FAWAZ TURKI - Stipulate with me as you hold your nose that Mitt Romney may, just may, become the next president of the United States. How then will his administration’s foreign policy be projected around the world, in particular our part of it? How different will it be from that of Barack Obama?

To start with, you can’t gauge the foreign policy intentions of a president, once in office, by his rhetoric on the campaign trail. And Romney’s rhetoric, with its attack-dog tactics, and occasional bursts of big power, muscular elan (“President Obama has allowed our leadership to diminish. In dealing with other nations, he has given trust where it’s not earned, insult where it’s not deserved and apology where it’s not due”) has evinced the hauteur of a man who need not, well, you know, show his birth certificate.

But once in office, he will confront some hard realities that other chief executives who preceded him have had to confront, from President Harry Truman to President Barack Obama: Leave your ideals at the door as you enter the White House, for American foreign policy does not shift easily or overnight. It is too well entrenched, too well defined, for any one president to change it dramatically.

It is difficult to imagine a presidential aspirant with an agenda that bristled with more idealistic suggestions about the role that America should play in the world - as an exemplar not a hegemony - than that of Barack Obama. His stated goals in the Middle East, as a case in point, came decked out with rhetorical flourishes about social justice, freedom, human rights, Palestinian statehood and the rest of it. But once in office, he faced those hard realities on the ground, and his vision changed. Whatever foreign policy shifts he had contemplated soon after he took power, he discovered, were now subject to the consent of the US Senate. And in that august body’s view, you don’t tell an Israeli prime minister to stop building colonies on Arab land, because to a majority of legislators what Israel wants Israel gets. And when that same prime minister sits in the Oval Office and lectures the president of the United States about why America’s priority should be Iran not Palestine, you go along because Israel is “our friend.”

American presidents have come and gone, Republicans and Democrats, tweedledum and tweedledee, but since 1948, when America began to tentatively project itself as a key player in the region, support for Israel became a pillar of America’s foreign policy, a constant, not a variable, in the diplomatic equation. A president, along with his close advisers, may privately believe that blind support for Israel is harming American national interests, not to mention alienating masses of people in the Arab world, the Islamic world and the non-aligned world against the US, but that president will eat humble pie and take it on the chin because, given those hard realities built into the political system, he is caught between the rock and a hard place.

In that regard, recall the time in October 1981, when three former American presidents, Richard Nixon, Jerry Ford and Jimmy Carter, flew back together from Cairo after attending the funeral of Anwar Sadat, the late Egyptian President. Reporters accompanying them on the flight quoted the three as being in agreement that the US erred in not talking to the PLO, an organisation that, in keeping with Israeli wishes, Washington considered anathema. All well and good to voice such a sentiment when you are no longer in the White House, but voicing it while you’re still there amounts to committing political harakiri for yourself and your party.

But that’s the nature of the beast. All the pity, because before 1948, before the establishment of Israel in Palestine, before American presidents were enjoined against making unbiased decisions about the Middle East, America enjoyed a sterling reputation in the region rooted not only in the fact that Americans never colonised Arabs, but it was Woodrow Wilson, an American president, who at the Versailles Conference introduced his Fourteen Points Program, which enshrined the principle of self-determination for formerly colonized or “subjugated” peoples, at the time a revolutionary principle indeed.

Mitt Romney, should he win the presidential election - and there’s a chance, and not an altogether slim chance, I say, that he may do just that in November - has a declared policy all planned out for the Middle East, a policy that spans a whole gamut of villainy, from moving the American Embassy to Occupied Jerusalem to turning a blind eye to an Israeli assault on Iran. But just as Barack Obama’s conciliatory rhetoric on the Middle East came to a naught once he reached the White House, so will, conversely, Mitt Romney’s belligerent rhetoric find a similar fate once he is ensconced there. There are lines you don’t cross in American foreign policy, even if you are the president of the United States.

And what is the confluence of forces that one day will change that policy. Only someone on the same level as a mad mathematician, pursuing the final decimal point of Pi, will presume to know that. A big power is too big to change.               –Arab News