Obama Middle East speech: That was the easy part
In case people doubted – and they did – the United States is on the side of democracy protesters, Obama said in his Middle East speech. But he did little to help Americans or Arabs grapple with hard choices.
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These interests, he maintained, “are not hostile to people’s hopes.” And indeed, a democratic Middle East and North Africa would not be served by a nuclear arms race with Iran or a sudden cut off in oil supplies.Skip to next paragraph
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But in the short term, those questions do present policy challenges and choices. A prime example involves the autocratic rulers in the Gulf states, which are also America’s allies against Iran. Push democracy in Bahrain? Or choose to keep a US naval base there that keeps Iran in check and ensures that oil tankers can move about?
An immediate concern, too, is the US budget and an overextended military. Go all the way in Libya and topple Muammar Qaddafi? Or play merely a supportive role in the NATO military operation there, skirt Congress and the War Powers Resolution, and hope for a tightening against Qaddafi that eventually forces him out
The president acknowledged, “we cannot prevent every injustice perpetrated by a regime against its people” – and then warned of the costly Iraq example of imposing regime change.
Obama advanced the answer when he slapped sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad this week, and said today that Syria’s president can lead a democratic transition “or get out of the way.
It’s remarkable that a country such as the US was even in the position of having to remind the world that “we are the democracy backers, remember?” This speech may have served to do that, but that was the easy part. It did not come close to helping Americans or the Arab world grapple with the trade-offs between often-competing aims and very hard decisions on the road to an “Arab summer.”
That’s a discussion that the administration must have not only with itself and its partners around the world, but with Congress and the American people. Obama said candidly that there is no “straight line” to progress in the region. Merely warning generally about that, though, is not enough.