The recent attacks on U.S. diplomatic outposts in Libya, Egypt and other parts of the Arab world have renewed debate about national security issues and U.S. policy in the Middle East as the Arab Awakening continues to unfold. The need to adapt to growing anti-American sentiment and political and economic instability in the region has brought foreign policy issues to the forefront of the presidential campaign.
How do the presidential candidates differ in their foreign policy strategies toward the Middle East? What are the implications of those agendas for the region? On September 19, Brookings expert Khaled Elgindy took your questions and comments in a live web chat moderated by Vivyan Tran of POLITICO.
12:30 Vivyan Tran: Welcome everyone, let's get started.
12:30 Khaled Elgindy: Hello everyone. Glad you could join us.
12:31 Comment from Elizabeth, USA: Is either candidate likely to address the strong anti-American sentiments raging throughout the Middle East before November? Do you think it will come up at the debates?
12:31 Khaled Elgindy: I think both candidates already have, in their own ways.
12:32 Khaled Elgindy: They clearly have different perspectives on the issue, as well as different roles. It's one thing to analyze from the outside, it's another to tackle the issue as the president.
12:33 Khaled Elgindy: I suspect the issue will come up on some level in the debates, though most likely in a fleeting and probably superficial manner. Foreign policy is not typically a major component of presidential debates and usually candidates stick to talking points.
12:34 Comment from Jon: You wrote recently that Obama has fallen out of favor with the public in many parts of the Middle East. What are the major contributors to this drop in popularity?
12:34 Khaled Elgindy: One of the big reasons is, quite simply, exaggerated expectations.
12:35 Khaled Elgindy: Obama came in promising all sorts of things — a new relationship with the Muslim world, Israeli-Palestinian peace, ending wars in Iraq & Afghanistan, closing Guantanamo, etc.
12:36 Khaled Elgindy: None of these has been accomplished.
12:36 Khaled Elgindy: This, combined with historical baggage and misunderstanding, has deepened the sense of disappointment.
12:37 Comment from Karen K.: How can the president, whoever wins, help to create more trust between the Arab world and the United States?
12:38 Khaled Elgindy: The U.S. has to do a better job of connecting with the people of the region, and not just the governments and elites.
12:39 Khaled Elgindy: This is a learning process on both sides of the relationship. There are deep, historical misunderstandings that color how each side (to be simplistic) views the other.
12:40 Khaled Elgindy: Just as the U.S. has strong bonds with other countries in a way that transcends politics and pragmatic interests, the U.S. will also need to start developing bonds with a broad range of social, civic, political, cultural and other actors in countries like Egypt, Libya, etc.
12:40 Khaled Elgindy: That will take time, of course, but it's worth the long-term investment.
12:41 Comment from Patricia: From a political perspective, what would be more advantageous to the Muslim Brotherhood —a second Obama term or a Romney presidency? What about for the Egyptian people?
12:42 Khaled Elgindy: The MB is a large and diverse organization. It's very hard to generalize about what they believe about the U.S .and other issues.
12:44 Khaled Elgindy: The MB's views on the U.S. are also in flux. They have come a long way in the 80 years of the existence. Their instinct, for historical and philosophical reasons, is to view the U.S. with mistrust. But now they are seeing the value of having the U.S. as an ally.
12:44 Khaled Elgindy: The short answer, however, is that they probably do not have a preference as far as Romney or Obama. They tend to view U.S. politicians with equal levels of distrust.
12:45 Comment from Anonymous: In the leaked video from the other day, Romney claimed that a two-state solution for the Palestinians and the Israelis raised too many difficult problems that couldn't be solved. I've listened to other serious policymakers who think a two-state solution is impossible at this point, but they seem to have reasons beyond "it would be complicated." Was there any merit whatsoever to Romney's private declaration that a two-state solution is impossible?
12:45 Khaled Elgindy: It may surprise you but I tend to agree.
12:46 Khaled Elgindy: What Romney did is to state explicitly what is essentially the unspoken position of the Obama administration.
12:47 Khaled Elgindy: The U.S. officially backs a two-state solution and sees no alternative to it — yet it is consistently unprepared to do what is required to bring it about. This is true of Democratic and Republican administrations.
12:48 Khaled Elgindy: Unfortunately, the 2-state solution is not going to be around forever and cannot always be subject to U.S. political calendar, etc.
12:49 Khaled Elgindy: Eventually, there will have to be a price for all the many years and opportunities that have been squandered — and that price may be the 2-state solution itself.
12:49 Comment from Jill: Following on Patricia's concern, what about Netanyahu's perspective? With Romney's recently disclosed statement about the unlikely success of a two-state solution, is Israel likely to throw their support towards him?
12:50 Khaled Elgindy: It's not unprecedented for U.S. and Israel leaders to meddle in each other’s domestic politics, and this time is no exception.
12:51 Khaled Elgindy: There are those in both Israel and DC who feel Netanyahu has already thrown his backing behind Romney and the GOP. It will be interesting to see how the Obama-Netanyahu relationship, which is already strained, will develop in the event Obama wins.
12:52 Comment from Abigail: What kind of balance does there need to be in dealing with Iran? I know Israel has asked for a red line on Iran; how would this impact U.S. relations in the region?
12:53 Khaled Elgindy: A very, very crucial issue.
12:53 Khaled Elgindy: The Iran issue is source of considerable debate here in DC, in the region, and around the world. There is tremendous anxiety about a nuclear Iran.
12:54 Khaled Elgindy: But Iran, of course, is not just about Iran. It also relates to so many other issues in the region — Syria, the Gulf, the price of oil, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, etc.
12:56 Khaled Elgindy: And it's not just the complex, strategic balance and relations in the region that is problematic. This crisis is coming at an extremely volatile and fast-moving moment in the region's history. It is almost impossible to "game out" all of the possible contingencies and things that could wrong in terms of an attack on Iran.
12:56 Khaled Elgindy: That's what makes this so difficult, and why the U.S. remains hesitant to go full throttle on the military option.
12:57 Comment from User in VA: Do you think the Arab world sees America as representative of the type of democracy so many have been calling for throughout the Arab Spring uprisings? Or are many in the Arab world craving a different vision of democracy?
12:57 Khaled Elgindy: The Arab world of course does not have a single view of the U.S.
12:57 Khaled Elgindy: Different countries and groups view the U.S. differently for different reasons.
12:58 Khaled Elgindy: Arabs also have nuanced views of the U.S. — there are some aspects they admire (U.S. democracy is one of them) and others they don't (e.g., U.S. policy).
12:59 Khaled Elgindy: It's a complicated picture for us and for them. But that also means there are opportunities for us to deepen our understanding. The most dangerous thing we can do, here or there, is to take a monolithic or essentialized view of the other. We need to constantly be attuned to changes and nuances.
1:00 Vivyan Tran: Thanks for the questions everyone, see you next week!