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The Monitor's View

From Iran to Libya, will Obama ride this democracy train of protests?

After his role in Egypt's revolution, Obama must lay out a strategy to promote democracy in the Middle East with actions, not just words -- and get the GOP on board, too.

By the Monitor's Editorial Board / February 16, 2011



The rapid ricochet of popular revolts from Egypt and Tunisia into Iran, Libya, Bahrain, Jordan, and Yemen should not let President Obama rest easy.

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Rather than merely react to this democratic wave, he must lay out a strategy to promote and guide it. Moral pronouncements are not enough.

To do that, Mr. Obama needs the backing of top Republicans in Congress. A bipartisan approach would create more certainty about US support of people trying to shake off their fears of autocratic rule and then help them make the difficult transition to elected government.

GOP leaders generally approve of Obama’s actions during the 18-day Egyptian revolution. But suspicions remain about his commitment to democracy promotion. He has long dismissed George W. Bush’s post-9/11 “freedom agenda” for the Middle East. And he has shown a relative disinterest in leaving behind stable democracy in Afghanistan.

During the Egypt crisis, Obama officials appeared hesitant in clearly backing protesters’ demands. This was reflected in mixed messages on whether Hosni Mubarak was a dictator, on the need for Egyptian stability, and then on the actual timing of his removal.

Even now as protests erupt elsewhere, US reaction seems ad hoc.

Obama had tough tone this week toward Iran’s crackdown on Monday’s protests. But he has been far less severe about suppression in Yemen. And the US response to protests in Libya and Bahrain remains unclear, as those revolts are still too new.

Every country is unique, of course, in its conditions for revolution and in ramifications for the rest of the world. “Each country is different, each country has its own traditions,” Obama stated Tuesday.

In Saudi Arabia, there seems less public appetite for democracy than for decent jobs and less government intrusion in daily lives – such as cameras that record traffic violations. The US also has a “realistic” stake in Saudi oil and in preventing the influence of Wahhabi Muslim extremists.

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