Obama, Iran and Islamic extremism

Whoever becomes the next President of the US is of considerable concern to Australia and other western countries because of the “guardian” role that country plays in defending our culture and, ultimately, our very existence. This is not to suggest that our American alliance is in any danger or that, if we faced a direct military threat, the next President of whatever political complexion would not do his utmost to provide military support.

Rather, my concern relates more to the influence the US exerts worldwide, either through decisions involving direct military action or attitudes expressed bilaterally or in multilateral organisations regarding the behaviour of governments of other countries and their citizens.

For present purposes I focus only on attitudes in regard to religion and the stated objectives thereof. This is an extremely complicated subject and justice cannot be done to it in a very short commentary. Further, while it is virtually compulsory politically for a US President to publicly accept Christianity, the interpretation of religious generalisations by that person is not straightforward.

In this recent article by Anne Bayefsky, director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust, and relating to an interview with both candidates by the Washington National Cathedral’s magazine, the reference to  the view held by Romney, who is a Mormon bishop, is much shorter than the reference to the view held by Obama, who appears concerned to make a political point about the need for compassionate treatment of the poor.

I have argued in Quadrant and in public presentations that Australia is, or should be, seriously concerned about the threat emanating from those who pursue extremist interpretations of Islam. I have also been critical of President Obama’s handling of US policy relating to Islamic countries and to the Muslim religion generally (see Islam in Australia at the Institute for Private Enterprise site). I do not suggest Australia is in imminent danger of being taken over by extremist Muslims and sharia law applied. Rather, I see the more immediate danger as being destructive acts that would cause serious loss of lives and destruction of property. I am also concerned at the failure of governments and religious leaders, on the misplaced ground of religious tolerance, to publicly criticise such extremism and promote Western culture as the desirable alternative.

The importance of the United States means that its foreign and defence policies play a vital role in determining attitudes and activity by Islamic extremists in overseas countries. Recent developments in the Middle East (the so-called Arab Spring) have revealed considerable antagonism to the US and Western culture in general. This is not the place to examine in any detail how the next US President might respond to the existing and complicated situation, whether by military or cultural responses – or both.

However, given the role of Israel as an “outpost” of the West in the Middle East, it is important to consider the candidates’ handling of US-Israel relations. In their recent foreign policy debate there was considerable discussion of the Iranian situation and it appeared on the surface that there was little difference between the two candidates, although Romney gave the impression that he would adopt a “tougher” attitude towards the Iranian threat.

Anne Bayefsky’s examination, written after the foreign policy debate between the two presidential candidates, adds to the considerable concern I already held in regard to Obama. While the author is principally concerned with the direct implications of US policy for Israel, particularly in regard to the Iranian threat, a failure by the incoming President to handle that situation would have much wider implications in regard to the associated handling of Islamic extremism.

Des Moore is director of the Institute for Private Enterprise and a former Deputy Secretary, Treasury

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