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Ayatollahs for Kerry? By: Michael Freund
The Jerusalem Post | Wednesday, September 15, 2004

The excitement is palpable. You can almost feel it in the air. The dictators of the Arab world just can’t wait for George W. Bush to lose the US presidential election in November.

Gripped with fear as they watch Bush’s democratic experiment in Iraq take shape, the tyrants and despots of the Middle East are pinning their hopes on Democratic challenger John Kerry to prevail.

After all, the last thing they want to see is a second-term Bush determined to reform the region, a development that would threaten their grip on power and stymie their efforts to obtain more lethal types of weaponry.

And so, the rhetoric in the Arab world is heating up, pointing to a real desire to see the US president go down in defeat.


Take, for example, a recent article in the Egyptian Al-Ahram Weekly (August 12-18 issue) by Cairo University’s Prof. Hassan Nafaa. Bush, he wrote, is a “wild eyed zealot” and an “evil fanatic”, one whose “departure from the Oval Office will mark the beginning of the decline of the forces of extremism and the rise of the forces of moderation.”


A Kerry victory, Prof. Nafaa says, barely containing his glee, would mean that “US foreign policy will undergo a major shift that will ultimately impact positively on Washington's approach to the affairs of the Middle East.” In other words, a Kerry administration would be far more compliant as far as the Arabs are concerned.


An August 4 editorial in the Syria Times expressed a similar sentiment, urging Arab-Americans not to make “the very mistake they made in the past when they gave their votes to Bush the Junior” in the 2000 presidential election. Instead, suggested the government-run paper, a vote for Kerry this time would prove to be “a wise one”.


Judging by their leadership, the Palestinians seem to feel the same way, with Yasser Arafat said to be among those who is rooting for a Democratic victory. “Arafat is waiting for November in the hope that George Bush will lose the election to John Kerry," Israel’s military intelligence chief Maj.Gen. Aharon Ze'evi Farkash told a cabinet meeting just over a month ago (Israel Army Radio, July 25).


Following Arafat’s lead, the official Palestinian media has made no effort to hide where its sympathies lie. On July 27, the Palestinian Authority daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda, for example, ran a political cartoon depicting an American soldier bleeding to death in Iraq, with his final words being, “Don’t Vote Bush”.


And then, of course, there is Iran. The mullahs, whom Bush famously labeled part of the “Axis of Evil” in his January 2002 State of the Union Address, are also panting at the prospect of a Republican defeat.


Just last week, on a visit to New Zealand, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said that the US government was “looking for excuses” to act against Iran over its nuclear ambitions (Reuters, August 23).


A June 17 article in the English-language Tehran Times entitled “Pity the Next US President” was even more critical, comparing Bush and his neo-conservative advisers to “neo-Nazis” who have created a “stinking heap of a mess” throughout the world. “Kerry,” the paper asserts, “is exactly what the US needs right now.”


That the prospect of a Kerry presidency is evoking so much enthusiasm in the terror capitals of Damascus, Ramallah and Tehran is reason enough for Americans, and especially American Jews, to think twice before supporting the Democratic candidate.


Why, after all, would Yasser Arafat, Bashar Assad and the Ayatollahs want to see Kerry elected, if they didn’t have good reason to believe that he would go soft on terror?


To be fair, Kerry has sought to dispel this image, taking a slap at the Saudi royal family in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention last month, and subsequently criticizing President Bush for not imposing tougher sanctions on the Syrian regime.


But these statements did little to dispel the notion throughout the Arab world that Kerry is “their man." As Martin Sieff, United Press International’s Senior News Analyst, recently pointed out, no one in the Arab world “really thinks Bush will change: And that is why so many old or former friends of the United States in the Arab world are praying for his defeat” (UPI, August 18).


Nonetheless, it seems, a majority of American Jews continue to lean towards Kerry, as a recent poll by the National Jewish Democratic Council is said to have found. According to the survey, an astonishing 75 percent of US Jews back the Massachusetts Senator, while just 22 percent support Bush.


With the election just two months away, now would be a good time for America, and particularly its Jews, to start thinking long and hard about the choice they face in November. Because if the Ayatollahs are banking on Kerry to win, then that certainly can not be the right way to go.


Michael Freund served as Deputy Director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Prime Minister’s Office under former premier Binyamin Netanyahu.

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