Adviser to Clinton campaign says Arab-American presidency ‘will happen soon’
Washington - Edward Gabriel has known the Clintons for more than 25 years, having served as president Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Morocco from 1997-2001. Today, the son of Lebanese immigrants is advising Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign on outreach to Arab Americans. Gabriel is also president and chief executive officer of the American Task Force for Lebanon (ATFL).
Gabriel said in an interview that he supports Hillary Clinton because “we want to make sure that our civil liberties are protected. This goes for all Americans, and especially Arab Americans and Muslims, and Clinton exhibited this with her defence of Muslims and Mr Khan.”
Gabriel was referring to Khizr Khan, a Muslim American whose son was killed in the Iraq war. Khan delivered a moving speech at the Democratic National Convention, during which he questioned whether Republican nominee Donald Trump had read the US Constitution and criticised Trump’s comments about immigration, minorities, women and judges.
Trump responded by implying that Khan’s wife, Ghazala, who stood by her husband throughout the speech, was “maybe not allowed to speak”, invoking the stereotype of oppressed Muslim women.
Trump’s comments sparked controversy and even fellow Republicans rebuked him.
For Gabriel, who proudly identifies as an Arab American, this is personal. He recalls his early childhood in a small town in upstate New York as the quintessentially American experience: His family quickly became part of the fabric of their community but not without enduring the provincial racism that many immigrants experience.
“I was called a Turk or a Jew — neither term intended as a compliment — and a ‘camel jockey’ and the n-word,” he said.
However, he had an identical education and upbringing to many of his peers. “Same schooling, except our bread was round,” he recalled.
Lebanon is one of the issues near to Gabriel’s heart, especially in his capacity as head of ATFL, an advocacy group that aims to foster relations between the United States and Lebanon.
Since 2006, the United States has provided the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) with more than $1 billion in materiel and training. Gabriel said this support should deepen, despite opposition in Congress concerned about members of Hezbollah serving in the LAF.
“The LAF is the most important institution in Lebanon,” Gabriel said. “We’ve never seen one incident where Hezbollah controls the LAF.” He added that the strain on Lebanon from the Syrian war makes the LAF even more essential.
Gabriel supports establishing humanitarian corridors to help Syrians return home but said he fears that will take a long time to fully implement. Another solution, he said, would be for the United States to incentivise 100 countries to each take in 20,000 Syrian refugees who are now in Lebanon.
President Barack Obama’s administration has been criticised for inaction and lack of leadership on Syria. While it is not clear what a Clinton presidency would do differently, Gabriel has some ideas.
“Our first goal should be to take out ISIS (the Islamic State),” he said, “but when we take land from ISIS, who do we give it back to? Assad?”
Gabriel said that, without a strong US military presence that actively seizes land from ISIS and prepares it for Syrian self-rule without Bashar Assad as president, Russia will not take Washington seriously.
“Without a military presence, Assad and Russia won’t care. They just bomb people they don’t like. We need to take and hold land, create safe zones and apply lessons learned from Iraq,” he said.
On the Maghreb, Gabriel said the Western Sahara conflict accounts for why the region has one of the lowest levels of intra-regional trade in the world.
“We’re dealing with a Soviet-era problem that needs to be settled. Morocco and Algeria are lacking infrastructure between them, like electricity and roads, because of the Sahara conflict,” he said. “America needs to incentivise especially Algeria to cut a deal on the Sahara.”
Gabriel said that despite the missteps and chaos of recent years, the United States still should attempt to “spread democracy” in the region, but with caveats.
“We’re going to help countries move in that direction only when they’ve chosen it and asked us to,” he said.
Gabriel suggested that the United States identify countries, such as Tunisia and Morocco, that want to commit to democracy and then launch a “strategic relationship” with them in which the United States asks: “How do we help you become more democratic, improve upon the rule of law, improve your human rights record? All of that is in our interest and in yours.”
Asked when he thinks the United States will have its first Arab-American president, Gabriel laughed.
“I don’t know when that’s going to happen,” he said, though he expects many Arab Americans to work in a Hillary Clinton administration.
“Given the fact that so many Arab Americans are over-achievers and great performers, an Arab-American presidency will happen soon,” he said.