TEL AVIV – This American election has fascinated the planet more than any other in living memory; because it concerns us all more than any other. America's war is the world's war and Wall Street's disaster has infected the globe.
So it is with all the more consternation that observers here regard their putative saviors.
In Israel, with its famously combative and unrestrained media, it is the American system that is under the microscope as much as its representatives. Here, the U.S. presidential race is seen as the bitter old guy and the dimwit versus the untried young guy and the windbag.
|VIDEO: Israelis looking for American leadership
And the big issue in Israel is: What kind of a system is it if these are the best they can muster? When the insults halt, the votes are cast and the dust settles, many say that is the question that needs to be answered. Is this really the best America can come up with? Isn't there a better way to do things?
Long list of issues
From Israel's narrow focus, America's next leader is critical.
There is a whole list of short to medium term issues on Israel's table that most urgently concern American national interests and need intelligent American guidance and leadership: Will Iran get nuclear weapons? Will Israel attack Iran to prevent this? Will Hamas take over the rest of Palestinian territory? Will Hezbollah and Israel go back to war? Will Syria make peace with Israel? Will Israel and Fatah continue their Palestinian peace process?
And all of these issues while Russia is reintroducing itself as a key element in the Middle East by allegedly rearming Iran and Syria. Some of these issues could embroil the entire region in war, others could make a major contribution to overall peace. Foreign observers are scared.
Courting the Jewish vote
So far, none of the presidential or vice-presidential debates have passed without a mention of Israel. And each candidate has made certain to reassure Jewish voters that Israeli is a tried and true ally that must, and will be, defended. On this, there doesn't seem to be any light between the candidates. For most Israeli analysts, this is a given.
Ironically, the only real debate on this issue is in Israel itself, where most politicians want unquestioning American support, but a vocal minority believes that this unstinting support is actually harmful to Israel; they say Israel needs to stop relying on America.
Only then, they say, will Israel find the need to compromise on key stumbling blocks to peace like full withdrawal from the West Bank.
It was a truism that Israelis favored the old war-horse, Sen. John McCain. But now polls show that the race is more neck-and-neck as far as who Israelis favor.
Looking for a leader, not a stumbling giant
Israel, and its neighbors, need a strong, stable, smart, involved America. What it sees in the American election campaign, especially in the vacuous, talking-point dominated debates, worries everybody – it appears to be a weak, dumb, uninvolved stumbling giant.
It's a common refrain to hear foreigners say they don't like the American government, yet they do like the American people; but they mean it, and they have good reason.
To its great credit, despite its travails, America seems as stable as ever, a rock-solid democracy with a reasonably concerned citizenry.