World reaction to the US debate

Al Jazeera’s speaks to analysts from Pakistan, Russia, China and the Middle East.

First US presidential debate McCain and Obama
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was ignored by the rival candidates [AFP]

Foreign policy was the scheduled to be the topic of debate during the first televised tussle between Barack Obama, the Democrat’s candidate, and John McCain, his Republican rival.

But with the global financial crisis dominating the headlines in the United States, much of the debate focused on the economy pushing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the row over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, down the agenda. 

Al Jazeera asked analysts and experts from across the world whether they got the answers to the big questions in their regions. 

Mushahid Hussain, chair of Pakistan’s Senate Committe of Foreign Relations

I think both are very naive on complex foreign policy issues, pertaining to Pakistan and Afganistan.

There was no analysis, no understanding of policies that are flawed, policies that have failed, US policies in Afghanistan that need to be reviewed and reversed, and I think that showed a lack of understanding of what they call the number one threat to US security.

It is very ironical … Senator McCain came across as more thoughtful with a better understanding of the situation in Pakistan’s frontier regions, which he has visited, and he got it right when he said that we have to win the support of the people rather than threaten them with military strikes.

What Obama got right at the end [of the debate] was that the US is less respected in the Muslim world, and the world at large, and there the US needs to review and understand why it no longer has the kind of clout and respect it had in the past.

I think that when they say the core issue is Afghanistan and Pakistan, they are not getting it right. The use of military might has failed and cannot solve the problems.

You have to talk to the insurgents, you have to have a very flexible multi-faceted strategy based on military means, but also based on economic development and based on dialogue above all. After all, when you can talk to the insurgents in Falluja when Israel can to Hezbollah, when you can talk to the Hamas, why not the insurgents in Afghanistan.

The British failed in the 19th century, the Russians failed in the 20th century, so there is no reason to believe that the Americans will be an exception to the laws of history in Afghanistan.

What is very clear is that, whoever is the next president, the focus will be on Afghanistan, not just because of the Taliban, but because of energy, Russia, China, the region itself. In that context, Pakistan will continue to be a pivotal partner, a pivotal player and without Pakistan’s co-operation US tsrategy will not be able to move ahead.

We have to look foward to a better understanding between Islamabad and Washington, and more empathy from Washington regarding the concerns of Pakistan and its people.

But as far as solutions are concerned, I don’t think they have any and I think that is where Pakistan has to help Washington to divise some creative, proactive political solutions to the crisis in Afghanistan.

Diana Buttu, Middle East analyst and former adviser to Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian president

We’ve now seen this first debate, as well as two conventions, in which this issue [the Israeli-Palestinian conflict] has not at all been raised and it is very alarming to me that an issue that is so central, not only to the region but to the entire world right now is something that  has been completely ignored.

Instead what the candidates seem to be focused on is Iran, instead of focusing on the fact that it is Israel that has nuclear weapons right now and that this is not a disarmed Middle East. I am rather concerned that they are glossing over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and instead focusing on the side issues.

This is what we have seen time and time again with every election, the candidates bend over backwards to try to demonstrate how pro-Israel they are but what they fail to do is demonstrate how pro-peace they are.

None of these candidates has come forward and indicated very clearly what they are going to do vis-a-vis Israel’s occupation of Palestine. None of them have made any strong statements about there is a peace process or will be a peace process. None of them have said what their vision is for the Middle East, instead all they have said is that they must come out and protect Israel.

While everybody is talking about maneouvres in terms of how many troops are going to be in the region, no one is talking about how it is they are going to try to end this conflict so there are no troops in the region.

Andrew Brown, a Beijing-based Chinese affairs analyst

China and its region has a huge stake in the outcome of the election. It has a big stake in the US economy and it has a big exposure to the US financial system. I think that the focus of attention over here was what they [McCain and Obama] said about rebuilding confidence in Wall Street and rebuilding the economy.

China, along with other Asian countries, has been funding US overspending for years – $2bn dollars a day needs to sucked into the US economy to cover over-spending, and much of that has been coming from Asia and will continue to do so in the future.

I think anything that is being done in the US to stabilise the [economic] situation is welcome here in Asia. As an example of the nerves being rattled in this region, there was run on a bank in Hong Kong a few days ago, the Bank of East Asia, on completely unsubstantiated rumours that it had a big exposure to the Wall Street meltdown.

China has almost $2 trillion of foreign exchange reserves; much of those reserves are held in US dollars. The sinking US dollar is clearly going to represent a massive loss for China.

Dmitry Babich, a Moscow-based political analyst

The sympathies of Russians are mostly with Obama for a very simple reason: during the campaign he has been the only candidate not to insult Russia directly. McCain and Clinton in fact insulted not only Putin, who may not be very popular with intellectuals like me, but is still the country’s president, they also insulted the country.

Basically, I wouldn’t say that Russian love Obama, that they support him whole-heartedly, but he is the only one who didn’t say unacceptable things. When Clinton could not remember our president’s name and when McCain said that his future partner, Putin, was nothing but a KGB colonel, what kind of a relationship can there be?

The United States views Russia mostly as a threat and all the efforts are directed to either limiting Russia’s military potential, by placing ABM missiles near our border, or by trying to have the pipelines bypass Russia, even though that costs billions to both the United States and the European Union.

They don’t view Russia as a partner, they don’t view Russia in a positive light. In this situation you don’t expect Russian leaders, who I would say are pragmatic, cynical people, it is very difficult to expect them to co-operate on issues such as Iran, Syria or any other problems.

I would want a lot more pragmatism [from the next US president]. Russia is not the blooming democracy that some naive people believed in the early 1990s, but still Russia is not a monster, it is not a threat to the world as some people say. What happened in Georgia was certainly a very bad thing, but it was not one-sided Russian aggression, the Georgian troops started the battle.

Source: Al Jazeera

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