Send a Tweet
Most Popular Choices
Share on Facebook 6 Share on Twitter Printer Friendly Page More Sharing
Exclusive to OpEd News:
OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 3/6/11

Obama and the Middle East Protests

By       (Page 1 of 1 pages)   No comments

Scarcely a day goes by without reports of another Arab country in open rebellion against its leaders. A narrative has emerged which says that Obama has been entirely too passive in the face of this momentous opportunity to encourage democracy in the Middle East. Other commentators have accused Obama as being typically weak-kneed. However, this criticism is unfair, at least to a large extent.

Most outside observers wish to see these countries develop into democracies. Yet, America becoming visibly associated with Democratic protest movements in the Middle East at a time when America is unpopular in that region is not the best policy. Indeed, America is not much more popular there than it was during the Bush administration. A majority of Arabs are discouraged about American policy in the region, and a majority thinks a nuclear Iran would be a good thing.

President Obama had a few options here, all of which had their own shortcomings. First, he could have spoken out strongly in favor of protests at the outset. But as I already demonstrated, he would have conflated democratic protesters with an unpopular American government in the region and very likely hurt the protesters in the eyes of Arabs sitting on the fence.

More importantly, speaking out strongly and demanding that leaders step down without concrete actions would arguably have made the US look weak. Many observers would then say that when the US says a leader should step down, it will not back up its demands . As it happens, Obama has taken concrete measures. He has imposed sanctions on Gadhafi. 

Second, Obama could have sent in American troops to topple regimes to insure a democratic transition. But it would not be enough simply to deploy soldiers to dislodge the dictators. The US would need a plan for the aftermath. Occupations, unless they are exceptionally short, are never simple. The US would need a plan to build up basic infrastructure and institutions and fight terrorists so a new government can inherit a reasonably stable situation. That could well take years and a substantial investment of money and resources. Do fiscal conservatives really want to spend money on overseas adventures? Would it be prudent when the US is already fighting in Afghanistan?

This all ignores the most important question of all: is a democracy in the Middle East in our interests? Interestingly, several conservative critics of the administration have concluded that it is not, at least not at present. Dick Cheney for example believes that the US should have stood by Hosni Mubarek in Egypt. Thomas Sowell is also skeptical of democracy in the Middle East, writing:

The fact that Egyptians or others in the Middle East and elsewhere want freedom does not mean that they are ready for freedom. Everyone wants freedom for himself. Even the Nazis wanted to be free to be Nazis. They just didn't want anybody else to be free.
There is very little sign of tolerance in the Middle East, even among fellow Muslims with different political or religious views, and all too many signs of gross intolerance toward people who are not Muslims.

Freedom and democracy cannot be simply conferred on anyone. Both have preconditions, and even nations that are free and democratic today took centuries to get there.

It is possible to see how democracies in these countries could be hostile to US interests. Since so many Arabs have negative views of the US, any elected leadership would have to echo these sentiments, at least to some extent. This could mean fewer basing rights in Arab countries for US soldiers or less help fighting terrorist groups like Al Qaeda. It could also mean that regimes that tacitly tolerated Israel will have to become virulently anti-Israel in their policies to satisfy a public that disdains Israel and Jews in general all too often.

Perhaps the US would benefit from being seen to support a move to democracy. Arabs might feel as if the US is working to protect their human rights and dignity and as a result form governments friendly to American interests. However that is not at all clear. The right course of action now is hard to discern amid so many options and possibilities. If President Obama has vacillated during the uprisings, it is because there was so much to consider.

Rate It | View Ratings

Marcus Gadson Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Marcus Alexander Gadson is a freelance journalist and commentator. He has written articles on various issues including foreign policy, race, economics, and politics for publications including the Huffington Post, the Daily Voice, and the (more...)

Go To Commenting
The views expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.
Writers Guidelines

Contact AuthorContact Author Contact EditorContact Editor Author PageView Authors' Articles
Support OpEdNews

OpEdNews depends upon can't survive without your help.

If you value this article and the work of OpEdNews, please either Donate or Purchase a premium membership.

If you've enjoyed this, sign up for our daily or weekly newsletter to get lots of great progressive content.
Daily Weekly     OpEd News Newsletter
   (Opens new browser window)

Most Popular Articles by this Author:     (View All Most Popular Articles by this Author)

Ronald Reagan vs. Abraham Lincoln

Repealing the 17th Amendment is a Bad Idea

Why Barack Obama is ready for the Presidency

Handicapping the Republican Primary Field

Racial Profiling is a Bad Idea

Sarah Palin Has a Tough Road to the Presidency

To View Comments or Join the Conversation:

Tell A Friend