How Are The US And The World Adjusting To the Arab Spring?
The Arab Spring came as a surprise to the United States, and the entire world. With this surprise comes the necessity of adjusting American foreign policy. After all, after every major world event, the US does reassess its foreign policy. The Arab Spring is an event with an international significance that rivals the fall of the Soviet Union, or the 9/11 attacks, and as such cannot be taken lightly. How is the world responding to these events, and how has the US in particular reconfigured its foreign policy to respond to them?
The answers to those questions are very complex, and cannot yet be fully answered, but there are clear indicators of how the world will continue to respond. The US is taking a very cautious, and humble, tone. Here is an excerpt from President Obama's landmark speech on May 19:
It is not America that put people into the streets of Tunis and Cairo – it was the people themselves who launched these movements, and must determine their outcome. Not every country will follow our particular form of representative democracy, and there will be times when our short term interests do not align perfectly with our long term vision of the region. But we can – and will – speak out for a set of core principles – principles that have guided our response to the events over the past six months.
These words clearly show a president reluctant to get involved, and rather content with giving the protesters moral support. Most of the protesters do not want the world to get involved in what they see as their revolution. Obama has handled the crises well, giving moral support to the protesters when support is needed, and condemning state violence when it occurs. Most of the people of the Middle East could not ask for more.
Libya was a special case, but Obama's actions in Libya remained consistent with his strategy. Obama was effectively dragged into the NATO bombardment in Libya, and as soon as the world turned its back, he pulled out. Facing domestic pressure, this was quite understandable, and is consistent with Obama's policy towards the Arab Spring. One place where Obama was not consistent with his strategy was Bahrain. Obama refrained from criticizing Bahrain's government, and adopted a very hypocritical approach to the protests there. With a lack of international pressure, Bahrain was able to use brutal force against its own people to put down the revolution.
While the US adopts a cautious and humble approach, the rest of the world is split into two halves. The European Union, particularly France and Britain, enthusiastically embraced the Arab Spring, and quickly jumped into Libya. They seem itching to get into Syria, despite the opposition to an intervention from the Syrian people themselves. Why is this?
A kind explanation would be that the protesters are consistent with the values of those countries, and they want the people of the Middle East to have freedom. However, it seems that the stronger motive is that Britain and France want to gain a strong influence in the new nations once the revolutions succeed. Historically, Europe and the Middle East were very close trading partners, and influence in the region might bring about a resurgence of European power.
The other half of the world, led by Russia and China, is very reluctant to intervene, with Russia going as far as vetoing a UN resolution which would have condemned the violence in Syria. Russia and China have close relations with these governments, and they do not want to see them go. Therefore they have tried to keep them from falling. And as both countries wield vetoes in the UN Security Council, they can do a very good job of it.
Recently, however, China seems to be shifting from its previous stance. It recently recognized the Libyan rebels' legitimacy, and expressed interest in establishing ties with them. However, in other cases, such as Syria, China has not shifted from its stance, and remains against intervention.
While the world is split on how the Arab Spring should be dealt with, the US hovers in between. While many people at home are predisposed to criticize Obama's laid back policy, many of those in the Middle East praise it. It is said that when a president loses their majority control of congress, as Obama did in the 2010 elections, they turn increasingly towards foreign policy, because that is where they are still free to act. Obama is no exception, and his focus, until the debt crisis, was largely on foreign affairs.
How Obama deals with the Middle East during these upheavals is crucial for his career, and might be the deciding factor in the 2012 elections. As the economy and the Afghanistan War remain unresolved, the attention will turn towards Obama's foreign policy. And if Obama has dealt with the Middle East in a prudent manner, then it will be a huge +1 in the eyes of the American people.