Debate Club

Obama's Approach to the Arab Spring Protects U.S. Interests

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President Barack Obama did not properly handle the situation in the Middle East. American policy could have determined the outcome of the Arab Spring. Had the United States continued to express strong support for Mubarak, the Egyptian president would not have been able to stay in power after losing domestic acceptance and most importantly, the support of his own military. No amount of U.S. assistance for or covert financing of liberal parties in Tunisia and Egypt would have altered the outcome of elections, given the state of disorganization and the internecine squabbling in the secular camp. A more decisive military intervention in Libya would probably have accelerated the fall of Muammar Qadhafi, but also turned the United States into an occupying power deeply embroiled in nation-building—not a happy thought in the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan. Ditto for an intervention in Syria, with the difference that war in Syria would not be casualty-free.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Syria.]

The real question thus is whether Obama's actions are safeguarding U.S. interests in the Middle East post-uprisings. The answer is by and large yes. He was right to accept the results of elections in Tunisia and Egypt even if they brought to power Islamist parties. The rise of Islamists is a fact on the ground the United States cannot change, and it is important to keep channels of communications to those governments open, particularly because the ruling Ennahda party in Tunisia and the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party in Egypt appear to be learning quickly that governing requires pragmatism, not ideology. Obama's pressure on Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi after the attack on the embassy had a sobering effect on Egypt, which is now accepting its responsibility to protect diplomatic missions. And the Libyan government has been extremely cooperative since the killing of Ambassador Christopher Stevens—the problem there is not ill will but lack of control over the country.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the turmoil in the Middle East.]

The real question concerns the use of force, most notably with Syria and Iran. The lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan are sobering. Iraq is free of Saddam Hussein, but closer to Iran then to the United States. The Taliban operates freely in Afghanistan, including among troops the United States is training. Intervention in Iran may eventually be needed to keep it from becoming a nuclear power. Obama is right not to use it in Syria to determine a political outcome.

Marina Ottaway

About Marina Ottaway Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Tags
Obama, Barack
foreign policy
Middle East
Egypt
Libya
Iraq

Other Arguments

#1
63 Pts
U.S. Faces Challenges in Arab World, but Obama Is on Right Track

Yes – U.S. Faces Challenges in Arab World, but Obama Is on Right Track

Brian Katulis Senior Fellow at Center for American Progress

#2
39 Pts
Obama Speaks Often But Does Little on Mideast Foreign Policy

No – Obama Speaks Often But Does Little on Mideast Foreign Policy

Michael Rubin Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute

#3
-2 Pts
Barack Obama Sends Mixed Messages With Middle East Policy

No – Barack Obama Sends Mixed Messages With Middle East Policy

Charles Dunne Scholar at the Middle East Institute

#5
-12 Pts
Obama Is Unwilling to Lead the U.S. Response to the Arab Spring

No – Obama Is Unwilling to Lead the U.S. Response to the Arab Spring

Jamie M. Fly Executive Director of the Foreign Policy Initiative

#7
-33 Pts
Obama Recognizes Need to Embrace Democratic Change in Arab World

Yes – Obama Recognizes Need to Embrace Democratic Change in Arab World

Marc Lynch Director of the Institute for Middle East Studies at the George Washington University

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