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The Monitor's View

Obama speech: He must consult Congress on strategy toward Arab Spring

President Obama's speech Thursday on the Middle East is a chance for him to bring a coherent US strategy to the uneven democracy bloom of the Arab Spring, and to consult with Congress on the way forward.

By the Monitor's Editorial / May 13, 2011



On Thursday, President Obama plans to give a speech on the Middle East. Considering America’s ad hoc response to the Arab Spring so far – and the historic opportunity to support democracy in the region – he needs to put a coherent strategy before the public and Congress.

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Despite US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, foreign policy did not resonate with voters in last year’s elections. Since then, Osama bin Laden has been tracked down and killed. Persistent democratic protesters have also shaken autocratic regimes, toppling those in Tunisia and Egypt and prompting US military action in Libya.

Now the president is considering a policy “reset” that takes these earth-moving changes into account. But Mr. Obama must consult now with the people’s representatives – Congress – on his priorities and potential actions in the Middle East.

He’ll have an opportunity next week, when a 60-day deadline to seek congressional authorization for US military action in Libya expires under the War Powers Resolution of 1973.

The administration is apparently approaching this deadline like a lawyer, trying to determine how to wiggle free of the terms and leave Congress out of it. Too often, presidents have sidestepped the legislative branch, which has the constitutional power to declare war. (Regardless what one thought of the Iraq war, George W. Bush at least went to Congress for approval of it.)

Libya requires a debate on the Hill. Important questions remain unanswered: Will NATO allies have the resources and will to engage in a prolonged civil war? Should the US supply and recognize the rebels? What will the US do in the face of a sustained stalemate? And key, how does Libya fit into America’s overall strategy in the Arab world?

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