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Sarah Palin in Arab and Middle Eastern Eyes

By September 9, 2008

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Here's an irony to start your Iftar meal tonight: Saudi Arabia, where a woman must have permission from a male relative or her husband before traveling, will nevertheless run a Gloria Steinem column in its main English-language daily about the sufferings of American women (and their impending doom if Sarah Palin makes it to the White House).

I was browsing through the Arab and Middle Eastern press to get a sense of how Palin is being received there. John McCain is a relatively known entity, at least as a standard-bearer of standard hard-edged American policy toward the Middle East: Arabs and Muslims don't distinguish between him and George W. Bush, and aren't likely to believe that just because he didn't like it when Ronald Reagan kept U.S. Marines in Beirut for too long, he wouldn't send troops traipsing all over the Middle East as eagerly as the man he's aiming to replace. (McCain approved of Gulf War I, approved of the attack on Afghanistan, approved of the Iraq War early and often, continues to approve of the "war on terror" whatever its failings, approved escalating troops in Iraq, now wants troops escalated in Afghanistan--as does Barack Obama in that case--and has sung his willingness to bomb Iran.)

Sarah Palin is a different story. She's not mistrusted for the reasons McCain is. She's mistrusted for being like a peripheral John LeCarré character--the sprig who came in from the cold.

Skipping Steinem's predictable "Wrong woman, wrong message" column, I looked for something produced more locally but had to find it in the Emirates.

"I'm beginning to despair of American voters," writes Linda Heard, a frequent contributor to Dubai's Gulf News. "Just when I thought they might have emerged from almost eight years of Bush-stupor regretful, wiser, poorer and determined to make better choices, chances are they are ready to accept more of the same." To heard, Obnama "had it in the bag" at one point, "But that was before Obama massaged his left-oriented platform to appeal to centrists, hugged the pro-Israel lobby, shook his fist at Iran and appointed a boringly predictable running mate almost indivisible from the Senate furniture." And it was before the Sarah Palin pick:

While it's true that most beauty queens say their ambition is to change the world, nobody actually believes them. And I'm certain no-one envisaged Miss Wasilla back in 1984 one day presiding over the Oval Office, issuing executive orders, hobnobbing with European royalty, wrapping her head around geo-political problems with her finger never far from the nuclear button.
But even as she applauds McCain for doing his best to upend the race, Heard doesn't buy the Palin act. She does, however, have her doubts about voters' discerning judgments, which appear as mercurial as McCain's: "True to plan, Americans are succumbing to the smiles and wiles of Sarah. They're being duped as Bush, Cheney, Rove and those whose interests they represent slap each other on the back. If the Democrats aren't careful, Oprah will really have something to sob about come November."

Nadia Al-Saqqaf opens her latest column in the Yemen Times with a running joke common in the Middle East (just substitute the name of any given country, depending on who's telling it and where): "Yemenis should be allowed to vote in the US elections instead of Yemen’s, because “the result of Yemeni elections is predefined so their vote doesn’t make a difference, whereas, since the United States of America rule the world, they have the right to decide who the next American president will be.”

Al-Saqqaf goes on to explain how Barack Obama initially had substantial support in Yemen until he "took a pro-Israel stand during his visit to the Middle East." The disenchantment apparently wasn't enough to sway Yemenis toward McCain, who's generally neither trusted nor liked in the Middle East, principally because of his perceived eagerness to use force. The Palin pick didn't make a difference, Al-Saqqaf writes:

Even active Yemeni women are hoping that the Democrats win because they admire Hillary Clinton. The fact that Sarah Palin is the first female republican nominee as vice president does not change their attitude, as they are still pro-Hillary and will support whoever she is supporting. “We know Hillary and admire her, but we have never heard of this Palin woman, so we’d rather stick to what we know,” they often comment on this point.
Writing in Lebanon's Daily Star, Lebanon's best columnist, Rami Khouri, took Sarah Palin to task for beginning her foreign policy education by taking lessons from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful Israeli lobbying organization in Washington. "Sarah Palin's first foreign policy journey to AIPAC and Condoleezza Rice's swan song journey to three North African Arab dictators suggest that the American political establishment - or at least its Republican side - has learned nothing in the past seven years. Another interpretation is that Republicans and all Americans know this, but do not care - because they can live with the violence and volatility that define the Arab-Asian region and their relations with much of it. I don't think this is the case, though, because most Americans prefer peace over war, friendship over rancor, and lawful good governance over rampant criminality. In the end, the combination of native Arab-Asian dysfunctional governance, exported American hypocrisy, and sustained Israeli aggression creates openings that sick men like [al-Qaeda's No. 2, Ayman] Zawahri exploit with glee and with some success."

That's the larger picture generally missed in horse-race driven coverage of the presidential contest.


September 14, 2008 at 2:24 pm
(1) NaderMcKinney says:

Dr Ron & Ralph

“The two parties should be
almost identical, so that
the American people can
‘throw the rascals out’
at any election without
leading to any profound or
extensive shifts in policy.”
- Carol Quigley

Cynthia Mike Dennis Jesse Ross Jimmy

And the men* who hold high places
Must be the ones who start
To mold a new reality
Closer to the heart

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