Promises they can't keep

Barack Obama or John McCain, whichever candidate ends up in the White House after the November elections, will face a serious challenge correcting eight years of George W. Bush's largely disastrous foreign policies.

By Claude Salhani (View from Washington)

Published: Sat 7 Jun 2008, 1:44 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 4:22 PM

Unlike the Bush administration, who chose to ignore the Middle East until 19 Middle Eastern terrorists came knocking on America's door, the next president to occupy the Oval Office will find it imperative to delve right away into the burning issues in the Middle East which have spawned from a single problem - the Arab Israeli dispute when Bush first came to power -- into a multitude of intertwining problems.

The new administration will have to address a number of important fires requiring immediate attention. Any one of the Middle East's burning issues -- the Palestinian-Israeli dispute, the Iraq war, Iran's nuclear programme, Lebanon's internal dispute, which is not all that internal seeing the role played by Syria and Iran and their proxy militias -- could easily develop into a major crisis, endangering the stability of the region as well as the interests of the United States and its allies.

However, a distressing factor is that neither candidate has been capable of formulating a realistic plan outlining concrete steps on how they intend to rectify the current administration's shortcomings.

So far, both Obama and McCain have been able to offer mostly electoral rhetoric, talking in very broad terms about the war in Iraq, the war on terrorism, the war in Afghanistan and the Palestinian issue. Both men promise to "fix America's problems," but stop short of telling voters exactly how they would go about it.

The harsh truth is that neither Obama the Democrat, nor McCain the Republican seem to have given the matter any serious thought. And if they have, it certainly is not reflected in any of their speeches or debates.

Neither of the two men has proved capable of detailing how they would extricate the United States from the current morass created by the last eight years which has taken the country into an unnecessary and costly war in Iraq, an argument long held by the Democrats and recently sustained by the president's former spokesman in a just-published book that is highly critical of the administration's policies.

Nor have either of the candidates unveiled a comprehensive policy to explain how they might go about regaining much of the prestige and credibility lost by the United States in much of the region and created a greater internal divide between the right and the left, and the rich and poor at home.

McCain, the Vietnam war hero, sounds like he would offer the nation a third Bush term, minus the "compassionate conservatism. His line on Iraq has been to say the United States should be prepared to stay in Iraq for the next hundred years, if necessary. As president, McCain said he would increase the military, adding up to 900,000 troops. Much easier said than done. Recruiting almost 1 million additional troops will require money, which the Pentagon does not have; and to attain those high numbers would almost certainly mean reinstating the draft, a move that is guaranteed to give the Republicans their biggest loss in 2012.

I mentioned McCain being Bush without the compassionate conservatism, not that Bush retained his compassion for the men and women in the military; here is why.

The president wants to prevent the equivalent of a GI Bill, making its way through congress and has threatened to use his power of veto. McCain supports that policy. The notion behind Bush's and McCain's opposition to offering higher education to the military is intended to keep the troops in uniform. A soldier or Marine with a college degree is far more likely to leave the service for a better paying job in the private sector.

The Democratic candidate Obama's policy is hardly any clearer when it comes to drawing down the war in Iraq. To be sure he has repeated time and again during the campaign that he was opposed to the war, but has since voted in favour out of fear that he might be labeled unpatriotic, particularly given that he has not served in the armed forces, as his republican rival Senator John McCain.

Obama says he will bring the troops home within 18 months. Notice he never said "all the troops."

Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times and a political editor in Washington

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