Now this is a head scratcher.”As Arabs Protest, U.S. Speaks Up” is the headline today over a story by Scott Wilson and Joby Warrick in the Washington Post. The storyattempts to arguethat the Obama administration is backing protests in Tunisia, Egypt and Lebanon–in the first two cases, regimes backed strongly by the United States (Egypt to the tune of more than $1 billion in annual military aid).
As the lead puts it:
The Obama administration is openly supporting the anti-government demonstrations shaking the Arab Middle East, a stance that is far less tempered than the one the president has taken during past unrest in the region.
The Post adds that the White House has “thrown U.S. support clearly behind the protesters, speaking daily in favor of free speech and assembly even when the protests target longtime U.S. allies such as Egypt.”
The support for demonstrations against Hezbollah, which the U.S. government deems a terrorist organization, is to be expected. In Tunisia, though, the White House approach seemed quite “tempered,” in fact. AsNYU’s Mohamad Bazzi wrote:
As the uprising spread in Tunisia, the administration of President Barack Obama stayed largely silent until the day Mr. Ben Ali fled. That was when Mr. Obama issued a statement condemning the use of violence against peaceful protesters and applauding “the courage and dignity” of Tunisians. By then, it was too late: The U.S.-backed dictator was gone, and the Arab world chalked up another example of how Washington favors stability over democracy.
So where isthe evidence that the Obama White House is openly supporting democratic protests? Here is what the Post offers:
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday that “the Egyptian government has an important opportunity … to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.” She urged “the Egyptian authorities not to prevent peaceful protests or block communications, including on social media sites.”
Well, that’s rather mild.Since the Egyptian government would seem to be continuing precisely what Clinton “urged” them not to do, what’s been the official response? The Post also has this:
Asked whether the administration supports Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs replied only: “Egypt is a strong ally.”
But the most revealing example might be this (emphasis added):
“Some of the confidence and assertiveness comes from having spent time in government, and now we’ve identified ways where we want to make our push,” said a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss White House thinking on the Middle East developments.
And later, presumably from the same “senior official”:
“Democracy had been characterized in some quarters as the United States seeking to control countries,” said the senior official. “What we’ve made clear in the last few years is that democracy is important to the United States because of who we are, but not as a means of controlling governments. Quite the contrary, we’re supporting a process in Tunisia now that we do not know how it will end or who will emerge as leader.”
It’s hard to take the premise of the article seriously when the most definitive statements of support for democracy come from anonymous government officials.