U.S. Arab world policy sees consistent threads emerge

16:02, April 27, 2011      

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People wave signs outside the hotel where Sen. John McCain holds a news conference in Benghaiz, Libya, April 23, 2011. McCain visited Benghaiz on Wednesday. (Xinhua/Li Yuan)

by Matthew Rusling

As the Arab world reels from unrest, the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has been charged with having a vague and, at times ad hoc, policy toward tumult in the region.

Indeed, the U.S. president called for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi -- a historical U.S. nemesis -- to step down while launching airstrikes against his forces. At the same time, however, Obama called for the resignation of now former Egyptian President and longtime U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak. While the White House has outlined no overarching doctrine, a few themes are emerging.

David Pollock, senior fellow at the Washington Institute, noted three trends: First, the Obama administration opposes the use of force of a government against its own citizens. Second, Obama supports dialogue between governments and opposition groups. Finally, the United States will apply these principles to countries that are friendly to Washington, as well as to those that are not.

Still, many observers have questioned what makes Libya -- in the eyes of the Obama administration -- different from any other nation that has attacked protesters, and many have asked why Obama would choose to intervene in one conflict and not others.

In a White House press briefing on Monday, spokesman Jay Carney said there are a number of differences between the situation in Libya and other instances of governments attacking protesters in their countries.

Carney said Libya was "a unique situation" in the sense that the Libyan government "was moving against its own people in a coordinated military fashion" and there was "an international consensus to act."

The spokesman did not mention opposition or concerns expressed by a number of countries over the Western-led airstrikes in Libya.

Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said there are other cohesive threads in what many have blasted as a jumbled heap of loosely connected and reactive policies. The administration aims to support the process of reform in the region, but to do so pragmatically and gradually, he said.

Monarchies, such as Morocco, are special cases: Within constitutional monarchies there exists the possibility of delegating more power over time to an elected government under a constitutional monarchy framework. So Obama is unlikely to call for leaders of such countries to step down.

Obama has also said that each country in the region is different, and some analysts said the administration is acting out of practicality, arguing that no one-size-fits-all solution exists.

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