With the US distracted by Sandy, will the Middle East's own sandstorms still matter?

Published October 31st, 2012 - 13:13 GMT

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Mitt Romney pays respects to the Western Wall, Jerusalem
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Image 1 of 8: The Republican hopeful may have visited the region in body but his mind was still stuck in the homeland. He managed to offend Arabs everywhere by labeling hotly disputed city, Jerusalem, as ‘the capital of Israel’.

map of Iran shows that Syria shares no border with the Persian state
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Image 1 of 8: Mitt Romney demonstrates some dodgy geography: the former Governor of Massachusetts told a confused audience that Syria was Iran’s ‘route to the sea’, ignoring all the other water and land around the Persian state.

US embassy in Libya
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Image 1 of 8: Time to take a hammering: after US lives were lost at the embassy in Libya, Mitt Romney told Obama he didn’t understand that the attacks were part of a ‘wider struggle’.

Yalla Vote: campaign for Arab American participation in US elections
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Image 1 of 8: Get your burkas to the booths: ‘Yalla Vote’ is the campaign aimed at getting Arab-Americans involved but with both candidates showing flawed understanding of the region, the electorate are left between a rock and a hard place.

Mitt Romney (L) and George Marshall (R)
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Image 1 of 8: Romney's flawed Marshall plan: Mitt got his Mideast a little mixed up, lavishing unbridled praise on former anti-Israel Secretary of State George Marshall. Given Romney’s stance on the Jewish state, the two would likely not be best friends if Marshall were alive today.

Chris Stevens, the US victim of the Libya embassy attacks
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Image 1 of 8: Duck and cover: after coming under fire from Romney's camp over the attack on Libya's American embassy, Obama's number two, Joe Biden, jumped to his defense. The Vice President said they had been left in the dark over security concerns and were not to blame.

Barack Obama and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
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Image 1 of 8: No nukes anytime soon: Obama has refused to consider any let up on his tough treatment of Iran, maintaining that the 'crippling sanctions' are working and has promised: "As long as I am president, Iran will not have nuclear weapons'.

Hurricane Sandy wreaks its damage on NYC
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Image 1 of 8: Forget the Middle East: As the election enters the final innings with the ball in the hand of the public, an unexpected disaster has come out of nowhere that could shake up the final result. Hurricane Sandy might just push aside foreign policy and get the American public voting on a single domestic issue.

Prospects for peace in the Middle East may have eluded previous US presidents for years, but the topic still makes it to the Democratic-Republican scoreboard.

After the third and final presidential debate got mired in the Mideast (leaving us tempted to believe that US foreign policy was all about the Middle East, with a dash of China, leaving the Monroe Doctrine and with it the Mexico borders consigned to the Wild Wild past), we were forced to accept that the Middle East still mattered for the superpower’s all-American election.

As a report by the Carnegie Foundation put it, “rivalries have long crisscrossed the Middle East …over ambitions, ideology, religion, oil and wealth”.

This particular rivalry – where incumbent Democrat Obama took on challenger Republican Romney- was no exception. The two slung it out on the hotly contested matter of what to do about the problem called the Middle East. It seemed that the twain shared only sacred task: saving Israel from Iran. Both were on the same page that the US should defend Israel if Iran attacked the US’s long time friend in the rapidly evolving region.

Nevertheless, and despite all the sabre-rattling that went on ahead of the elections between the two fore-runners, perhaps it will be on the domestic score-sheet where accounts are settled.  Rebuilding the weak US economy or handling Hurricane Sandy must surely come ahead of tackling the intransigent issues of peace in Palestine. Who is a Romney or even a tried and tested Obama, to heal a splintered region more entrenched than ever by Sunni-Shia feuds?

Weather might be the fall-back topic of conversation for Brits throughout the ages, but the British small-talk staple it seems, specifically the inclement and stormy kind, could be the litmus test for the US Presidency. With coverage of the upcoming elections being dominated by the ferocious winds of Sandy, here’s a reminder of what the two big guns had to say on the ever so important question of the world's petrol pump as they thrashed it out back when they could still afford to talk bigger than the weather. Geography, doctrines, war-budgets and the Arab Spring vote - it's all here for Arab-American voters to take note.  And yet, what they do or don't do with the Middle East or the rest of the world for that matter (whether they outsource their foreign policy to Israel, or the new kids on the block, the Arab Springers, or even reinvent Reagan's Star Wars) becomes a moot point.

What do you think? How much does the Middle East matter for the US election at this point? What of US security concerns as the US continues to damage control Bush's US foreign policy, not forgetting the recent Libya embassy attacks?

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