlight one of the biggest challenges facing America.
The candidates need to convince the American public that they have a plan to deal with a highly complex and rapidly evolving situation in the Middle East.
If there is no such implementable plan, American voters have a cause to be extremely concerned. This is no longer about the day to day foreign relations that most previous American presidential campaigns had to deal with. This is as much of an American problem as it is a regional and global one.
The crisis in Syria not only presents a human tragedy of enormous proportions, but also threatens the EU socially, politically and economically with the continuing deluge of refugees.
The Sunni-Shia sectarian rift not only has pushed Iraq and Yemen to the brink of failed states, but will also provide a catalyst for nuclear weapons in the near future.
The Turkish regime’s rapid move into a totalitarian state with widespread abuses of liberty and civil freedoms, and the threat that Turkey poses to other NATO members is not only a Turkish concern, but also threatens the stability of the bloc itself.
The global silence, led by what appears to be American apathy towards Turkey’s recent wide scale arbitrary arrests against doctors, educators, magistrates and other alleged Gulenists and opposition sympathizers, will only encourage such moves in the region.
The allies of the U.S. are rightly concerned about current American apathy towards Turkey, at a time when the Mediterranean country is steadily cementing its relations with the U.S.’s nemesis, Russia.
What is more concerning, is that the next American administration is failing to show its intention to deal with the Middle East crisis head on!
And then there is the issue of Iran, which continues to spread a turbulent influence in the region. To the Middle East, the U.S. appears to have forgiven Iran for its continued meddling in the affairs of its neighbors—who are in fact allies to the U.S.,—aside from keeping mum on the Iranian regime’s support to groups that are on the U.S. terror list, and which have been responsible for the loss of hundreds of American lives in the past.
Yet, the first U.S. presidential debate lacked any mention of Iran in that sense, just like it lacked any mention of Turkey or Syria.
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict needs to be fairly dealt with. The longer it is left, the more dangerous it becomes and more difficult it will be to resolve.
These and other compelling issues, which require American leadership, and require to be addressed fairly and properly.
The Middle Eastern issues, some might argue, are not at the top of the list of the concerns of the average American voter; who is more concerned with issues that directly affects his/her daily life. However, if the U.S. loses interest in the region, then the U.S., the West in general and their regional allies will be the biggest losers.
This cannot be good for the U.S., and it will eventually directly hurt the average American voter.
The Middle East is as much of an American interest as it is a global one. If the Middle East implodes, Europe as a stable entity will quickly follow and the U.S. global influence will vanish. Hundreds of thousands of American jobs will be at stake.
The challenges facing the Middle East are not like any other international crises facing other regions of the world, and the viability of the U.S.’s position as a world superpower is at stake.
Politics, like nature, abhors vacuums, and at the moment, there is no other world leadership which can replace the U.S. and the role it must play in shaping the future of the Middle East.
Hence, the presidential candidates must show maturity and deal with it.
Ghanem Nuseibeh is the founder of Cornerstone Global Associates, and a senior visiting fellow at Kings College.