Despite many similarities between the two democratic presidential candidates on different issues, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton pursue two very distinct approaches toward solving U.S. foreign policy issues in the Middle East.
The underlying distinction between Obama and Clinton is vital. Obama recently opposed the idea of a "clash of civilizations" and has expressed his desire to have a better understanding of Islam and Muslims, as well as to engage with the region's nations to resolve U.S. problems.
In response, Clinton proposes a similar path as the Bush administration, suggesting the expansion of U.S. commitment in the region by defending not only Israel, but also all other U.S. allies, to deter Iran.
Since Iranians have not attacked their neighbors for centuries, and Iran's military doctrine is based on defense rather than attack, Clinton's arrogant tone suggests the continuation of Bush administration policies in the region by maintaining Iran's exclusion from a regional security arrangement and fueling the increasingly perilous cold war in the region.
"I think that we should be looking to create an umbrella of deterrence that goes much further than just Israel," she said. "We will let the Iranians know, that, yes, an attack on Israel would trigger massive retaliation, but so would an attack on those countries that are willing to go under the security umbrella and forswear their own nuclear ambitions."
While the international community has adopted a series of sanctions against Iran to show its determination to stop Iran's nuclear program, it is not clear why Sen. Clinton emphasizes a possible unilateral action against Tehran -- the same policy that was employed by the Bush administration to attack Iraq. However, her recent remarks match her war authorization vote in congress in response to concerns about Iraq's WMD capacity and the possibility of using that capacity against Israel, which later on proved to be a myth.
When the two democratic presidential candidates were asked what they would do if Iran obtains nuclear weapons and uses them against Israel, they responded forcefully. But there was a big difference between their two answers. Clinton said, "An attack on Israel would incur massive retaliation by the United States." But Obama said the U.S. would "take appropriate action." This means that while Clinton still believes in the effectiveness of unilateral action, Obama feels hesitant to go down that path.
Obama's response is in line with what he said a few days ago during a unique "Compassion Forum" held at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa. "Islam can be a partner with the Christian and Jewish and Hindu and Buddhist faiths in trying to create a better world," he said. He tried to put the problems into larger context that the U.S. is facing in the region. He also addressed the difficulties that have put the religion at the core of various conflicts from Afghanistan to Lebanon, Israel and Palestine.
"And so I am always careful and suspicious of attempts to paint Islam with a broad brush because the overwhelming majority of the people of the Islamic faith are people of good will who are trying to raise their families and live up to their values and ideals and to try to raise their kids as best they can," he said. "That's something that I think we always have to remember as opposed to assuming a clash of civilizations."
In fact, Obama sees the solution for security concerns in the Middle East as linked to the current cultural struggle between the Western and Islamic worlds. This struggle needs to be redefined in order to start a constructive negotiation and engagement process with moderates and democrats in the Muslim world -- people who have been ignored by the administration's black-and-white approach for years.
The silly season in politics has left no room to explore some of the fundamental differences that have been raised during the past few weeks of the democratic presidential campaign. These fundamentals issues should have a more significant role in shaping voter's opinions than hearing sniper fire, calling people "bitter" and digging deep into candidates' personal lives.