I just ran into an old friend of mine in the lobby of an Amman hotel who said something cutting and true-sounding about the American election. This old friend is Palestinian, from the West Bank, who now works in a completely different conflict zone for an international NGO. He asked me why everyone keeps talking about tomorrow's race as the "most important election of our lifetimes." I said that this is partially campaign rhetoric, but partially rooted in reality -- the two men running for president have fairly different visions about the role of government in the lives of Americans on issues of health care, taxation, and so on. His response: "For the rest of the world, this is the most important election of our lifetimes only if you're three years old."
His argument, which isn't actually disputable, is that Romney and Obama really do resemble each other in many ways in their approach to the world. On the important questions facing the region I'm currently visiting, there's really not that much difference between them. Continued support for Gulf monarchies -- check. Continued support for Israel and its qualitative military edge -- check. Continued use of drones -- check. Continued use of foreign aid as a policy tool -- check. Continued sanctions on Iran -- check again. I happen to think that Obama would be more effective next year in managing the Iran crisis than Romney would be, but their opinions on the issue aren't so fundamentally different.
Both Obama and Romney are, in some ways, pragmatic moderate Republicans, of the sort that used to exist in great numbers. (Really, how much different is Barack Obama from George H.W. Bush on many issues?) I don't agree with my friend on much -- he would like to see Israel sanctioned and isolated, for instance -- but I don't think he's wrong to assume that American foreign policy won't shift much, no matter which man wins.
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