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Romney has accused Obama of being a weak steward of U.S. power, promising among other things to boost the U.S. naval presence in the Middle East. He has also said he would be a better friend of Israel, a nation Obama has not visited in office.
That kind of language rings alarm bells in the region and has drawn comparisons with the policies of President George W. Bush, reviled by many Arabs for leading an invasion of Iraq.
As Arabs watched the last of three televised presidential debates on Monday night, one viewer, Ahmed Zaki, wrote about Romney on Twitter saying: “He doesn’t differ much from Bush.”
But both candidates disappointed veteran Palestinian negotiator Hanan Ashrawi during the face-off on foreign policy in which Israel was referred to more than 30 times and the Palestinians were given only passing mention.
“What we didn’t see in the debate was any sign of who has the backbone and foresight to bring about a just peace,” said Ashrawi, adding that the candidates were competing on “who’s more loyal to Israel”.
Romney angered Palestinians earlier this year by suggesting they lacked the culture that has driven Israel’s economic success, while ignoring problems generated by Israeli occupation of territories where they Palestinians seek statehood.
He also called Jerusalem Israel’s capital. The Jewish state regards all of Jerusalem, including the eastern sector that it captured in a 1967 Middle East war, as its capital, a claim that has not won international recognition. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.
Yet there is little enthusiasm in the region for Obama, who in his Cairo address had pledged support for a Palestinian state that now looks as much a distant prospect as at any time.
For some, like 45-year-old Iraqi shop worker Firas al-Qaisi, neither candidate will make a real difference.
“Look at the Palestinian issue, there is no change in the American policy since 1948 although many presidents came and went,” he said in Baghdad.
Yet Iraq is one place where Obama has had an impact by withdrawing U.S. troops, although Romney has accused the president of being too hasty.