Be­yond the Rhetoric

Southasia - - Cover story -

Un­der pres­sure from key al­lies to act with more de­ter­mi­na­tion on a num­ber of ex­plo­sive is­sues in the Mid­dle East and North Africa and to fur­ther pep up his bid for the next pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, Pres­i­dent Obama de­liv­ered a key speech at the U.S. State Depart­ment on May 19. Ad­dress­ing the na­tions in tur­moil, he coaxed them to im­bibe democ­racy in re­turn for which the United States would re­ward them with gen­er­ous eco­nomic aid. Stat­ing that the fu­ture of the United States was bound to the re­gion in a num­ber of ways, Obama said he was fo­cused on “how we can re­spond in a way that ad­vances our val­ues and strength­ens our se­cu­rity.”

This was billed as an all-en­com­pass­ing pol­icy speech pro­vid­ing the U.S. Pres­i­dent the op­por­tu­nity to talk about free elec­tions as the sole de­ter­mi­nant of democ­racy and to note how pop­u­lar non-vi­o­lent strug­gles were serv­ing as the driv­ing agent to bring about change in the re­gion. While the pres­i­dent ex­pressed his con­cerns about the wors­en­ing re­pres­sion in many of the coun­tries like Syria and Libya, which are not ex­actly on the list of Amer­ica’s friends and al­lies, he failed to push for demo­cratic change in coun­tries like Bahrain, a U.S. ally. He called for greater free­dom for Bahrai­nis, but did not urge King Ha­mad to “lead that tran­si­tion or get out of the way” as he did with Syrian Pres­i­dent As­sad.

Obama’s claim that, in Iraq, “we see the prom­ise of a multi-eth­nic, multi-sec­tar­ian democ­racy” also seemed a lit­tle out of place in view of the on­go­ing sec­tar­i­an­ism and po­lit­i­cal re­pres­sion in the coun­try that is ruled by a U.S.-backed regime. Sim­i­larly, though Obama claimed that the United States “will not tol­er­ate ag­gres­sion across borders” the U.S. still con­tin­ues to be some­what se­lec­tive, given its on­go­ing sup­port for the Moroc­can oc­cu­pa­tion of West­ern Sa­hara and sup­port for Is­rael’s con­tin­ued oc­cu­pa­tion of the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries.

The good news was that Obama stressed that the Is­raeli oc­cu­pa­tion of Pales­tine should end and an in­de­pen­dent Pales­tinian state be es­tab­lished, with its bound­aries based on the in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized pre-June 1967 borders. Though this has been the in­ter­na­tional con­sen­sus for years, rightwing Repub­li­cans and other al­lies of Is­rael’s right­ist gov­ern­ment have at­tacked Obama for his po­si­tion. Per­haps this is why he did not call for a com­plete with­drawal of Is­raeli troops and set­tlers from oc­cu­pied Pales­tinian ter­ri­tory.

Be­yond all the rhetoric and his de­sire to grab the op­por­tu­nity and take ad­van­tage of the flux sit­u­a­tion in re­shap­ing the Mid­dle East and the Arab world, what the U.S. Pres­i­dent re­ally needs to prac­ti­cally demon­strate is a bal­anced pol­icy for the re­gion – a pol­icy that makes no dis­tinc­tions and treats all na­tions with the same re­spect and im­par­tial­ity.

Syed Jawaid Iqbal

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