Summer Reading: Rutgers Faculty and Staff Share the Titles They Can’t Wait to Tackle
Khaled Hosseini, Kate Atkinson and Sherlock Holmes make the cut for 2013....
Rutgers Computer Scientists Receive Google Grant to Develop Personalized Data Search System
Computer scientists Amelie Marian and Thu D. Nguyen received a grant from Google to develop a personal data search system that draws from social media pages, personal calendars, bank account information, email, Skype conversations and work documents, among other things.
- Global Studies / Middle Eastern Studies;
- Information & Technology / Journalism, Media Studies
Obama v. Romney, Round Three
Deepa Kumar discusses U.S. policy in the Middle East, the rhetoric of American exceptionalism
The third and final presidential debate before the November 6th election will be broadcast from the campus of Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida Monday from 9 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. EDT. During the 90-minute debate, which will be moderated by Bob Schieffer of CBS News, President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney will focus their attention on foreign policy, each aiming to cast himself as a discerning commander-in-chief. Their bitter second debate included the tense exchange over Libya – the president accused the former Massachusetts governor of exploiting the tragedy for political gain and the latter called into question the entirety of the President’s Middle East policy. Deepa Kumar, associate professor of journalism, media studies and Middle East studies and author of Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire, considers the range of the United States’ foreign policy debate “narrow” and a “great disservice to American voters.” Here, she discusses the changing dynamics of the U.S.' role in the Middle East and the precariousness of its efforts to create the world in its own image.
Rutgers Today: In an election that will likely be decided by the economy and other domestic issues, how much time do you believe should be spent on foreign policy?
Kumar: Foreign policy is both a political and economic issue. A Brown University study shows that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost the U.S. $4 trillion. Even though people don’t connect foreign policy to domestic issues, we should. What is at stake here, particularly after the anti-American demonstrations over the last few weeks, is nothing less than the United States’ image both in the Middle East and around the world. The U.S. seeks to project itself as a unique beacon for other nations because of its liberal values, and the debate should focus on which candidate is better poised to rehabilitate that image.
Rutgers Today: Why and how did the expansion of the American brand of freedom throughout the world become one of the U.S. government’s primary dictums? Do the candidates differ in their stances?
Kumar: When Governor Romney delivered his foreign policy speech at Virginia Military Institute on October 8th, he articulated a vision of American exceptionalism, which rests on the notion that the United States is a champion of democracy, human rights, the free market and other such values. He referenced George Marshall and the period after World War II, when “the world was torn between democracy and despotism,” but “fortunately, we had leaders of courage and vision, both Republicans and Democrats,” who “helped our friends to build and sustain free societies and free markets.”
The fact is that since WWII, there have been few substantial differences between Democrats and Republicans in relation to foreign policy in the Middle East. The policy has largely been to create an open door for free trade; to support dictators, from Anwar Sadat to the Shah of Iran to the Saudi monarchy; to maintain military bases where possible; and to secure the flow of oil. This has been a bipartisan policy. Even on the eve of the Egyptian uprising, the Obama administration continued to stand by Hosni Mubarak. The differences, such as they are, tend to be rhetorical rather than substantive.
Rutgers Today: Governor Romney charges The White House with mishandling tumultuous events in the Arab world. Is management of civil conflict in the Middle East the United States' job or duty?
Kumar: I would argue that the U.S. should stay out of the tumultuous events in the Arab world and respect the right to self-determination. This is the source of anti-American sentiment among protesters.
The U.S. government does not have the best record of supporting human rights. When Saudi workers stood up for economic rights in the 1940s and 1950s, the United States helped the Saudi monarchy squash the movement. In 1953, the CIA overthrew the democratically elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammad Mossadegh, because he dared to nationalize the oil industry in that country, and ushered in an era during which the Shah ruled that country like a dictator. More recently, the U.S. has sent fresh shipments of arms to the Egyptian military, which were used to put down the protests in that country. And it continues to support various counter-revolutionary actors in Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Rutgers Today: What is at stake in Iran? How would Governor Romney’s approach to Iran differ from that of the Obama administration?
Kumar: It is freely acknowledged that Iran does not yet possess nuclear weapons. If Iran did not have oil and was not located in the Middle East, would there be such fear about its possible acquisition of nukes? Pakistan, India and Israel have nukes, but they are allies of the U.S. and their programs are not questioned. Why might some countries have WMDs while others might not?
There really is no substantive difference between Obama and Romney on this question; in fact, there is general consensus that Iran is a key threat to the U.S. During the vice presidential debate, moderator Martha Raddatz took for granted that Iran is a key national security threat. I think we should question this assumption, because what is at work is the same dynamic we saw in the lead-up to the most recent war in Iraq. This is a familiar script.
The Iraq war was costly both financially and in terms of lives lost. Is this price worth paying, both economically and in terms of human lives, based on the hypothetical threat that Iran will acquire nuclear weapons at some point? In a democracy, we need to ask tough questions of our leadership. Sadly, the mainstream media has failed to play its role.
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