World ‘failing’ to meet development goals: UN chief

Arab analysts are examining the US presidential election debate for the “lack of content” of Middle Eastern issues

ATLANTA, Georgia: Prominent US-based Arab commentators reacted to Thursday night’s debate between President Joe Biden and challenger Donald Trump with disapproval and disappointment, saying the first leg of the election campaign “lacked substance.”

Biden and Trump participated in a CNN-hosted debate at the network’s Atlanta headquarters, without a studio audience and in a format that cut the microphones if the candidates ran out of time or interrupted each other.

Amal Mudallali, a former Lebanese journalist and diplomat who served as Lebanon’s permanent representative to the United Nations, was disappointed with the performance of both candidates, calling it “the saddest debate I’ve seen in America in my life.”

“There wasn’t really a dispute,” Mudallali told Arab News. “It was just name-calling and personal attacks.”

Amal Mudallali. (attached)

He added: “Even when you had questions about very important issues, the answer was either that the candidate tripped, or changed the subject, or didn’t answer the question.”

In fact, many of the few exchanges on Middle East issues felt like personal attacks and lacked depth and real political debate.

During the debate, Trump criticized Biden’s border policy, saying it has allowed terrorists into the United States. “Right now we have the most terrorists coming to our country,” he said.

“All terrorists around the world, not just in South America, all over the world. They come from the Middle East, from everywhere, from all over the world. They fall. And this guy just left it open.

Trump also singled out people his administration has killed during his presidency, including Daesh leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Iranian Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani.

Biden fired back at Trump, saying, “Iran attacked American troops and he did nothing.”

Trump also claimed that Hamas would never have carried out the Oct. 7 attack on Israel if he had been president because the Palestinian militant group’s Iranian backers would not have had the means under his tough sanctions regime.

“Israel would never have been attacked by Hamas in a million years. You know why? Because Iran broke up with me,” he said. “I wouldn’t let anyone do business with them. They ran out of money. They are broken. They had no money for Hamas. They had no money for anything. There is no money for terror.”

One area where Biden and Trump appear to diverge is the approach to US policy on Iran, with the former preferring to try to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions through the Obama-era deal he helped broker, and the latter seeking “maximum pressure.” prefers a campaign. .

“The biggest difference between President Trump and Biden is certainly Iran,” Firas Maksad, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, told Arab News.

“One favors more pressure and containment, while the other favors diplomacy and trying to push Tehran’s regional ambitions.”

Given the tone of the debate, Mudallali felt that neither contestant had won.

Displaced Palestinians evacuate the Khan Yunis Mawassi area in the southern Gaza Strip on June 28, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)

“There are no winners in this debate,” he said. “There is only one loser, and that is the United States of America, which does not have a better candidate or candidates who rise to its role, importance, and capabilities in the world.”

Mudallali said “little was said” about the conflict in Ukraine and violence in the Middle East, including the war in Gaza and the exchange of arms between Israel and Hezbollah along the Lebanese border, which was the “most disappointing part” of the debate.

“At a time when there are two major conflicts in the world, in Europe and the Middle East, where thousands of people are dying in Gaza, 37,000 people, and thousands and thousands of people in Ukraine, you see a foreign policy debate going on. this debate was shallow. It didn’t exist,” he said.

“There was no debate, no vision of America’s role in peace, of how we end these wars, how we end this tragedy that’s going on. It was very, very, very sad to see this, to see that there is no real foreign policy debate.

“They’re not trying to present a vision of the world for the next day or the day after, and how America and its role can contribute to ending these two conflicts.”

Rana Abtar, a Washington talk show host for Asharq News, echoed the sentiments of many commentators, saying that the debate above all highlighted Biden’s limitations as a candidate.

“During this debate, it was obvious that President Biden was struggling with his speech and his performance,” Abtar told Arab News. “It certainly doesn’t help him with voters who have serious doubts and questions about his age.”

Rana Abtar. (attached)

But Trump’s performance also had shortcomings, according to Abtar. “Trump, as usual, performed better. But he misrepresented many facts,” he said. “That doesn’t help him with independent voters. You need their votes to win this election cycle.”

Abtar said that the discussion was strongly focused on domestic issues. “As expected, we heard a lot about the economy,” he said. “This is the number one issue that concerns the American electorate.

“We’ve heard a lot about immigration, a lot of attacks from President Trump on Biden, the Biden administration’s record on immigration, and we’ve heard a lot about abortion. The purpose of this is primarily to attract female votes. Both Trump and Biden are trying to win the female vote in order to win the November election as well.

“It was also interesting to focus on the African-American vote, which is a very important vote for both candidates to win the November election.”

As a result of the focus on domestic affairs, Abtar said that none of the candidates had delved meaningfully into foreign affairs.

“Both candidates were asked a lot of questions about foreign policy,” he said. “We heard a lot about Russia and Ukraine.

“Trump, as expected, attacked President Biden when it comes to his policy toward Russia. He claimed that the war in Ukraine would not have happened on his watch. In return, Biden fired back and talked about withdrawing from NATO under a Trump presidency.

“But the main topic that was presented was obviously the war in Gaza, and Trump was not very clear about his position on a Palestinian state.”

Abtar said Biden is also vague about his position on the Middle East, so regional observers will be none the wiser about what direction the administration is expected to take if the incumbent is reinstated.

Interception of rockets fired from Lebanon into Israel across the border amid ongoing cross-border hostilities between Hezbollah and Israeli forces. (Reuters)

“As for Biden, he talked about the ceasefire plan, the release of the hostages, but his plan was not clear in his statements either,” Abtar said.

“So in reality we’ve heard two very vague statements from the candidates, the current president and the former president, without any substantive policy.”

Referring to the Biden administration’s Gaza peace plan, which was first presented in May but has yet to be accepted by Israel and Hamas, Abtar said they have provided few clues about possible next steps.

“While Biden has presented this plan and this proposal, it appears that he has reached an impasse,” he said. “The answers were not clear in this respect.”

Biden highlighted his peace plan during the debate, stating that “the first phase is a ceasefire deal with the hostages” and “the second phase is a ceasefire with additional conditions.”

He went on to supply Israel with everything they need, except for a 2,000-pound bomb, because “they don’t work very well in populated areas. Many innocent people are killed. We will provide Israel with all the weapons it needs and when it needs them.”

Joyce Karam, a veteran journalist and Al-Monitor’s senior news editor, was also dismayed by Biden’s poor performance.

“This was a very bad debate for President Joe Biden,” he told Arab News. “I can tell you, as someone who interviewed Biden when he was vice president and who dealt with him in previous races and saw him in debate several times, this was clearly the worst.

Joyce Karam. (attached)

“The decline in his performance was obvious – the voice, the style, the delivery. The American president looked weak and just looked weak.

Karam believes that Trump came out on top in part because of the weakness of Biden’s performance.

“There is a consensus among observers that Donald Trump won this debate, not because he offered popular policies or visionary ideas, but because Biden was incoherent,” he said.

“Sometimes he just didn’t understand what (Biden) was saying and he just couldn’t finish a sentence.”

The question many commentators now have is whether the Democratic Party will rally behind Biden’s candidacy, or whether he wants to change his candidacy at the last minute so that he can run for the presidency in November.

“I’m not sure that these two people (Biden and Trump) will debate again or that Biden will end up being the Democratic nominee,” Karam said.

“The chatter has already started that Biden might drop out of a second term and announce that he’s changed his mind and won’t run for re-election. And then we could see an open Democratic convention in Chicago.”

A child holds up Palestinian flags as protesters, mainly Houthi supporters, take part in a demonstration in Sanaa, Yemen, in solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas on June 28, 2024. (Reuters)

Returning to the topic of Thursday night’s clash, Karam said many issues were missing from the 90-minute debate, including the Middle East and the Gaza conflict.

“Most of the debate was about the economy, social issues, health care, Medicare, the deficit, which is typical of these occasions,” he said. “But what we saw, especially from Trump, was a lot of platitudes, and we didn’t see a lot of substance from both candidates when it came to the Middle East.

In one of the most memorable moments of the debate, Trump said Biden “became like a Palestinian. But they don’t like him because he’s a very bad Palestinian. He is a weak man.”

Responding to the comment, Karam said, “Trump accuses Biden of being a ‘bad Palestinian,’ and Biden didn’t give a convincing answer when asked about ending the war in Gaza and supporting Israel. It was the same speeches from the candidates that we’ve heard on the campaign trail in recent months.”

According to Karam, “there is little real debate about the big questions of US foreign policy” and questions such as how Trump will achieve his stated goal of ending the war in Ukraine. Instead, there was a lot of “lofty talk, a lot of platitudes, very little substance.”

The global power competition between the United States and China was also little discussed. There was almost nothing about the future of US presence and influence in the Middle East, and I heard absolutely nothing about Iran’s nuclear program.”

No matter who ends up getting the keys to the White House in November, Maksad of the Middle East Institute believes some sort of normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia will be a priority for any new administration.

“Few things enjoy bipartisan consensus in America today except for the importance of encouraging greater regional integration in the Middle East, with potential Saudi-Israeli normalization at its core,” he said.

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