The Atlantic‘s Robert Wright has an excellent post today noting three major sources of anti-American sentiment in the Muslim Middle East that aren’t getting as much attention as “blasphemous” videos or (to hear conservatives) the “emboldenment” caused by a weak president:

[1] Drone strikes. Obviously, President Obama doesn’t want to say anything bad about the gobs of strikes he’s authorized. Neither does Mitt Romney; if you’re going to spend your whole campaign calling Obama a hyper-apologetic girly boy, you can’t turn around and complain that he kills too many people! But American drone strikes–which seem to always target Muslim countries, and sometimes kill civilians–are famously unpopular in the Muslim world….

[2] Israel-Palestine. [D]on’t expect to hear about this from Romney or Obama. During an election campaign, especially, neither man wants to dwell on the downside of America’s essentially unconditional support of Israel even as Israel pursues policies that violate both international law and basic principles of justice, such as the expansion of settlements in the West Bank. But rest assured that the Israeli-American relationship gets plenty of airtime in Muslim, and especially Arab, nations. And, while some of this assumes the form of wild conspiracy theories, the core fact that American support helps sustain highly objectionable Israeli policies is not a figment of anyone’s imagination. Neither is the fact that when President Obama did try to get Israel to freeze settlement expansion, he encountered so much blowback in Israel and America that he had to give up.

[3] American troops in Muslim countries. Though American soldiers have left Iraq, they remain in Afghanistan. Noting the downside of this fact doesn’t fit into either Obama’s or Romney’s game plan as they try to out-hawk each other. But, while they stay silent, there are people who are happy to talk about American troops in Afghanistan: Jihadi recruiters. And the reason is that they know this subject strikes a chord among young Muslim men who for various reasons (including local ones such as unemployment) are unhappy campers to begin with. This demographic played an important role in many of the protests last week.

Wright’s analysis will not, of course, find any receptive listeners among U.S. conservatives who have hewed closely to the line that “toughness” is the answer to every problem in the Middle East. More drones, an unconditional U.S. commitment to Israel’s policies, and an ever-ready willingness to resort to troop deployments–in theory if not in practice–are default-drive positions on the Right, along with an aggressive hostility to Islamic demands on free speech rights that’s pretty ironic given the congruent Christian Right claims against secularists and others allegedly expressing disrespect towards religion. It’s not clear the Obama administration has any magic formula for dealing with anti-Americanism in the region, but it’s very clear a Romney administration would keep tensions at a perpetually very high level.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.