Josh Rogin reports on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent speech on the Arab Spring. It is being billed by State Department officials as one that “takes on the hard questions that people in the region — and people back here — have been asking about the U.S. government’s policy response to the Arab Spring.” She posed questions for herself, and then answered them. I’m skeptical it will be as remarkable and straightforward as the State Department promises, but I’m in a generous mood. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt…
Here’s one of the questions she posed for herself, along with her answer:
Why does the United States seem to promote democracy in some Arab countries — such as Egypt, Libya, Syria — but not in others, like Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen?
“Situations vary dramatically from country to country. It would be foolish to take a one-size-fits-all approach and barrel forward regardless of circumstances on the ground,” Clinton said. “Our choices also reflect other interests in the region with a real impact on Americans’ lives — including our fight against al Qaeda; defense of our allies; and a secure supply of energy… Fundamentally, there is a right side of history. We want to be on it.”
I spoke too soon; that generous mood has dissolved rather quickly. First of all, the U.S. is not promoting democracy in Egypt, Libya, and Syria. In Egypt, they supported a brutal dictator for decades and continued that support even throughout the Arab Spring, as Hosni Mubarak had his security forces (trained and equipped by the United States) murder over 900 protesters (a crime for which he is now on trial). Once he was ousted, the U.S. tried to have his deputy torturer in chief, Omar Suleiman, take his place. When that failed, the U.S. simply continued to support Egypt’s ruling military council who has at almost every turn continued Mubarak’s suppression of democracy.
In Libya, the U.S. dropped its well-established support for the dictator Muammar Gadhafi in support of fractious rebel militias, at least some of whom had ties to al Qaeda. The war was fought in violation of U.S. law. The U.S. and NATO dropped tens of thousands of bombs on the country (I love the smell of democracy in the morning), undoubtedly killing many civilians (the International Criminal Court is apparently conducting a probe into NATO war crimes). The rebels have engaged in mass detentions of black immigrants, serially committing extra-judicial executions of Gadhafi supporters, among various other crimes. The prospects for democracy, thanks to the U.S. supported coup, are by no means encouraging.
In Syria, I’m not aware of any democracy promotion by the U.S. Are you?
While the answer seems like a dodge (and is), it actually is indicative of U.S. foreign policy. She admits that at least it “seems” like the U.S. doesn’t promote democracy in certain cases, like Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. The Obama administration welcomes democracy, the rule of law, and open markets in those circumstances where it doesn’t conflict with the interests of the political and corporatist elites. If, on the other hand, it gets in the way of our oil supply or what Israel wants, support for tyranny is the obvious necessity.
The speech consists mostly of this kind of talk. Read more here. I’ll leave you with this little ingenious non-answer:
What about the rights and aspirations of the Palestinians?
“Of course, we understand that Israel faces risks in a changing region — just as it did before the Arab Spring began. It will remain an American priority to ensure that all parties honor the peace treaties they have signed and commitments they have made. We will help Israel defend itself. And we will address threats to regional peace whether they come from dictatorships or democracies,” Clinton said. “But it would shortsighted to think either side can simply put peacemaking on hold until the current upheaval is done. The truth is, the stalemate in the Arab-Israeli conflict is one more status quo in the Middle East that cannot be sustained.”