What will a Republican US president mean for the Middle East?

Published August 12th, 2012 - 08:24 GMT
Boarding the plane: Paul Ryan
Boarding the plane: Paul Ryan

Best friend of Israel and staunch supporter of the Afghanistan war, Republican US presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, yesterday announced his running mate.  

Going public with the bromance, Romney formally introduced Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan to US election watchers world-wide.  But, with the presidential election looming, what does this mean for the Middle East in specific?

A senior Romney aide told Yahoo News that Romney made his decision to pick Ryan on 1 August, the day after he returned from an overseas trip to Europe and the Middle East. Romney’s first official visit to the region didn’t earn him any friends in the Arab world and the appointment of Paul Ryan as potential vice president sets out his stall for any future trips. 

Ryan himself is widely known for his domestic budget-cutting plans leaving many of his country-specific foreign policy views somewhat unknown. But, many in the Middle East probably won't be pleased to hear that what he doesn't already know he is learning from Elliott Abrams, a deputy national security adviser who served under President George Bush. 

It might seem a far distant prospect but if the Republicans win the next US elections, Middle Easterners will need to know who these two right-wing politicians really are.

We know Romney considers Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel, but what are Paul Ryan’s theories on foreign policy? While most of the Arab world sees Israel as counterproductive to the spread of peace in the region, Ryan thinks the Jewish state is a beacon of stability. He has called Israel “a valuable ally against Islamic extremism and terrorism.”

So far the opposite has been true as more and more politically extreme parties emerge, often exploiting Israel’s policies on Palestine to gain legitimacy. With Romney and Ryan in power, any compromises on West Bank settlements or freedom of movement in Gaza would likely go Israel’s way.

This would leave the door open for Hamas to gain power. Equally, Gazans could find a more extremist party gaining popularity, feeding on the hopelessness of their situation to gain votes. 

On his official campaign site, Ryan tries to curry favor with the world by sharing his insights on the Middle East's select and reosonably-minded: "Reasonable people – including those who live in the Middle East – differ about how the conflict between Israel and Palestine can be resolved. However, I believe at least one thing is clear: we cannot advocate for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that jeopardizes Israel’s safety or legitimizes terrorism."

Palestine aside, prospects for US-Egypt relations also look bleak with the two Republicans in power. Presumptive vice president, Ryan, thinks Israel is “the region’s only fully functioning democracy”: giving little credit to the Egyptian revolution and the Muslim Brotherhood’s democratic win. 

Given that neither US candidate is a fan of “Islamic extremism” perhaps they are reticent to legitimize the democratic election of an Islamic president.

But advocates of increased US involvement in the Muslim world will take heart at some of Ryan’s previous statements. Asked by the Washington Examiner about how he keeps up with events in Afghanistan, Romney’s running partner answered, “I go there.” 

Clearly he is a man who likes to get stuck in to a problem and being on the ground will certainly help his understanding of such a complex region. 

He is also an advocate of increased US involvement in Iraq. 

“We must remain vigilant to ensure that the hard-won gains in Iraq do not slip away now that America’s combat participation has ended,” he recently wrote.

Cynics will say those “gains” were largely commercial but most Iraqis would agree that the situation is no better since the Americans left and quite probably can’t get any worse even with the Republican pair in power.

 

Do you think Romney and Ryan are good news for the region? Tell us what you think below.


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