The Cable

Clinton confronts the paradox of America’s role in the Arab Spring

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a speech on Monday night that her aides are billing as a major address regarding the challenge facing U.S. foreign policy toward the Arab Spring, and how the United States balances its security interests with its support for expanding democratic rights in the region. "For the Middle East, this ...

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a speech on Monday night that her aides are billing as a major address regarding the challenge facing U.S. foreign policy toward the Arab Spring, and how the United States balances its security interests with its support for expanding democratic rights in the region.

"For the Middle East, this has been a year like no other. In Tunis, Cairo and a newly free Tripoli, I have met people lifted by a sense that their futures actually belong to them. In my travels across the region, I have heard joy, purpose and newfound pride," Clinton said in remarks at the National Democratic Institute’s gala event. "But I’ve also heard questions. I’ve heard skepticism about American motives and commitments; people wondering if, after decades of working with the governments of the region, America doesn’t — in our heart of hearts — actually long for the old days."

"The speech takes on the hard questions that people in the region — and people back here — have been asking about the U.S. government’s policy response to the Arab Spring," a State Department official told The Cable.

Explaining that the United States isn’t driving the events in the region, Clinton proceeded to repeat and then answer several of the questions she has heard at home and abroad about the administration’s response to the Arab spring. Here are the questions she posed to herself, in bold, followed by her answers.

Does the Obama administration really believe democratic change is in America’s interest?

"We begin by rejecting the false choice between progress and stability…America pushed for reform, but often not hard enough. Today, we recognize that the real choice is between reform and unrest," she said. "So the risks posed by transitions will not keep us from pursuing positive change. But they do raise the stakes for getting it right."

Why does the United States seem to promote democracy in some Arab countries — such as Egypt, Libya, Syria — but not in others, like Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen?

"Situations vary dramatically from country to country. It would be foolish to take a one-size-fits-all approach and barrel forward regardless of circumstances on the ground," Clinton said. "Our choices also reflect other interests in the region with a real impact on Americans’ lives — including our fight against al Qaeda; defense of our allies; and a secure supply of energy… Fundamentally, there is a right side of history. We want to be on it."

What will the United States do if democracy brings anti-U.S. governments to power?

"The suggestion that faithful Muslims cannot thrive in a democracy is insulting, dangerous, and wrong. They do it in this country every day," Clinton said. "Parties committed to democracy must reject violence; they must abide by the rule of law and respect the freedoms of speech, association, and assembly; they must respect the rights of women and minorities; they must let go of power if defeated at the polls; and, in a region with deep divisions within and between religions, they cannot be the spark that starts a conflagration. In other words, what parties call themselves is less important than what they do."

What is the U.S. role in the Arab Spring?

"These revolutions are not ours — they are not by us, for us, or against us. But we do have a role. We have the resources, capabilities and expertise to support those who seek peaceful, meaningful democratic reform," Clinton said. "And with so much that can go wrong and so much that can go right, support for emerging Arab democracies is an investment we can’t afford not to make."

What about the rights and aspirations of the Palestinians?

"Of course, we understand that Israel faces risks in a changing region — just as it did before the Arab Spring began. It will remain an American priority to ensure that all parties honor the peace treaties they have signed and commitments they have made. We will help Israel defend itself. And we will address threats to regional peace whether they come from dictatorships or democracies," Clinton said. "But it would shortsighted to think either side can simply put peacemaking on hold until the current upheaval is done. The truth is, the stalemate in the Arab-Israeli conflict is one more status quo in the Middle East that cannot be sustained."

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola