An academic study of the presidential candidates’ stances on Middle East issues unveils a tough-talking Republican John McCain and a conciliatory Democrat Barack Obama when it comes to preemptive military strikes, negotiations with Iran, and solving the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Despite some of the same rhetoric on certain issues, a McCain or an Obama presidency would take a vastly divergent direction on Israel and Middle East policies, according to the Michael Oren, a senior fellow at the Shalem Center, a research facility in Jerusalem.
Oren, who wrote “Power, Faith and Fantasy,” based his conclusion on his comprehensive study of the presidential candidates’ statements on the Middle East during the past two years.
The candidates subscribe to conflicting core philosophies: McCain believes radical Islam is at the crux of terrorism and war in the Middle East, while Obama adheres to the State Department theory that the Palestinian issue is the key to the region’s problems, even with Iran, Oren’s report says.
“Obama’s campaign has been associated with several former State Department officials and foreign policy experts known to favor intensified American pressure to secure Israeli concessions,” the report says.
In contrast, McCain has said that, “if the Israeli-Palestinian issue were decided tomorrow, we would still face the enormous threat of radical Islamic extremism.”
“Defeating that fanaticism, McCain contends, is the prerequisite for, rather than the consequence of, Israeli-Palestinian peace,” the report says.
These fundamental beliefs dictate the candidates’ policies on Iraq: McCain regards Iraq “as the central theater in the struggle against Islamic terror,” Oren writes, and would maintain a military presence over an extended period.
Obama has called the Iraq War a drain on American resources and favors a rapid troop withdrawal.
McCain would adhere to a central tenet of the Bush Doctrine: preemption, working to uncover terrorist plots before they are carried out, according to the report.
Obama’s comments “suggest that, rather than embark on preventative military incursions, he prefers to treat terror as a criminal act to be prosecuted post-facto by the courts,” the report says.
Israeli officials are paying close attention to the U.S. candidates with regard to Tehran, the benefactor of terrorist organization Hamas and Hezbollah, frequently used as conduits for Iranian attacks against Israel.
According to Israeli army estimates, Iran will have a nuclear weapon by 2009.“
More consistently than Obama, McCain characterized Iran as a threat to the free world,” while “Obama has emphasized the need for discussions” with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without preconditions, the report notes.
McCain outright rejects dialogue with the regime.Lesser known, but telling, are the candidates’ stances on Israel. Both have been portrayed as pro-Israel, but their continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process would be laden with “deep and profound differences,” the report says.
“An Obama presidency . . . may well launch an entirely new initiative, one based on zero tolerance for Israeli settlement-building and checkpoints, as well as on the belief that the road to Baghdad and Tehran runs through Bethlehem and Nablus,” the report says.
Oren concludes that McCain would demand fewer concessions from Israel, but would be tougher on Palestinian infractions. Obama probably would allow Hamas a role in negotiations. McCain has called on the Palestinian Authority to dismantle terrorist organizations; Obama hasn’t mentioned it.
“McCain’s demarche is unlikely to ruffle the U.S.-Israel relationship; Obama’s is liable to strain the alliance, especially” with a right-wing Israeli government, the report states.
McCain backs Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, while Obama is less clear and more likely to show “sympathy for the Palestinian demand for a capital in Jerusalem.”
Both candidates visited Israel during the campaign, and the visits reflected their policies on the region. McCain refused to meet with Palestinian leaders, reinforcing his calls for Palestinian leadership to quash terrorism. But Obama has refrained from holding the Palestinian Authority responsible for terrorism and, accordingly, visited the authority’s headquarters in Ramallah during his whirlwind visit of the region.
President George W. Bush was first American president to propose a Palestinian state, but also the first to insist that Israel has a right to defend itself.
The Shalem Center study was concluded before the candidates chose running mates.
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