INTERVIEW TO GABRIEL BACALOR,
MIDDLE EAST AFFAIRS SPECIALIST

Courtesy: Gabriel Bacalor – Middle East Affairs Specialist

“The U.S. and Russia are pushing for control of the energy resources of the Middle East.” “Obama failed to promote a just and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

- How do you see the future of United States foreign policy towards the Middle East?

The results of the elections to be held on November 6th in the United States will determine the future of the Middle East. Obviously, the foreign policy proposals of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney represent opposing streams, both in methodology and in their relationship between the United States and the Arab world.

The current president is committed to a democratic exit to the conflicts posed by the Arab Spring, and when it does intervene, it does so indirectly, through its regional allies. In contrast, Romney backs peace by force. The Republican candidate suggests greater United States military intervention in the region, to prevent the advance of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafists and other Muslim religious factions.

- What might one expect in terms of international relations if Romney won the election?

Mitt Romney has openly stated that Russia is the main enemy of the United States, reinstating in that way the old scheme of the Cold War.

With the current global economic instability, an open conflict between the United States and Russia could have consequences which are difficult to predict. What will be the extent of Iran’s response to U.S. military intervention? What attitude will China have? Remember that China annually imports 31 million tons of Iranian oil and is, at the same time, the largest holder of U.S. government debt.

The return to a cold war scenario is highly likely, if Mitt Romney ascends to the presidency, and presents an uncertain future in foreign policy. A victory by the Republican candidate would require that we monitor his term very carefully, particularly in its infancy, to interpret the real effects.

- Can we say that something like the Cold War is happening right now, when the Russian military sent its navy to the port of Tartus in Syria to look for President Bashar Al Assad?

Indeed. Both the internal conflict in Syria, which has already claimed 30,000 lives, the impending armed conflict between that country and Turkey, or the potential U.S. invasion of Iran, mask the real showdown: The U.S. and Russia are pushing for control of energy resources in the Middle East.

Beyond the moderate dialectic used by candidates Obama and Romney in the third election debate, their different attitudes should be emphasized: While the Republican candidate tends to interpret the country’s relations with China and Russia in binary terms, i.e., “if they are not our allies, they are our enemies”, the Democratic candidate proposes a more civil relationship between the two powers, presenting them as contenders in certain areas and collaborators in others, in order to ensure global stability.

- Which of the two candidates is more likely to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Israel and the Palestinian Authority have not held peace talks since September 2010 and this clearly reflects that, at least until today, Obama has failed to promote a just and lasting solution to the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.

Unlike George W. Bush, who openly supported the creation of a Palestinian state, the candidate Mitt Romney still has not commented on this. The personal relationship between the Republican candidate and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, suggests that Romney’s position on the conflict is being influenced by the Israeli side.

Remember that Netanyahu is unwilling to negotiate with the Palestinian leadership unless they officially recognize the Jewish character of the State of Israel.

- What is best for Israel, the victory of Obama or Romney?

It depends from which angle you look at the conflict. In Israel there are two competing narratives. There are those who believe that a Palestinian state is of strategic importance to Israel and, at the other end of the political spectrum, those who feel that the West Bank should be permanently attached to Israeli territory, thus ending the possibility that Palestinians create their own state.

While Barack Obama has been forceful in the interest of restoring peace negotiations leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state, Republican candidate Mitt Romney avoids clearly commenting  on the issue, and thus becomes the preferred candidate of those Israelis who reject Palestinian independence.

- What are the major foreign policy challenges that will face the candidate who is elected president?

The challenges of the day after the election can be summarized in three points: First, the redefinition of the role of the United States in a complex global scenario, with Russia and China competing for control of strategic resources that, until today, belonged exclusively to the great American power.

Secondly, the elected president must articulate mechanisms to prevent the Arab Spring governments from succumbing to religious extremists likely to start an unconventional arms race. The suspension of Iran’s nuclear program is critical in this regard.

Finally, the new U.S. administration will have to develop partnerships with other countries based on mutually beneficial relationships, in contrast to the old asymmetrical trade agreements which have already proved their failure.

* Thank you to Pilar Diaz and El Universal for this interview.

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