Beyond the Rhetoric
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