In one of the most comprehensive speeches yet by the Obama administration on the recent uprisings across the Middle East, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday, speaking at the U.S.-Islamic World Forum, praised Arab youth for rising up against their leaders and tried to clarify the Obama administration’s policy plan in the region, noting that it will not adopt a “one-size fits all” approach.
In her speech, Clinton underscored the administration’s effort to strike a balance between supporting the desires of the Middle East activists and promoting U.S. national security interests. But the policies the White House has adopted over the last few months simply don’t add up.
The uprising in Syria has thus far resulted in 200 deaths.
In Libya, a country that ended its support for terrorism and assisted the U.S. after 9/11, the Obama administration responded to Muammar Qaddafi’s crack-down on its people by calling for the leader to step down relatively early on. Likewise, in Egypt, where former President Hosni Mubarak was an ally of the United States, President Obama did the same even though Cairo, by and large, did not respond to its protesters with brutality.
Meanwhile, in Syria, where the regime is classified as a state sponsor of terror and security forces have killed an estimated 200 citizens since March 18, the president has made no such demand. In her remarks Tuesday, Clinton tread lightly, stating that the Syrian government “must respect the universal rights of the Syrian people, who are rightly demanding the basic freedoms that they have been denied.” She said nothing of Syrian President Bashar al-Asad losing his legitimacy to rule, or that the U.S. wants him to go.
To clarify, this is not to say that President Obama should demand that Asad step down or carry out an operation in Syria like the one currently underway against Qaddafi. However, perhaps before calling for leaders to leave their posts, the White House should consider larger regional events and whether or not its words will constrain U.S. actions in favor of national security interests in the future. After all, two years after the White House’s engagement strategy has failed in the Middle East, Team Obama would do well to create an overall framework that forms a cohesive Middle East policy rather than strategies patched loosely together, void of a long-term vision.