Stephen Elliott
Stephen Elliott is the author of seven books, including The Adderall Diaries and Happy Baby. His first feature film, Cherry, was recently released by IFC. He is also the founder of the literary website The Rumpus.

Share on Tumblr

REASON 59: I'm voting for Obama because he makes the world safer.

When Obama came into office he inherited George W. Bush's disastrous handling of the Middle East. In particular, the invasion of Iraq under the false pretext of weapons of destruction. That war cost tremendous resources, much more than universal healthcare. And it left us vulnerable for attacks from many sides.

Our relationship with the Middle East is complicated, and it always will be. I remember visiting Gaza in 2001 and coming to the conclusion that Israel had to unilaterally dismantle the Gaza settlements in order for there to be peace. That's exactly what Ariel Sharon did. Sharon was arguably the most conservative Prime Minister Israel ever had to that point, and he was the least likely Israeli politician to appease Palestinians. Still, he came to the conclusion that there was no other choice. I visited Gaza again in 2006. The settlements were gone, but the situation was much worse. It was no longer safe for an American to walk down the street. The water was contaminated, homes everywhere were destroyed. The government had been taken over by Hamas and missiles were still being fired from Gaza into Israel, and from Israel into Gaza. The Gazans suffered much more than the Israelis, but for both sides, the situation was worse.

It turns out, even though the settlements should never have been there, removing them unilaterally was not the answer. It would have been better to negotiate with someone in power and remove the settlements as a result of that negotiation. But most people didn't recognize that at the time. The academics, the politicians, the conservatives, and the liberals, mostly agreed that unilaterally removing the settlements was the right thing to do. Sometimes, you make the best effort and things still don't work out.

Think of the American mission to kill Osama bin Laden. Now think of Jimmy Carter's attempt to free the hostages in Iran. The world doesn't offer guarantees. But still, you have to engage, patiently, intelligently. The question is never "who started it." The question is always, "how do we make things better."

When Nakoula Basseley Nakoula loaded an ignorant, hateful, anti-Islam video onto YouTube, he set off anti-American riots across the Arab world. The American Embassy in Cairo released a statement condemning the video. Mitt Romney slammed the Obama administration for appeasement, accusing Obama of apologizing for America and aligning with the attackers who killed the US Ambassador to Libya in Benghazi.

It turned out the statements released by the American Embassy in Cairo were made prior to the attack on Benghazi. Rather than correct himself, Romney continued to politicize the issue, criticizing Obama for not defending the filmmakers' free speech rights.

It's these kind of reactions that make it harder for America to conduct diplomacy. George W. Bush's tough talk, shoot-from-the-hip approach is what got us into this mess. Mitt Romney appears to favor the same tactics, confusing tough talk with foreign policy. He goes on the attack before he knows all the facts. He wants to draw red lines (with regards to Iran's nuclear plan) rather than leave his options open, and he's more concerned with national pride than with making peace.

No matter who is making the decisions some of them will, in hindsight, be wrong. But the least you want from an American president is someone who engages openly with the world, who makes an effort to understand the different sides to the story. Someone who stops to think before pressing the button. Because the world is a complicated place.

Stephen Elliott
 San Francisco, California

Read the next essay →

REASON 12:
During his second term we will not hear the following things from President Obama—although we may have heard them from his political opponents. read essay →

REASON 15:
Obama has made financing higher education easier. read essay →

REASON 71:
Obama understands that education and healthcare are the foundations of a strong economy.read essay →