Pocketbook battle

FILE - In this Aug. 28, 2008 file photo, then-vice presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden joins then-presidential candidate Barack Obama on stage at Invesco Field at Mile High in Denver, on the final day of the Democratic National Convention. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

The last two weeks have seen a huge amount of media coverage of the two main American political parties’ nominating conventions, and whether it was the Republicans or the Democrats, the message was largely the same: the economy.

For almost the last two years, this region of the world has been immersed in the eruption and repercussions of the Arab Spring. But people should remember that for the last four years, the American public and the political establishment have been obsessed with one overriding concern: the economic situation.

American elections are often said to be about “pocketbook” issues, but the 2012 election will outdo past rounds in terms of a focus on the economy. U.S. voters do not spend a huge amount of time worrying about foreign policy and this time is no exception.

The pundits have spent some time talking about some foreign policy issues that surfaced, just barely, in the conventions, such as the Democratic Party’s move to amend its platform to state that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. But this and other items are responses to lobbies and not a determination to see anything change.

The rhetoric on the Middle East is just that – rhetoric. None of the promises have ever come to anything.

In all presidential campaigns, people might hear rhetoric about the Arab-Israeli conflict and other issues in the region, such as fighting “terror,” but the differences between the two main parties have become miniscule. The establishment – in the White House, Congress and elsewhere – is responsible for setting down the outlines, and details, of American policies, and these do not change quickly. Some Democrats were fierce critics of the Patriot Act, war on terror and the use of Guantanamo during the Bush years, but none of these was overturned by Obama.

Meanwhile, some groups in this part of the world put their agendas on hold until the American presidential election is over, only to wake up to disappointment, time and time again, when nothing new results from all of the promises.

The only thing that’s certain is that with Friday’s announcement of disappointing economic indicators in the U.S., the next two months will see the economy occupying the political establishment, and the public, in the U.S.

If people in the Middle East believe that Washington will turn its attention to regional issues after Election Day, they should also remember that the United States is also in the process of shifting its priority list further east, as in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and China. There might be rhetoric about the Israeli-Arab conflict, for example, but no one should expect any meaningful action.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 08, 2012, on page 7.




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