US Sets Interests Aside to Support Arab Spring

A new approach to the Middle East and North Africa, announced by President Barack Obama on Thursday, aims to crumble existing notions of U.S. interest in the region, establishing a new policy to support sweeping revolutions in what has been dubbed the “Arab Spring.”

“The question before us is what roleAmerica will play as this story unfolds,” Obama said in a live videobroadcast from Washington, designed to broadcast during prime time in the Middle East and North Africa.

Obama announced a new policy where the United States will support rebels seeking to overthrow repressive regimes, and will offer an economic olive branch to help move them into a stable future—even if their interests do not specifically align with those of the United States.

For decades, U.S. policy in the region was more security oriented. Obama stated that while the United States will maintain this, “we must acknowledge that a strategy based solely upon the narrow pursuit of these interests will not fill an empty stomach or allow someone to speak their mind.”

In the new approach, the United States will support the revolutions sweeping through the Arab world, knowing, “Not every country will follow our particular form of representative democracy, and there will be times when our short-term interests don’t align perfectly with our long-term vision for the region,” Obama said.

Doing otherwise, according to Obama, “will only feed the suspicion that has festered for years that the United States pursues our interests at their expense. … A failure to change our approach threatens a deepening spiral of division between the United States and the Arab world.”

For the Arab world, the significance of this could run deep. “This is a big deviation in our policy,” said Max Abrahms, a postdoctoral fellow of the Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College, by phone.

Historically, opinion polls from countries in the Arab world have revealed views that depart wildly from U.S. interests—ranging from opinion on the use of violence against civilians, to Israel-Palestinian tensions.

Public opinion from the region sent a message to the United States, “If we empower the people, we would likely end up with leaders that support policies that are much more hostile than the status quo,” Abrahms said.

There was fear of elected leaders representing hostile policies and extremism. Hamas, for example, is the publicly elected party of Palestinians—and it has engaged in terrorist activities.

Thus, the United States has often supported leaders viewed as the best of the worst—individuals who may not stand for freedom or their people, but whose international policies were less extreme.

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