For part 1 of the topic click here
"There must be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity. Yes, there will be perils that accompany this moment of promise. But after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be." -President Barack Obama, May 19, 2011
Creating a base for the Con position is exacerbated by the abundance of political campaign rhetoric which is filling the journals, commentary and Internet sources. The evidence will show there has been a decided shift in U.S. policy since the election of President Obama beginning with the "A New Beginning" speech delivered in Cairo, Egypt in June of 2009. (src: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_New_Beginning) The general reaction to the speech was favorable and some favorable changes in the policies of Middle Eastern groups may have occurred as a result of the perception that U.S. policy was moving in a acceptable direction. Understanding this shift and its impact is vital to both sides of the debate.
Framing the ConOverall, it appears the direction announced by Obama in 2009 was favorable in fostering an attitude of sound policy but attitudes do not translate to national security. Many Middle Eastern leaders are not impressed by words. Actions have much more meaning. Over the next several years, the Obama administration withdrew troops from Iraq and begun the same process in Afghanistan. But, the explosion of the so-called Arab Spring movement in North Africa and several countries of the Middle East has challenged current policy positions.
Despite the volatile situation and the many, many criticisms levied against the U.S., mainly from partisan or politically motivated sources, the Con needs to demonstrate that current U.S. foreign policy is not harming U.S. national security. As the U.S. draws down its military operations in the region, the need to support those operations obviously diminishes. Nevertheless, in my opinion, there are two key areas of vital interest: the most important is the oil and the second is the region's strategic importance to commerce. Keeping goods and military resources flowing, for example, through the Suez canal is very important to the world's economic and defense security overall, not just for oil.
Pro will need to clearly show how current U.S. policies harm these interests and Con is wise to question, how does regime change in a nation like Syria or Libya harm the most important U.S. interests. I think if Con presses Pro on this question, many Pro cases will reveal their lack of foundation. Of course that is not to say Pro does not have legitimate grounds for their cases. I think a fair number of them will depend on the superficial opinions of pundits which will fold under scrutiny.
The current volatility is key to a valid Con position. The current U.S. policy is not some chiseled megalith which is expected to stand unaltered like the pyramids of Egypt. It is a dynamic, ever-evolving approach to protecting the interests of the U.S. So while the particulars of the policy, especially with respect to individual nations or groups may change to meet the current situation, the overall policy is framed in broad statements which remain fairly immutable, for example, our commitment to the protection and security of Israel, our commitment to the security of Saudi Arabia, and our commitment to prevent anyone from blockading or interfering with the flow of commodities through vital ports, roads or passes in the region.
The recent tragic death of Ambassador Stevens in Libya is used to criticize the current policy as inadequate to protect citizens and national interests in the region. Con can view that tragedy as an example of the strength of U.S. policy since the oil still flows with minimal economic impact and policy adjustments are already being proposed as a consequence of the embassy attacks.
Bottom line for Con: Given the flux and volatility of the region, is U.S. policy really hurting national security? At present it may be too early to tell. But, Con, ask yourself this question about the Pro side...what is their alternative and how do they know it is not even more dangerous to U.S. security?
The EvidenceHere is some evidence to get you started. One of the keys to the evidence I present is the idea that U.S.policy is responsive and adapting to the current situation and not rigidly holding to old alliances. The argument can be made, this feature of U.S. policy protects national security.
Members of Congress and Administration officials are now considering these issues as they debate U.S. policy options regarding the Syrian crisis. At the strategic level, the United States has faced the choice of seeking an immediate end to violence to protect civilians or embracing the opposition’s calls for regime change in Syria as a guarantee of longer-term stability. The prospect of weakening Iran’s regional influence also makes regime change attractive to some policy makers. The Obama Administration and some in Congress have already made the strategic choice to call for Asad’s resignation and a political transition in Syria. While regime change in Syria may benefit the United States and its allies by weakening Iran, seeking it also may complicate efforts to achieve an immediate ceasefire and protect Syrian civilians, because it could encourage Syrian authorities and their allies to take a zero-sum approach to the crisis. However, the Asad government’s rule in Syria has long been based on the actual or implied use of violence to suppress political opposition. As such, seeking an immediate end to the conflict may not defuse the domestic political crisis or end the threat of violence against Syrian civilians. Key policy questions at present concern how best to minimize threats to Syrian civilians while achieving political change conducive to stability in Syria and security in the region.
Officials may view the Syria conflict as more of a humanitarian problem than as a direct threat to U.S. security as long as fighting in Syria remains somewhat contained...
Now, as the world changes in the Middle East, the United States, at least, seems quite ready to adapt to change and even welcome it. The Obama administration's foreign policy in the region is based on two fundamental assessments:
• the region is important, but few developments in it are potential threats to American vital interests;
• multilateral responses to middle-range problems, even if imperfect, are much preferred over the direct and public commitment of U.S. military resources.
The Obama administration displayed agility in its calibrated response to Libya and its differentiated responses to unrest in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria. This stands in sharp and, historically speaking, ironic contrast with the responses of key regimes in the region faced with upheavals and transformations that render old policies and stances irrelevant and even dangerous.
In a broader context, the Iran case signifies that the United States is finding it easier to adapt to the disappearance of the old order in the Middle East than are local allies whose fundamental political logics are contradicted by twenty-first-century winds of change. Under this president, the United States is neither paralyzed against action out of fear of error, nor misled into a simplistic and dangerously uniform "doctrine." For evidence of the agility of American policy in the Middle East under the Obama administration, consider the degree to which policies in Iraq, Libya, Egypt and Syria have been specifically tailored to the challenges, opportunities and constraints those very different settings present, much as the administration's approach to the Iranian nuclear issue has been.
• In Iraq, the Obama administration skillfully implemented the Bush administration's agreement with Baghdad on the withdrawal of American forces. In the face of calls from discredited Iraq War hawks in Washington to set the agreement aside, the administration appropriately let the Iraqi political process, as messy as it is, work the issue out itself. Trying to impose a continued American military presence on a reluctant, democratically elected Iraqi government would have been the height of folly in the new Middle East of the Arab Spring.
• In Egypt, a truly revolutionary but still uncertain political transformation required simultaneously delicate processes: disengaging from our longstanding but increasingly counterproductive relationship with the Mubarak regime; standing in support of reformist change by the secular-liberal minority in Egypt that Americans naturally identify with; constraining the instincts of Egyptian generals reluctant to cede their economic and political dominance; and breaking new political and diplomatic ground by establishing working relationships with the Muslim Brothers, who will shape the long-term meaning of Egyptian democracy.
• In Libya, the administration successfully trod a narrow path between a too-forward, overly American, effort to take charge of events and a mushy multilateralism. It would not have worked had it not been for the kind of behind-the-scenes leadership that Washington alone could exercise.
• In Syria and in the United Nations Security Council, the administration faces the kind of blockage of international action in protection of outrageous policies by Russia and China that the world is accustomed to experiencing at the hands of American vetoes regarding Israeli actions. Be that as it may, forceful and multilateral diplomacy by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is showing some on-the-ground results and is sending appropriate signals to the world, to the Syrian opposition and to the Asad regime. The message is this: the regime cannot rely on Russian and Chinese vetoes to protect it forever; the civilized world will find ways to empower the Syrian opposition; but only a united opposition in Syria, capable of offering assurances to regime supporters, will be capable of achieving its goals.
...the fact remains that in the space of two and a half years, between the president’s Cairo speech and the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces in Iraq, the administration completed a major policy pivot. This shift enabled the United States and the Arab world to engage as the Arab Spring unfolded in ways that would likely have been impossible had the uprisings occurred while the United States was still surging in Iraq. While counterfactuals are impossible to evaluate, were it not for the Obama administration’s determined and disciplined approach to reorienting U.S. policy in the Middle East from 2009 to 2011, there would be little room today for a positive American role in Arab democratic transitions.
For random evidence, click here.
For more on Public Forum topics, click here.
Pundits Whiff on the Middle East
September 18, 2012
The Washington Institue for Near East Policy
How the United States Benefits from Its Alliance with Israel
7 SEPTEMBER 2012
The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Obama’s National Security Vision
Confronting Transnational Threats with Global Cooperation
Matthew Levitt, Editor
Policy Focus #107
America and the Regional Powers in a Transforming Middle East
Middle East Policy Council
F. Gregory Gause, III, and Ian S. Lustick
Three Key Challenges in Confronting the Arab Awakening
September 25, 2012
Tamara Cofman Wittes
Congressional Research Service
Armed Conflict in Syria: U.S. and International Response
Jeremy M. Sharp, Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs
Christopher M. Blanchard, Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs
July 12, 2012