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This is the final story of an 11-article series leading up to the Nov. 6 presidential election that will break down the issues dominating political debates. Check back Tuesday for our election coverage.
Alam Payind, director of Ohio State’s Middle East Studies Center, said what is unfolding in the Middle East is very complicated.
“There’s always something going on in the Middle East,” Payind said. “A simplistic approach from outside isn’t doing justice to the complicated issues in the Middle East.”
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, however, said during the third presidential debate that his strategy concerning the Middle East is “pretty straightforward.”
“To go after the bad guys, to make sure we do our very best to interrupt them,” he said Oct. 22. “To kill them, to take them out of the picture.”
Romney did say that his strategy was also a little broader, but during the debate, President Barack Obama found some major discrepancies with the way Romney operates.
“What we need to do with respect to the Middle East is strong, steady leadership, not wrong and reckless leadership that is all over the map. And unfortunately, that’s the kind of opinions that (Romney has) offered throughout this campaign, and it is not a recipe for American strength,” Obama said during the Oct. 22 debate. “My first job as commander-in-chief … is to keep the American people safe. And that’s what we’ve done over the last four years.”
The Tunisian president of 23 years, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, fled his country in January 2011 after a month of civilian protests. About a month later, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak fled Cairo. Mubarak, who died in June, had ruled Egypt for about 30 years.
Later that year, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi was overthrown after leading Libya for about four decades. In October 2011, he was violently killed, according to multiple reports. But the revolutions that have come to be known as the Arab Spring are not over.
“The turmoil continues in Syria,” Payind said.
In Aug. 2011, Obama said the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, had to go. The Syrian people continue to demonstrate against al-Assad’s regime, which he inherited from his father in 2000.
“What we’re seeing taking place in Syria is heartbreaking, and that’s why we are going to do everything we can to make sure that we are helping the opposition,” Obama said during the third presidential debate. “I am confident that (al-)Assad’s days are numbered.”
Romney said during the debate that there are four key ways to help the Middle East: better education, more economic development, gender equality and the rule of law.
The U.S. has not left these revolutions that have come to be known as the Arab Spring untouched. America’s push for democracy in Middle Eastern countries has been highlighted in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that killed about 3,000 civilians in New York City, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania.
Former President George W. Bush made the decision to invade Afghanistan in October 2001 in an effort to disband al-Qaida, the terrorist organization responsible for the attacks, and remove the Taliban regime. Payind said about 60,000 American troops still remain in Afghanistan.
Obama plans to end the Afghan war and gradually remove all troops by 2014.
“We’re now able to transition out of Afghanistan in a responsible way, making sure that Afghans take responsibility for their own security,” Obama said in the Oct. 22 debate. “And that allows us also to rebuild alliances and make friends around the world to combat future threats.”
Then in 2003, America attacked Iraq and pursued Saddam Hussein, who was president from 1979 to April 2003. The last troops were removed in December.
“We ended the war in Iraq, refocused our attention on those who actually killed us on 9/11,” Obama said. “As a consequence, al-Qaida’s core leadership has been decimated.”
In May 2011, Obama announced that U.S. forces had found and killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, the man responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.
During the third presidential debate, Romney congratulated Obama for killing bin Laden, but said “we can’t kill our way out of this mess.”
“We’re going to have to put in place a very comprehensive and robust strategy to help the world of Islam and other parts of the world, reject this radical violent extremism,” he said.
Obama said during the debate that five things need to happen in the Middle East: America’s counterterrorism goals need to be supported, countries need to stand by America’s interest in Israel, America needs to protect religious minorities and women, economic capabilities need to be developed and America can’t continue nation building in Middle Eastern countries.
The Obama administration is also working to force Iran to abandon its nuclear enrichment. Obama said during the debate that Iran is the “state sponsor of terrorism,” sanctions have been imposed in the region aiming to marginalize Iran.
“It is crippling their economy. Their currency has dropped 80 percent,” he said. “Their oil production has plunged to the lowest level since they were fighting a war with Iraq 20 years ago.”
Payind said Iran’s economy is in shambles politically and economically.
“The sanctions are doing their job,” he said. “The common men, women and children are suffering from all these economic hardships … but the question is whether it will prevent Iran from furthering the nuclear ambitions or not.”
Romney said he would’ve put the sanctions in place sooner and he would tighten them. Military action should be a last resort.
“We need to increase pressure time and time again on Iran because anything other than a solution to this, which stops this nuclear folly of theirs, is unacceptable to America,” he said.
America wants Pakistan to cooperate with its foreign policy, Payind said, but it has a very difficult relationship with the country that often serves as a safe haven for members of al-Qaida and the Taliban.
“Pakistan is a nuclear power, so there is not much the U.S. can do,” Payind said. “The collapse of the Pakistani government is a big, huge danger.”
And behind their borders, two groups of the Taliban, Afghani and Pakistani, are surviving – although in the minority – with different agendas, but neither want foreign influence in their countries, Payind said.
Because of Obama’s position as incumbent, Payind said he has access to briefings and contacts with leaders, diplomats and military personnel that Romney does not.
“That is the reality on the ground,” he said. “The sitting president has advantage of having access to all of this information.”
Kyle Strickland, a fourth-year in political science and minority affairs coordinator for OSU’s
College Democrats , said Romney’s inexperience shows in his lack of opposition to Obama’s policies.
“Quite frankly, Gov. Romney doesn’t have foreign policy experience,” Strickland said. “That’s something I think Gov. Romney and Republicans realize, which is why they had to pretty much hug every position of President Obama.”
Payind said he and his students noticed the same thing.
“If one looks at the last debate between Obama and Romney, Romney almost endorsed the foreign policies that Obama has made,” he said. “My students who watched the debate had the same sort of impression that I had.”
According to Romney’s website, his administration would support the groups and individuals seeking democratic values and institutions in the Middle East, and make sure “the Arab Spring does not become an Arab Winter.”
Niraj Antani, communications director for the OSU College Republicans , said America’s role in the world is to ensure that people seeking liberty gain it.
“I think Gov. Romney will be a president who understands that we have to stand up for these people because no one else will,” he said.
Payind said only time will tell what difference the future president will make in the Middle East, and if he’ll stick by his word. Regardless of what unfolds, Obama said America’s presence is necessary.
“America remains the one indispensable nation,” he said. “And the world needs a strong America.”
Kristen Mitchell contributed to this article.