The Stealth Muslim Victory

The last few months of U.S. political life have been defaced by rampaging anti-Muslim rhetoric, from the manufactured controversy over the Park51 mosque in New York to the Florida Quran-burning threats to hysterical warnings about 'creeping sharia' and stealth jihad in the halls of Congress. The victory of the truly absurd ban on applying sharia in Oklahoma may be only the first of the legislative fruits of this ugly trend. The volume and aggressiveness of this anti-Islamic trend has had some real costs both at home and abroad, most likely drowning out the earnest efforts of the Obama administration to rebuild relations with the Muslims of the world. Hopefully that noise will fade now that Election Day has come and gone. 

But in the meantime, there's some quiet good news. The "Ground Zero Mosque" didn't get Carl Paladino anywhere near the New York Governor's Mansion. As political junkies will recall, the leader of a major Tea Party group explicitly called for Keith Ellison (D-MN) to be defeated because he "is the only Muslim member of congress. He supports the Counsel for American Islamic Relations, HAMAS and has helped congress send millions of tax dollars to terrorists in Gaza [insert 'sic' as you like]." All the better then to realize that both Muslim members of Congress -- Ellison and Andre Carson (D-IN) -- cruised to re-election yesterday and that nobody seems to have even much noticed. 

The very fact that their wins have thus far been a non-issue is one of the more encouraging things I've come across today. I can only hope that Muslims around the world notice their victories, and place more weight on their effective participation in U.S. democracy than they do on the Oklahoma referendum or on the loud, angry voices of the anti-Islamic fringe. The administration's public diplomacy team might want to get on that.  

Marc Lynch

Does the election matter for the Middle East?

Dan Drezner's going to bed early tonight because he doesn't think the outcome of Congressional elections matters much for foreign policy. But at least on Middle East issues, that's crazy. If the GOP takes Congress, it might overwhelmingly approve an Iran sanctions bill which ties the hands of President Barack Obama's administration and undermines its efforts to construct an effective negotiation strategy. Or it might irresponsibly fail to confirm ambassadors to Syria and Turkey, two key players in the region, for no good reason. I could even see it slashing funding for the civilian mission in Iraq, forcing the administration to scramble to deliver on its promise of a long-term civilian and political commitment. Oh wait…

Seriously -- and with apologies to some of the good eggs in Congress who have played a constructive role the last few years, such as Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Dick Lugar (R-IN) at the SFRC -- there are real reasons to worry about the effects of a GOP-controlled Congress for Middle East policy, even beyond the… odd… views of some of the likely new members and committee chairs. Foreign leaders and publics may take the outcome of the election as a signal about what to expect from Obama in the next two years and craft their strategies accordingly. A GOP victory might embolden Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to continue stonewalling Obama and to stoke partisan opposition to his policies, for instance. Iran may conclude that it's pointless to do a deal with Obama if they think he can't deliver on his end. But those perception effects will matter mostly at the margins, I'd say, since the political struggles have been going on for such a long time that the election is already factored into their calculus.

That doesn't mean that a changeover would be irrelevant. I'm not looking forward to clownshow hearings with lunatics denouncing creeping sharia and whipping up anti-Islamic hysteria, which could undermine Obama's public diplomacy and counterterrorism strategies and do some real long term damage. I'm gritting my teeth in anticipation of the next Congress becoming a platform for Iran war hawks, hyping the issue even further in anticipation of the 2012 elections… look for another round of sanctions and some kind of Iranian Liberation Act on the horizon, regardless of how things are actually going for U.S. diplomatic efforts. A GOP-controlled Congress may not go for the big $60 billion arms sale to the Saudis, what with that whole "sharia" thing. Endless harassing subpoenas and investigations and the inevitable impeachment attempt may be a wee bit distracting. But overall I think the effects are more likely to be domestic than on foreign policy or the Middle East.  

And who knows -- maybe the polls are wrong. I don't think I know anyone who actually answers a home phone showing an unknown number on Caller ID, but I also know that I'm not the least bit normal, and far be it from me to question the geniuses over in the polling bureaus. Guess we'll find out tonight. And what would be the effect of a surprising Democratic performance and relative Republican failure after all this buildup? Beats me. But unlike Drezner, I don't think I'll be going to bed early tonight.