Obama lays down 'Arab Spring' principles

2011-05-20 11:00
Washington - President Barack Obama on Thursday took on the glaring contradiction of decades of US Middle East policy - how can Washington preach universal rights but back tyrants in exchange for stability?

His answer: It can't.

"Let me be specific," Obama said, in his long-awaited response to the tumult which has ousted iron fist autocrats and reshaped nations in the Middle East and North Africa.

"It will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy."

But beyond an aid programme for transitioning Egypt and Tunisia, the president offered few new actionable policies for the United States in the Arab world, and did not define exactly what US support for hard-fought freedoms would mean.

In the speech at the State Department, Obama credited his predecessors for seeking to halt terrorism, nuclear proliferation and for trying to forge Arab-Israeli peace in the volatile region for years.

Spiral of division

But without mentioning names, he appeared to tacitly admit that those policies had forced tie-ups with autocrats like former Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak, Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh, and late Syrian leader Hafez al-Assad.

He also suggested that popular protests which ditched "the shackles of the past" for "the promise of the future" had rendered past US strategy obsolete.

"A failure to change our approach threatens a deepening spiral of division between the United States and the Arab world," Obama said.

"We must acknowledge that a strategy based solely upon the narrow pursuit of these interests will not fill an empty stomach or allow someone to speak their mind," he said.

"Failure to speak to the broader aspirations of ordinary people will only feed the suspicion that has festered for years that the United States pursues our own interests at their expense."

Rhetorically at least, Obama placed the United States firmly on the side of youthful masses demanding the very core values on which his own nation was founded.

Clear position

"President Obama's speech is an eloquent and inspiring affirmation of American values as applied to the movements for sweeping transformation of the Middle East," said Howard Berman, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Manal Omar, director of Iraq programmes at the US Institute for Peace (USIP) said Obama laid out a "clear position" in support of reforms.

"For people in the streets across the Middle East, Obama's speech is a demonstration of a political will to discuss the difficult issues."

But the president left many questions and inconsistencies unaddressed.

In Libya, for example, the United States joined a Nato assault against strongman Muammar Gaddafi's forces, but in Syria and Iran, its actions have been confined to wielding sanctions and harsh rhetoric as crackdowns raged.

Obama did stiffen the US line against Syrian President Bashar Assad - saying he should lead a transformation or leave - but did not specify how he would back up his threat.

As Berman put it: "He has given Assad a stark choice, reform or go. Now we must find an effective way to press Assad to make that choice."

The president did appear to reserve some wiggle room for the United States for when its core values conflict with geopolitical goals -perhaps in a corner of the Middle East like oil rich Gulf states.

Analysts dismayed

"Not every country will follow our particular form of representative democracy, and there will be times when our short term interests do not align perfectly with our long term vision of the region," Obama said.

In another unanswered question, Obama did not mention Saudi Arabia - the key US ally and recipient of billions of dollars in US military aid - which is angry over Obama's role in prodding Mubarak to the exit and is resisting the wave of change.

Some analysts were dismayed that the president didn't go further.

"All in all, I would say it was a speech that was large on platitudes but with little actionable steps which go beyond which the United States has said it would do," said Marwan Muasher, a former Jordanian foreign minister, now with the Carnegie Endowment of International Peace.

"I think expectations were that the president would say more," he said.

And another USIP analyst Robin Wright commented that the Arab world would be disappointed with the speech.

"On the issues that now consume their lives, he offered lofty principles but little substantively new in terms of concrete action or admonitions to autocrats," she said.

"The president also did not substantively close the gap in US policy - what Washington is saying or doing - on protests over the same issues in Libya, Syria and notably Bahrain."

- SAPA
Read more on:    nato  |  barack obama  |  muammar gaddafi  |  bashar assad  |  us  |  syria  |  libya  |  saudi arabia  |  syria conflict  |  north africa  |  uprisings  |  libya protests
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
6 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/News
 

This is what South Africans Googled in 2014!

Find out who and what South Africans were most curious about in 2014!

 
 

I love summer.24

This hilarious song is your new holiday anthem
The world's least visited destination is breathtaking!
LOL treadmill fail!
Google’s top searches of 2014

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

2DAYS ONLY – 30% off Appliances

Coffee makers, blenders, fans, juicers and more. T&Cs apply. Shop now!

2 DAYS ONLY – 40% off books

Get 40% off when you buy 2 books. For two days only! T&Cs apply. Buy now!

Up to 50% off on outdoor gear

Save on chairs, blankets, cooler bags, umbrellas and more. Shop now!

Save on Samsung

Cameras, mobile phones, TVs, Tablets and more. While stocks last. Shop now!

Grand Theft Auto 5

Now available on PS4, Xbox One and PC from R649. Buy now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

You may be emotionally defensive or reserved today. You need to step up today as there may be extra responsibilities to deal with....read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.