When Senator Barack Obama ran for office in 2008, most Americans of Arabic and Middle Eastern origin supported him. Mobilized as were many Americans for “change” on the one hand, these communities were also submitted to an impressive campaign by Islamist-leaning organizations and supporters of Arab regimes, on the other hand, all opposed to the incumbent’s foreign policy then. They used President Bush’s endorsement of Arizona Senate Republican John McCain to frame Obama’s opponent as anti-Arab and border Islamophobe. To them, Obama was squaring off with a candidate who supported the so-called “Bush wars” in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, many young people of Iranian and Arab descent viewed Barack Obama as a breaker of US political taboos. “If an African-American can become a President” they thought, “so can we.” The sky was the limit. McCain, however, received the support of most Lebanese-Americans who had watched their mother country fall into the hands of Hezbollah that same year. Lebanon notwithstanding, most in the global Arab and Middle Eastern community supported Obama. Four years later, the political landscape has changed dramatically among Arab and Mideast groups.
While most of the best-funded lobby and political organizations backing the Muslim Brotherhood or the Iranian regime in the Greater Middle East and North Africa remain in the Obama camp, a surge in the other direction has provoked a massive change in Mideast American politics. Although public figures for the pro-Obama agenda in these communities have a higher profile in the mainstream media, a ground swell has been moving away from the President since his first year in office. Here’s how:
In June 2009, millions of Iranian youth demonstrated in the streets of Tehran against the Ayatollahs, calling for freedom. President Obama, who was looking to end tensions between the US and Iran by cutting a deal with the Iranian regime, abandoned the demonstrators to be crushed by the Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. The President’s shocking attitude sent a message to Iranian Americans, many of whom have since moved away from the President.
That year, Obama officials stated that the Administration was seeking to engage “moderates within Hezbollah,” a US-designated terrorist organization that was under indictment in the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri. Lebanese American rejection of Obama’s policy on Lebanon increased their rejection of the President’s bid for reelection.
When the Arab Spring erupted in the streets of Cairo in January 2011, the Obama Administration resisted engaging the youth, Facebook activists, bloggers, women and minorities in Tahrir Square. It was only after the Muslim Brotherhood entered the fray of the protests that Washington pressured President Mubarak to resign. Afterward, the Obama Administration helped the Brotherhood sway the military, and then gradually abandoned the liberals and Copts to the domination of the Islamists. This policy didn’t go unnoticed at home. Egyptian-American liberals and the large Coptic community shifted their support away from Obama.
Syria’s descent into bloodshed also had an effect on voters in America. Syrian Americans waited patiently for the Obama Administration to move swiftly in March 2011 in response to Assad’s murderous crushing of the initial peaceful demonstrations. One year later the Assad regime had leveled most Syrian cities and killed thirty-thousand civilians. Furthermore, the logistical bridge from Iraq into Syria facilitated Hezbollah’s support to the dictator’s efforts to break up the uprising. Worse yet, the jihadists have penetrated the insurgency. Most Syrian Americans are frustrated with the Obama administration’s reluctance to save the people of their mother land.
In 2011 South Sudan voted for self-determination and obtained independence in July. But Khartoum’s regime relentlessly pounded the new African republic with air bombardment and invaded one of its oil rich provinces. Furthermore, Bashir troops continued their suppression of Northern Sudan’s Black minorities, the Nubians, Bejas and Darfurians. Sudanese Americans hoped to see the first African American President come to their rescue and take Bashir to The Hague. Instead Washington has been reinstating Sudan’s dictator who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court. The community has since been very angry about Obama’s Sudan policy.
Chaldeans and Assyrian Americans who originate from Mesopotamia didn’t appreciate the abandonment of Iraqi Christians under an Iranian-dominated Baghdad, and the return of al Qaeda terrorists. Kurdish Americans resented the administration’s lack of commitment to the survival of Kurdistan in northern Iraq.
Many Arab American women were disappointed with the way the Obama administration’s Islamist partners’ treatment of women in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. The list is long, but a new majority of Middle East Americans, including many Arab Americans feel the Obama Administration has offered up the region to the Muslim Brotherhood and, in eventually, to the Iranian regime. Even Palestinian Americans aren’t satisfied with the Obama administration’s inattention to events in the region.
Governor Mitt Romney has declared he will partner with the Iranian people against the Mullahs’ regime. Iranian Americans are on board with his approach. He wants to disarm Hezbollah, as do most Lebanese Americans. Romney was clear about his support for the Syrian opposition, as Syrian Americans demanded; he opposes the jihadists as moderate Egyptians, Tunisian and Sudanese wish to see happening. He unapologetically backs minorities from Iraq to North Africa. Romney not only wants to see women –the single largest majority in the Arab world- getting jobs, but also freedom. The alternative agenda to Obama’s is clear, more freedom to the peoples of the region.
Hence, putting the Islamist and Pan-Arabist lobbies aside, it seems that a majority of Americans of Mideast and Arab descent, Christians and Muslim alike, find themselves in Mitt Romney’s camp. We anticipate that millions of them will vote for him on November 6, particularly in swing states such as Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida.
Walid Phares is a senior advisor on Foreign Policy and National Security for Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney and the author of The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East.