After Hosni Mubarak resigned after thirty years of American supported dictatorial rule, US President Obama made a speech glorifying democracy and freedom. Unfortunately for Obama and the American dominated power system in the region, the hypocrisy of supporting the Egyptian people after snubbing their rights for thirty years is only highlighting the sustainability of America’s seemingly poorly thought-out regional strategy. With dictators still standing in many of the Middle Eastern countries allied with the United States, Obama and the American government is largely incapable of abandoning its sinking ship in the Middle East.
Despite his speech concerning the Egyptian revolution, in which he tried to resurrect the American ideals of freedom and democracy that have long been buried under years of suppression and oppression by friends of the United States like Mubarak, Saleh, Abdullah, the on-going fundamental changes that are occurring across the region are demonstrating how empty Obama’s words truly were.
One of the most headline-grabbing examples is the deteriorating situation in Bahrain where the American-backed Al-Khalifa family has governed the Shi’a dominated island nation for 200 years. Bahrain receives military aid from the United States every year, provided logistical support for the American-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and is home to the important fifth fleet, which is considered to be a helpful regional counter-balance to Iran. Yet, the Al-Khalifa family is a Sunni dynasty that has ruled over a Shi’a majority; around 70% of the population in Bahrain are Shi’ites.
Over the last two days, over 10,000 protesters have taken to the streets in Egyptian and Tunisian fashion, demanding a more democratic system of governance and the restoration of rights denied by the state. The police response by authorities has been to open fire on the protesters, leaving several dead and hundreds injured. With neighboring Saudi Arabia – another undemocratic and important regional ally of the US – deeply concerned about a Shi’a-led Bahrain allying with Iran, the United States will once more be forced to choose between their national ideals and the continuation of the current policy.
In Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh has been in power longer than Egypt’s Mubarak, largely thanks to support (particularly in the last decade) from the United States. Protests in the country have produced little (aside from Saleh’s promise not to run for another election) besides casualties and injuries. While the Yemeni security forces have not turned on the protesters as Bahrain’s have, there have been rumors that Saleh paid individuals to stage counter-protests and attack the largely peaceful demonstrations – a tactic employed by Mubarak before leaving for Saudi Arabia. The same type of clashes broke out in Jordan as well where protesters have been gathering for weeks to stand against policies that have created a vast schism between the rich and poor. Similarly, in Libya – admittedly not closely allied to the United States – 84 peaceful protesters against the regime of Muammar Gaddafi have been killed by state security officials in an attempt to put down the social unrest.
In response to the violence in Bahrain and Libya, the United Kingdom halted the export of arms to the two countries; the United States simply offered another stale statement of concern. American aid ($20.8 million in military aid and over $1 million in counter-terrorism funding) to Bahrain is scheduled to continue. Meanwhile, the President Obama made calls to both King Abdullah of Jordan and President Saleh of Yemen to offer American support, despite the ongoing protests pushing for democratic reform.
Yet favoring oppressive dictators over the people isn’t even the most overt failure of the American Middle East policy. Despite significant testimonies supporting the link between unquestioned American support for the Israeli occupation and anti-Americanism, the Obama Administration has done little to push for real change in Palestine while concurrently enabling the growing extremism in Israel. This week the American Consulate in Jerusalem delayed the granting of a visa for prominent Palestinian activist and BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) supporter Omar Barghouti, effectively cancelling his scheduled speaking tour across the country.
Of course, the cancellation of the speaking tour of a Palestinian activist represents a significant victory for those who support the Israeli occupation, but it is, unfortunately, minuscule when juxtaposed to the American role in the United Nations Security Council where the US recently vetoed a resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction on Palestinian land – settlements that are against international law as well as long-standing American policy. Indeed, the resolution was drafted specifically to match the language employed by the United States in the past. US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice was the only representative to vote against the resolution, giving, however, a speech explaining the veto and chastising the Israeli policy.
The inept handling of the UN resolution was enough for Elliot Abrams to come out against the administration for its bumbling diplomatic efforts and Jeff Blankfort called the veto one of America’s ‘great self-inflicted wounds.’ The AP noted:
The U.S. veto was strongly opposed by Arab nations and much of the rest of the world, especially at a time of growing street protests in the Mideast, fueled by hopes for democracy. An abstention would have angered the Israelis, the closest U.S. ally in the region, as well as Democratic and Republican supporters of Israel in the U.S. Congress.
It is unsurprising that the United States used its veto on the resolution, yet the timing could not be worse for the US and the Obama Administration. Considering the protest movement that is sweeping the region and the American support many of the disposed (or soon to be) leaders have, the convoluted handling of the UN resolution is magnified. Indeed, from Bahrain to Yemen to Palestine, the United States has shown itself to be completely out of touch with the reality of the Middle East. It should be shocking that the American policy seems based solely on rejecting the will of the people of the region, but it is a policy (in the loosest of definitions) that the United States has followed for decades. The growing power of the democratic protests and the rise of the resistance axis is proving that the American practice of actively opposing its own basic rhetoric is unsustainable.
The United States needs a competent policy for the Middle East, not one that is convoluted and damaging to American interests. The American response to the democratic wave sweeping the region and its illogical support of the Israeli occupation is disappointing and proves that there is no consistent foundation for American policy. The lack of a consistent and coherent policy (bad consistency is better than bad inconsistency) is damaging the standing of the United States in the region and the world, leaving America grasping at the leadership role it once held thanks to policies based on a combination of national interest and moral authority.
For years, the United States has abandoned both of these pillars, making decisions and taking actions that both damage American interests and undermine American national morals. Unfortunately, this defunct and illogical practice of fuddled diplomacy has been consistently apparent over the last month.
Photo from A Critical Observer