The Last Presidential Debate
How do you watch presidential debates in the US, as an Arab or as an American who cares about Palestinians? Not an easy task for sure. It has become ritualistic and formulaic. Basically, candidates sit (or stand) and compete in the art of catering to the Israeli lobby. It knows no bounds and it recognizes no limits of logic or reason. It is an exercise in which informed men and women have to surrender their brains at the door. It is a ritual that we have to endure once every four years, if you don’t count the routine Senate races.
Obama came to the debate prepared to defend his record on Israel. He extended additional aid to Israel as soon as Romney landed there for the campaign stop that all presidential candidates have to undertake. He also ordered the largest ever joint military exercise between Israel and the US. Every US president has to prove that he is far more pro-Israel than his predecessor, and all are (probably with the exception of George H.W. Bush). Obama and Romney invoked the name of Israel and they barely mentioned the names of traditional US allies like France and UK. Israel is now the foreign policy of the US in an election year. A writer in Le Monde said what no US journalist could say: that the invocation of Israel and China in the presidential campaign is about domestic policy and not foreign policy, that Israel stands for Florida while China stands for Ohio.
Sadly, there are Arabs who have already begun their naïve analysis about the next four years. Some are rooting for Obama on the assumption that a president in his second term is capable of challenging the Israeli lobby. For some inexplicable reason, every American administration is capable of fooling Arabs with this notion. Of course, no American president ever stood up to the Israeli lobby in his second term. There are those in the Arab world who insist that Nixon was planning on confronting Israel in his second term and that the Israeli lobby instigated the Watergate scandal to avoid an impending disaster.
But the debate between Obama and Romney was illustrative: there is a political malady in American political life. There is a pretension that passes itself off as sincere concern. This obsession with Israel just can’t be real. How could anyone believe that the president of the US is really more concerned about Israel than about any other ally of the US around the world? To be sure, Israel has become a domestic American political factor and the US Congress acts pretty much as an extension of the Israeli embassy, but there is something to be said about this theater of the absurd: about two adult men pretending that all that they care about in world affairs is Israel. Israel wants the US to act like every threat to its aggression and occupation is a threat to the US, and American politician have to feign agreement with Israel.
All that matters a great deal now, as Israel can influence US Middle East policies. Romney and Obama even admitted out loud that their policies in Syria are motivated by concern for Israeli interests. Israel enjoys extreme and intense American protection, and that saved Israel in 1973 and on many other occasions. But the US could not save the Shah of Iran and could not save Mubarak. It is unlikely that the US will be able to save Israel from its inevitable demise.