Arabs keen to see the end of George W. Bush’s presidency fear that a win for likely Republican candidate John McCain will bring little change to U.S. policies they blame for destabilizing the Middle East.
For Arab politicians who have gained from U.S. policy in countries including Iraq and Lebanon, continuity may be a good thing.
But Bush’s many critics in the Arab world worry that McCain will continue current U.S. policies, which they fault for unleashing chaos in Iraq and providing unflinching support for Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians.
McCain wants to keep troops in Iraq until it is more stable, setting him at odds with Democratic rivals who want to withdraw from a country which has been wracked by violence since U.S.-led forces toppled Saddam Hussein five years ago.
During a Middle East tour this month, McCain’s statements on Israel also sounded alarm bells for Arabs who have long criticized Washington for not exercising enough pressure on the Jewish state to withdraw from occupied Arab land.
“The first time McCain started to catch attention was when he visited … Israel and committed himself to recognizing Jerusalem (as its capital) and not pressuring Israel,” Mohamed al-Sayed Said of Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies told Reuters in Cairo.
“This confirms the natural inclination of Arabs to think that whatever the next administration is, it will be a tool of the Israelis.”
But while Arabs see little difference between candidates when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict — with all repeatedly committing themselves to Israel’s interests and security — Iraq is seen as a different story.
The 2003 U.S.-led invasion, which was opposed by Washington’s Arab allies including Egypt, empowered Shia factions such as the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council — a group with longstanding ties to Shia Iran.
Jalal al-Din al-Sagheer, a cleric and senior member of the group, said a McCain presidency would be a good thing. “I believe it is a positive matter if the Republican candidate wins in the coming election. We know now how the Republicans think.”
“McCain is so close to the Bush administration and they both adopted the same policy.”
McCain, speaking during a visit to close U.S. ally Jordan, said that a premature withdrawal from Iraq would enhance Iran and Sunni Islamist militant group al Qaeda — both foes of America — and endanger the region.
But Mudhafer al-Aani, a senior member of the largest Sunni bloc in Iraq’s parliament, urged a correction of “the great mistakes of the administration.”
“McCain’s statements on the U.S. presence in Iraq represent the same policy as the current president’s,” he said.
An Iranian political analyst, who declined to be identified, said that while the authorities were publicly keeping their distance from the U.S. election campaign, their preference appeared to be for Democratic candidate Barak Obama.
“I guess they look at McCain as some sort of continuity of the present situation. I can’t say for sure, but from their positions, I gather they will not like a repetition of Republican rule,” the analyst said.
“McCain has confirmed the American intention to keep American troops in Iraq. This is something that is against the wish of Iran. They want the Americans to be gone, and the issue to be sorted our regionally, in which Iran will play a big part,” the analyst said.
Syrian political commentator Thabet Salem said McCain’s pro-Israeli stance and comments against Syria, as well as a commitment to keep U.S. troops in Iraq could lead to more Middle East instability.
“McCain has exhibited little willingness to depart from the foreign policy of the neocons, which encourages spread of fundamentalism and terrorism,” he said.