CAIRO, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Palestinian American academic Rashid Khalidi, whose ties to U.S. President-elect Barack Obama featured in the Republican election campaign, said on Wednesday Americans had done well to ignore moves to discredit him and Obama.
"It spoke well of the American people that enough of them were able to ignore these ridiculous, scandalous, scurrilous, defamatory statements and elected him," Khalidi told Reuters after a lecture at the American University in Cairo.
"It was very, very unfortunate to see a major political party, the Republican Party ... play such a despicable, shameful role, taking the United States back to the McCarthy era of defamation and guilt by association," he said.
"The good news is it didn't work."
In the election campaign, Republican presidential candidate John McCain portrayed Khalidi as someone as extreme in his views on the Middle East as a neo-Nazi would be on the right.
Khalidi, professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University in New York and a historian of the Middle East, declined to comment at the time, saying he would wait till the storm blew over.
Khalidi and Obama knew each other in Chicago and Obama once said Khalidi had made him aware of his blind spots and biases.
In his lecture, Khalidi said the ability of the United States to influence the world had suffered irrevocably in recent years and the incoming Obama administration was unlikely to make foreign policy a primary concern as U.S. dominance wanes.
NO ONE IN POSITION TO FILL VACUUM
"The era of the U.S. as a hyperpower, as (former French French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine) once called it, is probably over. I think it is coming to an end if it hasn't already ended," he said.
Khalidi said other countries were poorly placed to fill the vacuum, however, saying the European Union lacks a united foreign policy, Russia acts selfishly and at times brutally, and India and China do not yet have the confidence to exert influence outside their neighbourhoods.
He added: "With a few exceptions, the Arab states are no longer a force and are no longer the subject of their own history they have turned, in large measure, into the object of the action of others."
He questioned the argument that Iran would be especially dangerous if it acquired nuclear weapons.
"I see no reason to expect Iran to be more irrational in its use of nuclear weapons should it obtain them, than has been Israel or India or Pakistan or China or France or Britain or the United States or Russia," he said. "Obviously it would be preferably if this were a nuclear-free region."
Asked about the selection of Rahm Emmanuel as Obama's chief of staff, widely seen in the Arab world as a sign of a pro-Israel slant, Khalidi said a chief of staff has negligible impact on foreign policy.
Emmanuel's main roles wouldl be to restrict access to the president and keep the Democratic-controlled Congress "on the reservation", he added. (Editing by Jonathan Wright and Richard Balmforth)