Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has called for a “change of course” in US foreign policy in the Middle East. In Romney’s view, a more assertive America is a necessity to ensure Middle Eastern peace, despite warnings from the not too distant past.
Firstly, Romney wants to arm Syrian rebels against Bashar al-Assad’s repressive military forces. Whilst many have been clamouring for material support against the brutal Assad regime, such a move would be inherently troublesome. For a start, Russia and China would reject any multilateral proposals for such assistance at the UN Security Council. That would force America into acting unilaterally, against UN convention, as was the case in Iraq.
Furthermore, whilst a large percentage of the Syrian rebels are undoubtedly noble freedom fighters, a healthy dose of fundamentalist – dare we say terrorist – factions have infiltrated their movement. As has also happened in Libya since Colonel Gaddafi’s fall, the resistance movement has become stained by its support from these terrorist groups who seek to wreak havoc in, rather than stabilise, the region. Is Romney suggesting the Americans arm these people? One need only look at the seized stockpiles of American weapons in Iraq and Afghanistan to see the long-term destabilising effects of arming questionable militant groups.
The ‘Iran question’ also features heavily on Romney’s foreign policy agenda. He demands “actions not words” against the nuclear-determined Iranians, which would no doubt involved supporting a preemptive strike by Benjamin Netanyahu’s nationalist Israeli government against Iranian nuclear facilities. Whilst Iran’s refusal to abandon its quest for a nuclear bomb is indeed a cause for concern, provoking the wrath of the unstable and populist regime may turn out to be a bad idea for all neighbouring states in the region.
President Obama has widely been seen to have failed the American people on the home front during his first term, with employment levels and economic growth stagnant and election promises unfulfilled. Yet so far he has pursued a very prudent foreign policy, using controlled aggression (see the drone attacks in northwestern Pakistan) and special operations (killing Bin Laden, Libya) to good effect.
Let us hope for the sake of peace in the Middle East that the Democrats stay in power for at least four more years.