“The United States supports a set of universal rights. And these rights include free speech, the freedom of peaceful assembly, the freedom of religion, equality for men and women under the rule of law, and the right to choose your own leaders.” – President Barack Obama affirming what he intends the country to represent, in the Middle East, North Africa and elsewhere, during a policy speech at the US State Department, May 19, 2011.
Pay attention to that word “support.” It’s important.
With that line, President Obama declared how his administration is poised to react to the phenomenon of the clamoring hoards in the Middle East and North Africa who have taken to the streets of cities and villages, demanding respect for their individual and collective rights, in what he called a “season of hope,” but will forever be known as the Arab Spring.
“President Obama’s announced doctrine has been to support freedom and universal rights for all people throughout the region and focus on each crisis through individual lenses, rather than a universal approach calling for every dictator in the region to step down. ”
So the doctrine has its limits, based on what is politic and diplomatic. We may not call on the royal Saudi family to step down, outright, but we will “support” dissent. As the President said, “Our message is simple: If you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the full support of the United States.”
Support. There it is again. In fact, the president’s speech mentioned “support” no less than 15 times, in the context of helping those who are protesting for their rights and working toward democracy. Let’s take a look at some of them:
“Our support for these principles is not a secondary interest. Today I want to make it clear that it is a top priority that must be translated into concrete actions, and supported by all of the diplomatic, economic and strategic tools at our disposal.”
Then comes the list:
” First, it will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy.”
Here, he explains, he means places like Egypt and Tunisia where they have expressed a desire to adopt a free and open democracy, but they are just examples. Obama is implying that if any country’s citizens clamor for democracy, it will be supported;
“…the second way that we must support positive change in the region is through our efforts to advance economic development for nations that are transitioning to democracy…
“America’s support for democracy will therefore be based on ensuring financial stability, promoting reform, and integrating competitive markets with each other and the global economy.”
He acknowledges that deteriorating economic conditions have played a role in the global unrest as well. He calls on the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to come up with a plan to offer financial “support,” especially to Tunisia and Egypt. He also announced that the US will be forgiving “up to” $1 billion in debt owed by Egypt, and said that he wants to establish “Enterprise Funds,” that Congress will pay, to help entrepreneurs get businesses going in the fledgling democracies.
Obama’s “support,” then, is moral, verbal and financial. He vowed to “promote reform,” not democracy, as NBC’s Chuck Todd pointed out in a tweet, during the speech. It’s hope. It is not military, not a “War on Terror,” not the Bush Doctrine of making the Arab countries go democratic by causing upheaval either by direct invasion or in a very Cold War/CIA kind of way. If Bush was the stick, Obama’s the carrot; it’s butter – not guns.
Arab reaction to the president’s speech has been a shrug, probably because, despite the soaring rhetoric about supporting democracy and human rights in the world, he said something the region is tired of hearing. “Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. And we will stand against attempts to single it out for criticism in international forums.”
That was enough to prompt several tweets with a common sentiment, from @remroum’s “Obama always gives a nice speech to the US, then goes & kisses AIPAC’s ass,” to @ssserene’s, “Could you BE any more of an ASS-LICKER?? [caps on original].” Comments like those mean that the entirety of his promise of support and hope went out the window. They feel their cause is not supported, the future for the Palestinians, hopeless. It also means they ignored what the president said immediately after that.
“But precisely because of our friendship,” he said, referring to the ties between the US and Israel, “it’s important that we tell the truth: The status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace.”
That begs the question, if Palestinians start peaceful demonstrations, for “the legitimate aspirations of ordinary people,” and the Israelis react violently against them, will the US use stronger terms with our Israeli friends? My guess is, not for now, but I expect Netanyahu is going to have an earnest conversation at the White House, Friday, and that even Israel will not be off limits from the Obama Doctrine – after the 2012 election, of course.
- A ‘doctrine,’ I presume? – Analysts define Obama’s approach (politico.com)
- Obama Doctrine Like It Or Not (outsidethebeltway.com)
- Obama to lay out post-Arab Spring vision (politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com)
- Hope and Change Index: Obama to send Billions to Middle East (via Voting American) (wdednh.wordpress.com)