Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 17 November 2019

Despite her Syria gaffe, Elizabeth Warren deserves a shot at the US presidency

The American people should focus on this Democratic Party candidate's integrity and genuine desire to bring change

Elizabeth Warren, one of the Democratic presidential candidates, has a reputation for being tough and honest. Zach Gibson / Getty Images
Elizabeth Warren, one of the Democratic presidential candidates, has a reputation for being tough and honest. Zach Gibson / Getty Images

It is rare for me to get excited about an American presidential candidate. Politics, it always seemed, was for opportunists and not public servants who wanted to do good for the people. A child of the Reagan years, I grew up as cynical as a Doonesbury cartoon. The Bushes and the Clintons seemed a little distant and their policies failed the people living in places where I worked – like Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. So I lost interest in US politics, choosing instead to focus on the region I was living in.

Barack Obama’s election gave me genuine hope. But in 2013, he failed to follow up on his declaration that the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime in Syria would cross his “red line”. Thereafter, I lost faith in my hero as well as his foreign policy. Four years later, Donald Trump won the presidency and I have since watched it unfold like a train crash in slow motion.

Politics, it always seemed, was for opportunists and not public servants who wanted to do good for the people

These days, however, I find myself feeling excited again – this time about Elizabeth Warren’s campaign and I have thrown my support behind her bid to become the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee and take on Mr Trump in the 2020 elections.

Ms Warren is the only candidate to have laid out a clear vision on the Israel-Palestine issue. She supports a two-state solution as much as she does a strong and democratic Israel. “There must be an end to the [Israeli] occupation,” she said, “and the creation of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip – living alongside Israel."

It takes a brave American politician to discuss the rights of the Palestinian people, let alone mention the word "occupation” because of how much support Israel gets within the foreign policy establishment in Washington. But in one line, Ms Warren has articulated her opposition to the Trump administration’s Israel policy, which has included moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – a proverbial slap in the face of the Palestine cause. Although little is known about the administration’s talked-about peace plan, which is still in the works, officials have made it clear that it will not commit to supporting the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel, which was the policy of previous US administrations. In this context, Ms Warren’s position will come as good news for the Palestinians.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US ambassador to Israel David Friedman stand next to the dedication plaque at the US embassy in Jerusalem in March. AFP
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US ambassador to Israel David Friedman stand next to the dedication plaque at the US embassy in Jerusalem in March. AFP

Admittedly, she suffered a setback during Tuesday night’s Democratic Party debate when she said that she favoured pulling out troops from the Middle East. "I don’t think we should have troops in the Middle East. But we have to do it the right way, the smart way,” she said. “We need to get out but we need to do this through a negotiated solution. There is no military solution in this region.”

It was a tactical mistake on her part for which she was criticised by former vice president and fellow candidate Joe Biden. “I have never heard anyone say, with any serious background in foreign policy, that we pull all troops out of the Middle East,” Mr Biden said.

However, it was clear to me then – and her campaign later made a clarification – that Ms Warren meant pulling troops out of Syria – and the not the entire region. She also meant withdrawing combat troops – and not the multiple non-combat forces based in the Gulf. It was a gaffe but a relatively minor one. And one gaffe should not be the basis upon which to judge a presidential candidate’s entire foreign policy. After all, none of the candidates will be well versed in every single topic. It is their judgment and the honesty with which they approach any given problem that the voters will do better to focus on.

If indeed Ms Warren were to constantly be confronted about her statement, then so should fellow senator Kamala Harris on her ties to AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby based in Washington, and Tulsi Gabbard for her unauthorised meeting with Syrian President Bashar Al Assad in 2017 – although, of course, Ms Gabbard is not currently in the debate given her poor polling numbers.

Ms Warren should no doubt learn to be as clear and articulate over time about the many foreign policy challenges the US has to confront at the moment. It will, after all, consume much of her time in the White House if in January 2021, she were to be sworn in. But the American people should examine her views on domestic issues, especially economic and social problems, that the country is struggling with. Her solutions regarding employment, minimum wage and tax collection are worth studying. When weighed against other candidates, Ms Warren seems best equipped to make these solutions work; her toughness while dealing with legislators in the Republican Party will indeed be an asset.

More than anything else, however, her integrity and genuineness as a person should resonate with the American people.

Janine di Giovanni is a senior fellow at Yale’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs and a 2019 Guggenheim fellow

Updated: October 20, 2019 06:19 PM

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