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A Lebanese-American perspective on the US elections

Lebanonwire.com 11/9/04

Many in the Arab world and the majority of non-Lebanese Arab Americans are really disappointed by the results of the US Presidential elections. Arabs have been focused and frustrated with the results of the Bush policies on Iraq and the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. There is also anxiety about the pressures on other Arab countries and the perception that Bush embraced Israeli Prime Minister Sharon and continues to cooperate with him at the expense of Arab interests. Arab Americans have additional concerns about the Patriot Act and the erosions of civil liberties. Many are afraid of ethnic profiling and unfair inquisitiveness targeting them within the framework of the war on terror. Thus the general Arab disappointment by the Bush victory is understandable. However it is clearly more emotional than rational.

First and foremost we should not forget that in the election the only other realistic choice was Senator Kerry who never offered any significant policy change that would be more responsive to Arab aspirations. It is possible that the current pressures on some Arab regimes like Syria and Lebanon could have temporarily eased, but that wouldn't have lasted for more than a few weeks to a few months. Considering the mood in Congress, and the desires of activists Mr. Kerry would have been promptly influenced to further increase these pressures rather than easing them. Further, all things considered, he is more likely to show stronger support to Sharon and the Israeli interests, particularly during a first term with the thought of re-election on his mind. Thus, contrary to the general emotions, Bush may still be a lesser problem for the Arabs than the Kerry alternative. Ralph Nader could certainly have been their better choice, but we all know he never stood a chance to win the elections.

Is there any silver lining to the US elections that the Arab world is not seeing? Yes and no. Yes Arabs should be happy that Arab Americans were involved with the election process more than ever and had enough clout that all candidates sought their support. In a dead heat election they had a shot at making the winning difference. On the other hand Arabs should be concerned that their differences inside the Arab world and their slow pace at initiating reforms and transparency resulted in a significant split in the rank of the expatriate community. The Lebanese Americans, who constitute the majority of Arab Americans, particularly among those labeled as making a difference, were strongly for Bush. Most of them were exceptionally active in fund raising and mobilization of the vote for the republicans.

Many Lebanese American organizations, large and small, moderate or hardline, endorsed President Bush re-election and got actively involved in all aspects of the US political process. There was a traffic jam of E-mails from so many Lebanese American sources chasing every single possible vote, particularly in the battle ground states of Ohio, Florida, Michigan and others. The American Lebanese Foundation (ALF), being non-partisan, did not join in the endorsement. However, the majority of the Board of Directors, including the President, had significant personal roles in supporting Bush, particularly in Florida, Michigan, Texas and Colorado. I personally was among the earliest Lebanese Americans to start helping the Bush campaign in June of 2003. I was since then deeply convinced that he was the winning choice, not just for Lebanon but also for all Arab issues. There was no democratic candidate in sight who could offer us a good reason to switch. When Senator Kerry became the democratic nominee, the rational choice became even clearer in favor of Bush. Nevertheless, I was proud that ALF also had on its board prominent Democrats and Independents who were supporting Kerry. This certainly confirmed our Foundation's credibility as a truly non-partisan "think tank" organization and assured us access for Lebanon's cause, in case Kerry surprised us by a win.

Why then non-Lebanese Arab Americans were so overwhelmingly for Kerry? The simplest answer is that they followed the principle of "Anybody but Bush". Most probably they did not consider carefully whether Senator Kerry would do better for them in regard to the policies for which they disliked Bush. During the campaign, Kerry became notorious in telling audiences whatever they want to hear in order to win their vote, to the point hat he was referred to as a "flip-flopper" or as "wishy-washy". Yet he never said that he would pursue a more balanced policy toward Israel and the Arab world. In fact he spoke in stronger terms than Bush about protecting and supporting Israel with total disregard of Arab feelings. On the Arab issue of most interest to the Lebanese, Kerry sponsored the Syrian Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act way before Bush agreed to sign it. Further, Kerry's statements suggested that he may destabilize Saudi Arabia without helping any single Arab country or significantly changing attitude towards Iraq. Non-Lebanese Arab Americans were apparently tolerant and forgiving with Kerry, largely because of their negative feelings towards Bush. They were also influenced by the two most prominent Arab American Organizations, AAI and ADC, both lead by articulate Lebanese Americans who also happen to be prominent Democrats.

Where do we go from here? Between now and the next elections, we should all work within the American democratic system to seek solutions to the problems in the Middle East by peaceful diplomatic means. We believe that securing full sovereignty and genuine democracy promptly for Lebanon should be our most urgent objective. President Bush made a commitment to such goals during his second term. Syrian President Assad has stated to more than one Lebanese American Organization his support for Lebanese sovereignty. There should therefore be no problem to reach such goal. We think it is the duty of moderate Lebanese Americans who supported Bush to do all they can to expedite diplomatic progress towards Lebanese sovereignty to preempt any possibility of military interventions or regime changes. All other Arab Americans should provide their support to such efforts, so that Lebanon's problems are solved promptly and peacefully. Once such goal is satisfactorily achieved, the majority of Lebanese Americans can join their other Arab American brethren in unity as a lobby for other Arab causes, to achieve desirable reforms and secure a just and encompassing peace in the Middle East. Wouldn't it be nice to target such goals before the completion of Bush's second term?

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