Just like any other country, the United States and its’ leaders are driven primarily by national interest – in effect, selfishness – putting their own needs and wants above those of others. To do otherwise would not only be illogical but would undermine the very essence of international politics and foreign policy formation. Leading on from this, it is plainly obvious that stability in the Middle East would be of great benefit to America. This is exemplified by the multiple wars in this region led by America in pursuit of a stable, harmonious and submissive Middle East. America’s interests extend far and wide across what is regarded as the least stable and most influential region of the world. From economics to politics, security to human rights, the Middle East is a constantly evolving, generally unstable, yet deeply influential part of the world which the US has been, in many ways, unable to dominate. Thus it would be naive to the point of ignorance for anyone to resolutely state that America upheld its’ democratic values during the Arab Spring. Instead the US presented a two-faced policy with regard to the developments in the Arab world – rallying for democracy in the public eye yet remaining mostly quiet in the real world.
Washington’s options in relation to their policy towards the Arab Spring can, in essence, be simplified to stability vs. democracy. The Obama administration astutely inferred that backing either one horse or the other would create for itself problems, uproar and unpopularity, particularly in the Middle East – a region not renowned for its love of America. Instead Washington slyly portrayed itself as pro-democracy through many words, the culmination of which came in President Obama’s May 19th speech. In reality however, words were all they were; Washington’s actual position on the political situation in the Middle East remained unchanged as it had been for the past half century and could we really blame them? From a political standpoint Washington’s deep, ‘unshakeable’ commitment to Israel meant the formation of good relations with Egypt’s (now deposed) dictator Hosni Mubarak in order to secure peace for the Jewish state. This relationship was literally bought by the American’s through the $1.5 billion in annual aid, most of which was spent on security forces, the very same forces which attempted to crush the January 25th uprising across the country. Clearly, American support for the previous Egyptian regime is undeniable, many would classify the US as an accomplice to the thirty year despotism and ensuing crackdown, they traded support of a dictator in return for stability – stability vs. democracy, and it’s pretty clear which triumphed.
It could be pointed out that, although the US failed in upholding its intrinsic values in Egypt (and many other states) the backing of the UN Security Council’s no-fly zone over Libya and resultant aerial engagement of Muammar Gaddafi’s loyalist forces demonstrated Washington’s support for democracy. In reality this is a flawed argument, not only did America, the world’s only superpower, fail to lead this intervention, but they only joined in with the intention of saving the world from a brutal bloodbath – a humanitarian intervention, not a stand for its’ political values. Instead, it could be said that Washington’s backing of the no-fly zone was to establish a sense of stability, for had the international community not intervened, chaos and anarchy would surely have ensued. Furthermore, Washington’s ‘good deed’ in Libya was offset by their blunt refusal to intervene in Bahrain – a crucial ally and home of the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet. This yet again demonstrates Washington’s two-faced approach to the Arab Spring, prioritising stability over democracy, national interest over intrinsic values. The Bahraini situation not only gave rise to Washington’s failure to protect the rights of the thousands of democratic protestors, but also demonstrated US complicity in the brutal foreign-led crackdown carried out by the ‘Peninsula Shield’. This intervening force was comprised mostly of Saudi security forces, forces who receive military equipment and training from the USA. In possibly the most outrageous contradiction, President Obama himself said: ‘we will support open access to the Internet, and the right of journalists to be heard – whether it’s a big news organization or a blogger’ . When it came to action however, Washington fell dismally short, standing idly by as Bahraini blogger Zainab Al-Khawaja was ‘brutally arrested’ , not to mention the shameless internet censorship conducted by many of its Gulf allies. Throughout the Arab Spring a recurring theme began to evolve – elaborate, promising rhetoric by Washington yet very little, if any, action. This phenomenon was no accident, instead it was the subtle (or not so subtle in the case of Bahrain) evidence that the US prized stability and influence over democracy in the Middle East.
Perhaps the most blatant evidence of the United States’ real intentions lie in the current massacre taking place in Syria. For better or for worse the US has refused to intervene in this situation, possibly fearing reprisal attacks from Syria’s staunch ally Iran through it’s proxies in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip on Israel or even America itself. The morality and ethical values displayed by Washington with regard to its failure to act on Syria are complicated, it is not a clear cut situation, there is no clear path to peace, yet despite this clouded sense of right and wrong one thing is clear – Washington has once again deliberately chosen to preserve stability outside of Syria at the cost of the many thousands of Syrian democratic protestors. The actual Syrian situation and possible intervention may be complicated but this fact is as clear cut as ever.
The Middle East was, is and will continue to be a complicated, intertwined and unstable place and the USA will continue to be a world superpower, at least for the foreseeable future. This being said Washington’s foreign policy choices throughout 2011 and continuing to this day are blatant and obvious to even the simplest minds. The stark reality is that, despite the fluffy sunshine rhetoric exhibited by the Obama administration with regard to their determination to uphold democracy throughout the Middle East, they have knowingly and deliberately chosen to abide by a realist, national interest-driven foreign policy. Is this so shameful?Follow @SimonPapaG