The world today will congratulate a newly elected president, but those countries and peoples around the globe who have been looking forward to a shift in foreign policy will be sorely disappointed, whatever the outcome.
For while a new president, or a new presidential term, represents a new start, it does not necessarily represent a different approach.
With Democrats likely to maintain their Senate majority, and the Republicans their lead in the House of Representatives, Congress will remain divided and the seat of key decision-making will continue to provide hurdles to whomever is elected.
After nearly a year of intense campaigning from both sides, all the rhetoric and the propaganda of the last few months must now be forgotten. As the adrenaline from last-minute campaigning wears off, the challenges facing the new president are huge and multitudinous.
At home, the new president must contend with a battered economy and high unemployment as well as a raft of social problems. South and Central America still present foreign policy challenges, and further afield there is the raucous Middle East, Iran’s nuclear games and a eurozone seemingly on the brink of implosion.
Amid this maelstrom, neither Obama nor Romney will have even the shortest honeymoon period in which to exhale after such an intense round of campaigning.
For the population of the world watching from afar, and not directly participating in the election, it is important to remember that on foreign policy the differences between the two candidates are little more than on the level of semantics. “It’s the economy, stupid,” will ring true for this election too, when domestic approaches to jobless rates and tackling the deficit will be much more influential in affecting voters’ choices at the ballot box than the fate of Syrian citizens or the benefits of drone attacks in Pakistan.
Whether or not the man sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office remains the same, American policy toward the Middle East will not change in any real sense, and, specifically, the approach to the Palestinian issue will not improve, and may well worsen.
For all the international media fixation on these last few months of campaigning, the real election appears little more than folkloric hype and tradition, the eventual outcome of which will have hardly any bearing on the strategy of global geopolitics.
The president may try to steer the direction of foreign policy in new ways, but ultimately Congress has the final say, with the ability to block the presidential approach if it so wishes and paralyze his initiatives.
But for the Middle East, if the president, let alone Congress, is going to seriously contemplate a new approach – one which promises to truly move forward the aspirations of its people – to the region, it is essential that this state of fragmentation and disunity is discarded. This Arab Winter must blossom into a genuine Arab Spring, and the resources, and true potential of this rich region fully realized.
Until this new, united, forward-looking Middle East is achieved, complete with its 300 million plus consumers, why should the U.S. listen or work toward helping the region achieve its dreams of a brighter future?
For whomever wins, congratulations, and congratulations to democracy. But the road ahead will not be a straightforward one.