Romney's GOP: American Exceptionalism, While Looking Beyond Borders

How one Arab American RNC delegate interprets Mitt Romney's policy on the Middle East.

The Republican Party has officially nominated Mitt Romney as its presidential candidate, and unveiled the platform on which the governor will run. That platform, which was formulated with the active participation of members of the public who submitted their ideas via the Internet, proudly embraces the idea of American exceptionalism, even referring to the concept specifically, by name.

But what about the rest of the world, and specifically the Middle East?

The platform adopted at the Republican National Convention in Florida expresses unwavering support for Israel. "Israel should not be expected to negotiate with entities pledged to her destruction," it says, and declares that "an artificial timetable" must not be imposed upon the country with regards to peace talks. It also calls for the isolation of "radical elements like Hamas and Hezbollah ... because they do not meet the standards of peace and diplomacy of the international community".

At the same time, the platform referred to "two democratic states: Israel, with Jerusalem as its capital, and Palestine, living in peace and security." It also spoke about "issues that can be settled on the basis of mutually agreed changes reflecting today's realities as well as tomorrow's hopes".

On Iran, the platform expresses respect for the people of Iran, and says the Ayatollah's regime "is not worthy of them." It gives the Obama administration full credit for making things worse in Iran, and insists that "a continuation of [the administration's] failed engagement policy with Iran will lead to a nuclear cascade."

The platform calls for the next president "to unequivocally assert his support for the Iranian people as they protest their despotic regime" and to "retain all options in dealing with a situation that gravely threatens our security, our interests, and the safety of our friends."

'Unwavering commitment' to Israel

Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matt Brooks praised the platform as "a forward-looking document that celebrates American exceptionalism and focuses on the most pressing issues facing our nation: rebuilding our economic strength, providing for a strong national defense, and demonstrating leadership in the international community."

He also stressed that the GOP remains "unwavering in its commitment to a strong U.S.-Israel alliance and its rejection of pressuring Israel to negotiate with those intent on her destruction."

What, then, do Republican Arab Americans think about the platform, and about Romney's foreign policy?

The Republican Party suffers from being stereotyped as a party for "old affluent white men" and Governor Romney lags in polls behind Barack Obama among minorities. However, this week in Tampa, the Grand Old Party made a grand old effort to shatter that stereotype, with several prominent non-WASP speakers.

Arab Americans themselves took part in that effort, as they organized events on the sidelines of the convention. Yesterday, there was an Arab American luncheon and a panel focused on religious liberty and the Republican Party. Arab Americans were also included in several delegations: Florida, Maryland, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Virginia.

Still, as Arab American Institute president James Zogby points out, the party is not the "natural" home for Arab Americans. A recent poll conducted by Zogby's organization reveals a sharp divide in attitudes between Obama and Romney supporters toward Arabs and Muslims. Just over half (51 percent ) of those who intend to vote for Obama gave Arabs a "favorable rating," while 29 percent of Obama supporters rated Arabs unfavorably. When it came to Romney backers, on the other hand, 30 percent rated Arabs favorably; 50 percent rated them unfavorably.

The quintessential swing vote

Randa Fahmy Hudome, president of the Fahmy Hudome International strategic consulting company is a delegate from Maryland. This is her fifth Republican convention. The daughter of immigrants from Egypt and Iran, Randa insists she does not feel any tensions between the interests of the Arab American community and the quite overtly-expressed GOP suspicions toward Arabs.

"I think the cool thing about Arab American Republicans is that we are here in different capacities, not necessarily as Arab Americans. Our issues are so across the board. I think what really worries people is their checkbooks and the economy. We are first of all Americans, so we don't feel any tension at all; we are proud Republicans. I think Arab Americans are traditionally conservative - fiscally conservative and socially conservative - and I would argue that they are the quintessential swing vote."

The party, she says, also feels the wind of change. "What struck me last night was how many first generation people - children of immigrants - were on that stage. It was phenomenal. It showed that the party is acutely aware how important it is to remember how great America is, but also to remember where our parents came from."

And what does she think about the American exceptionalism concept in the party's platform? "The platform is a reflection of certain elements within the Republican party, not necessarily what will direct Mitt Romney once he's in office. People have to keep in mind that you might say one thing while running for office, but once you are there, it's a whole different ball game.

"So there is talk about Sharia law and American exceptionalism, whatever. But I think to a certain extent it's a reflection of Americans' insecurity in today's world. The economy is not doing that well, some people are not quite sure we will be the only superpower in the world for much longer. We are not quite sure what our place is in the world today and want this reassurance from the president."

Randa admits that Romney's visit to Israel was a bit awkward, but expresses confidence with regard to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that the candidate "is going to do the right thing".

"He says his first visit will be to Israel, but he will go to Palestine too. If this will be his first foreign visit, it shows he will make this issue his top priority. He is not afraid to touch it. Besides, while barely anybody wrote about it, he met with [Palestinian Prime Minister] Salam Fayyad during his trip to Israel. What did they say? What did they talk about? I am confident Mitt Romney understands the situation. In his campaign platform, he talks about appointing someone to be a top coordinator for all Middle East policy, as well as about financial assistance to our allies. The Middle East is much more than the Palestinian and Israeli issue."

Do you think he will actually move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem?

"Blah-blah, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Well, everyone knows that with a two-state solution, when there will be a Palestine alongside Israel, it will have East Jerusalem as its capital. Yes, Israel talks about an undivided capital. But everybody knows what Abu Dis is. There is a solution: Israelis will get the Jerusalem that they want, Palestinians the Jerusalem that they want, and all will be happy.

"Working in Congress, I saw time and again members of Congress talking about moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, and I've seen it never happen. The really questionable thing is [Romney's] remarks about "cultural differences" between Israelis and Palestinians. I know Mitt Romney, he is a nice guy; he did not mean to say that. He doesn't fully understand the Palestinian economy and I hope he will be open to hearing about the Palestinian economy and why it is suffering. [His words] did come out the wrong way. I hoped he would say something about that and refer to his meeting with Salam Fayyad. But at this point people have moved past this misunderstanding."

Governor Romney has been a bit vague about his specific plans for Iran, other than saying he won't allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. What are your thoughts on that?

"I think it's very smart, because he knows that declaring war is not an easy choice, so I really don't think he should say as a candidate: 'Yes, I will declare war.' He's been cautious and he should be cautious. But when Ronald Reagan was elected, American hostages in Iran were released, because [the Iranian leadership] was scared to death. Iranians are calculating their next move, taking into account changes in the Washington administration."