A Foreign Policy Of _____?: US Response to the Arab Spring

by andrewcagle

“The United States is outraged that this council has utterly failed to address an urgent moral challenge and a growing threat to regional peace and security,” said US ambassador Susan Rice, condemning countries who she said “would rather sell arms to the Syrian regime.” – “China and Russia to Veto UN resolution on Syria” from Al-Jazeera English

On Tuesday, United States’ ambassador to the United Nations walked out of the council chamber in protest over the veto of a resolution that would condemn the violent actions of the Syrian government in response to anti-regime protests that have rocked the country. According to an al-Jazeera article, “The resolution sought to impose “targeted measures” against the government of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad for a crackdown that has killed 2,700 people, according to UN estimates.”

Tuesday’s events at the United Nations meeting in New York, will not, but should be recognized as an indicator that something is seriously wrong with American foreign policy. The previous statement by ambassador Rice is the reaction many would hope and expect to hear from the representative of a nation that prides itself as a champion of democracy. In fact, it would be the correct moral response to injustice and oppression. The actions of President Assad and his Baathist regime is horrific and become more difficult to watch ever day. Syrians have been peacefully demanding freedom, civil rights, and democracy for the past six months. Every day they continue fighting bravely as they face the reality of death, torture, and imprisonment.

Moving to the Arab gulf states, an area of the region touched less severely by the Arab Spring protests, with the exception of the small island nation of Bahrain. Bahrain moved back into the headlines last week, as the government sentenced a group of 20 medics to 15 years in prison for treating activists injured in anti-government protests this past Spring. Additionally, 400 Bahraini citizens were arrested for peaceful protests in the capital of Manama. Bahrain is a constitutional monarchy ruled by Sunni Muslims. The majority of the population in Bahrain are Shia. In February and March, Bahraini security forces responded to democratic protests with draconian measures. Since the beginning of unrest in the country, 541 citizens have been hospitalized and countless citizens arrested and tortured. In March, Bahraini and hired Saudi military forces responded to protests held in Manama’s iconic Pearl Roundabout by opening fire on unarmed civilians, leaving 36 Bahrainis dead.

The fight for freedom and democracy in Bahrain has simmered down since March, but is still very much alive. The response from the US has been minimal and relatively quiet in regards to the uprisings in Bahrain. However, last month the US government made plans for arms sales to the Bahraini military. According to a Washington Post article, “…the Pentagon notified Congress of a plan to sell Bahrain armored Humvees and anti-tank missiles worth $53 million.” This is the same government that openly used deadly force against it’s own citizens during peaceful protests. Another reason the US government may be remaining relatively quiet and inactive, in response to the regime’s sickening actions, could have something to do with a military contract between the governments of the US and Bahrain. The gulf kingdom is home to a naval base that harbors the US Navy’s 5th fleet. Bahrain is a strategic location for the US military. It allows for quick deployment to Iraq, a military deterrence tool against Iran, and monitoring of the Straits of Hormuz. This all ensures stability for oil prices and protection of US security interests in the region. While ambassador Rice is outraged that some nations would rather sell arms to a violent and anti-democratic regime, it seems one of those nations happens to be the one she represents.

The contrast between the various American responses to pro-democracy movements in the Middle East may seem shockingly hypocritical. That’s because it is, in fact, filled with hypocrisy. The words and actions of the US government may leave questions burning in people’s minds about what our nation’s government ultimately cares about. They should have these questions. The apparent disconnect between the values we hold dear and our actions to support those values are very real, and the global community is noticing. In particular, the Arab world is noticing. This is nothing new for the people of the Middle East, but has been brought into greater light in recent months. The US is coming close to losing any attention or respect it currently holds with citizens in the Arab world. Even further, the European community is increasingly taking up this opinion as well. The fact that decisions in US foreign policy are based on strategic self-interest and not the ultimate well being of the other nations involved is nothing new. If things do not change soon, this manner of interaction globally will have drastic diplomatic consequences and bring about the isolation of American politics. Furthermore, this practice of saying one thing and doing another creates challenges beyond the political realm, and can have negative social and economic implications as well.

In following posts I will address the changing nature of the US government’s role in Middle East politics.

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