US presidential race heats up

Unclear who will lead both parties into the 2008 poll

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For the first time since 1952—since Dwight D. Eisenhower was in the White House—neither the incumbent president nor his vice president is in the running for the top job in the country. George W. Bush will have served two terms, making him constitutionally ineligible, and Vice President Dick Cheney? Well, realistically, his chances of being elected are about as good as his hunting skills.

The result is that the floor is wide-open and there is no shortage of candidates from both sides. But who would be most beneficial for the Middle East, especially as the Arab lobby in Washington is still light-years away from being able to influence a presidential election?

On the Democrat’s side, the leading contenders are Hillary Clinton, a senator for New York; Barak Obama, a senator from Illinois; and Sens. Joe Biden of Delaware and Chris Dodd of Connecticut. Another candidate outside of Congress is John Edwards, the former one-term senator from North Carolina and vice presidential candidate in the 2004 elections.

On the Republican side there is Sen. John McCain of Arizona; Sen. Sam Brownback from Kansas; former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani; Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney; and possibly even former House Speaker Newt Gingrich—to name just a few.

While it is still far too early to draw any conclusions on the Republican side, early polls place McCain and Giuliani as the leaders of the pack, although the buzz around Republican circles predict the party’s nomination is likely to go to a more conservative candidate; Romney is a possibility, but his Mormonism might not play will with evangelical voters, who tend to be suspicious of the faith.

So far, most candidates have avoided touching on the morass that is Middle East politics, other than to weigh in on the war in Iraq, viewed from a domestic perspective; should the US stay the course, as President Bush advocates, or declare victory and bring the troops home? Without getting into too much detail, overall, Democrats favor a pullout while Republicans say the US cannot afford to abandon Iraq. Although the Democrats realize that quitting Iraq cold-turkey is unrealistic, many Republicans recognize that the war will not be won through military means alone.

Regardless of who grabs their party’s nomination as a first step in the battle for the ’08 presidency, and ultimately wins the hearts and minds of the American people, Iraq will remain a major player in the US presidential campaign.

From Hillary Clinton to John McCain, Iraq, and now Iran, are the top items of concern when it comes to foreign policy. As for the crux of the Middle East issue—the Arab-Israeli dispute—most presidential contenders are happy to steer clear of the thorny subject as long as possible. That is usually until the televised debates, when the front-runners have to demonstrate their understanding of world politics and how they would handle those issues.

So where does that leave the Middle East? Pretty much in the same mess it has been in, except maybe for Lebanon.

While most, if not all presidential contenders—Democrats and Republicans alike—are likely to come out in support of Israel in any Mideast dispute, they are also more likely to continue Washington’s support of pro-democracy movements, while mistrust of Damascus should play in Beirut’s favor and continue to ensure US support for a legitimate Lebanese government.

The bad news for Lebanon, however, might be in the new American president’s support of Israel. Again, from Hillary Clinton on the Democrat’s side to Rudy Giuliani or John McCain on the Republican’s, chances are they will show greater support for Israel than for Lebanon or the Arab world. Seeing that Israel is not about to forgive or forget its most recent entanglement with Hizbullah in Lebanon last August, there are good chances that the Jewish state will opt for a re-match, once a new occupant is in the White House.

Bush continues to back Lebanon’s government. In his State of the Union last January, Bush made a point of mentioning the assassination of Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, stressing his administration’s support of a free and democratic Lebanon. In a private discussion with a group of journalists and think tank analysts in Washington in February, Amin Gemayel defended Bush, declaring: “Say what you want about Bush, it was thanks to his support that Syrian troops finally withdrew from Lebanon.”