What would a McCain presidency mean for the Middle East?
A McCain presidency can’t be a very reassuring thing for the House of Saud. Senator McCain is probably one of a handful of Washington players that the influential former Saudi ambassador to the U.S., Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, couldn’t get through to over the last two decades. The Saudis never saw the need to do that; they assumed that McCain was too anti-establishment, given his integrity-bound internal compass and natural maverick-ism, to ever make it to the highest rungs of the power game.
They may be proven wrong.
The Saudis can’t rely on existing channels to McCain that he has trusted and is likely to trust, whereas even with President George W. Bush, though he may have been alerted to the idea that the Saudi regime may be a liability more than an ally, at least he could be reached and reasoned with either through his father’s network, the Republican Party ‘realist’ foreign policy camp or the oil companies.
No such long-standing channels connect the Saudis to McCain. He is too off their navigational charts, making him too dangerous for the long-term survivability of the Saudi royals for comfort; McCain is not a card-carrying member of the “This is how it’s always been, and this is how it should stay” elite—both Republican and Democrat—that’s been rubbing shoulders with the Saudis for decades.
Let’s posit a hypothetical: How would America respond to another attack of the same or greater magnitude as 911, either on U.S. or European soil, and with young Saudis again being heavily involved?
With McCain as president, the White House would be ready to contemplate a future Middle East that does not include the House of Saud remaining in power. A McCain presidency would challenge the conventional status quo, pushed by the Middle Eastern-related bureaucracies at the State Department, the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency, that the Saudi royals are needed to maintain stability within their country and throughout the region.
McCain would likely see the Saudi royals are part of the problem, rather than as part of the solution. Alternatively, McCain may seek to invest more heavily in Iraq, a country and a cause dear to his heart, as the new regional power, and as America’s most important Muslim ally in the region.
Yet a McCain White House would not be able to pursue alternatives to the Saudis without gutting out these change-averse bureaucracies at Langley and Foggy Bottom. However, a president such as John McCain, long seasoned in the labyrinths of Washington, would probably have a fairer idea of how to go about “shaking things up”, as he’s vowed to do on the campaign trail, than most others.
It should be noted that there is a widely accepted and legal form of corruption at play: be nice to the Saudis while you’re at public office, and you shall be guaranteed a nice fat retirement bonus as a lobbyist, consultant, or ‘think-tank-er’. Public servants, whether they be diplomats or spooks, don’t make much money while they are on the government’s dole, but if they keep their heads down and go along with what the bureaucratic mandarins have mandated, then they too can benefit from Saudi or any other petrodollar largesse.
These bureaucracies, as well as their ‘retired’ auxiliaries, bitterly pushed back against President Bush’s limited post-911 reforms, and they are seemingly rooting for Obama’s camp to win, reading Senator Barack Obama as the candidate of less change, and more importantly, the candidate of less experience at changing things.
I’d imagine that the House of Saud would have studied Obama’s character and would have concluded that he’s a man they can do business with, if they haven’t got that ball rolling already. A quick glance at his former associates and bagmen—a shady character such as Tony Rezko and maybe that even shadier character, Nadhmi Auchi—would have the Saudis thinking, “Oh, sure, we’ve seen this before. Easy pickings.” Obama doesn’t seem too hung up on that whole integrity thing. There is much of the wheeler-dealer culture of the Chicago political machine—the machine that created the “community organizer” turned senator—that folks such as the Saudis can find instantly recognizable and identify with. Obama, in their eyes, would be morally flexible.
Maybe that’s why almost all of the Arab media, much of it Saudi-owned, is following the lead of most American journalists by subtly and often not-so-subtly pushing for Obama. The Saudis could be purposely doing Obama an early favor by ‘gaming’ a battleground state such as Michigan, which has America’s largest Arab-speaking minority; these Arabic speakers may be swayed by the Arab media’s coverage and carried over to the Obama camp, if they were not so inclined already.
Obama would be the sort of president that craves the glamour shots of him and Michelle sipping martinis at Camp David with King Abdullah and Queen Rania of Jordan. He’s not the kind of guy that will go out of his way to rock the boat.
McCain, in this respect, is of a very different cut. He’s a man who has invited torture upon himself just to make a point when he was held as a POW, and he’d probably invite the torture victims of the Jordanian regime over to Camp David instead of hosting the royal couple that journos seem so enthralled with.
That is why I think McCain would scare the hell out of the Saudis.
In my experience, the corrupt are usually cowardly; they act tough, yet cower when face-to-face with what they fear. Whereas, it is those incorruptible types who posses that glint in their eyes that signals to whoever is making the mistake of messing with them to back off.
The Iranians, the Syrians, and the jihadists would all probably set out to challenge Obama early on in his presidency, knowing full well that he may not have enough confidence, or the instinctual willingness, to meet a provocation eye-to-eye. Each challenge would further erode U.S. influence and leverage, much like what happened in Beirut on May 7th when Hezbollah went on a rampage on Iran and Syria’s behalf just to prove to America allies that they were, in effect, weak and friendless.
The Iranians, the Syrians and the jihadists, or even the Russians for that matter, would think twice before pulling such stunts with President McCain. His temper, made famous and exaggerated by his political enemies, would strike fear in the hearts of America’s enemies.
But then again, some fluffy and soppy Middle East ‘experts’ in the United States have pushed the notion that should America pick Obama, then America’s enemies would have less reason to hate America. The reasoning goes something like this: Obama reflects what is great about diversity and opportunity in America, and I agree. He’s half black, his father’s a Muslim, he was raised in Indonesia, and his rise to the top has been unprecedented and meteoric.
But anti-Americanism, which nobody can deny is a real and virulent ‘internationalist’ ideology that is out there, is not a rational thought process of cause and effect. After all, why should Swedes so virulently hate certain American icons? Did ‘Burger King’ carpet-bomb Stockholm recently?
These same ‘experts’ have been trying to peddle the notion that Al-Qaeda is simply misunderstood, that if the West would just meet their demands then they’d stop sending suicide bombers among grocery stalls in Baghdad or Kabul to kill randomly.
I tend to think that is nonsense. Anti-Americanism will simply respond to an Obama presidency by finding new excuses to hate America, probably by using Obama’s background against him: “How dare he convert to Christianity! Christian America picked Obama in order to proselytize Muslims to turn against their faith!” Or better yet, “Obama’s father was a Shia, and that’s why Obama had been brainwashed, at an early age, to hate Sunnis!”
It doesn’t have to be truthful; all it needs is to be believable. Truth and belief are two very different things.
And believe me, it never ends. Irrationalism will always find a pathway to hatred.
‘America’s Enemies’: They won’t love you, so the next best thing is getting them to fear you.
The worst thing that can happen to America’s image is to have it perceived as turning soft. When in the company of gangsters, that’s usually when the daggers come out.
Sure, maybe the Flower-Power crowd is on to something; maybe all that the world needs to heal is a hug—but I’d watch my back anyway.
There's always time for some levity in this tense election cycle, and I just wanted to put this out there because it's been gnawing at me for days now: Aren't there plenty of positive associations between John McCain and Popeye the Sailor Man? Why hasn't the McCain campaign seized on this? They kind of look like each other, especially with that portruding jaw and that grimace. McCain is going to be accused of being old anyway, so where's the downside with being associated with a combative and honorable old sailor who's life motto is "I y'am what I y'am" and who fights the good, clean fight. They also share the distinction of being adoptive parents (...remember Sweapea...?). Apart from Bluto, who wouldn't love good ol' Popeye? And Bluto, in his many foiled attempts to steal away Olive Oyl is just like the Obama campaign trying to bring back Hillary's female voters! But I can't figure who or what the Wimpy character ("I'd gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today") represents, any guesses? ;)