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US backfires fueling Mideast flames

17:08, February 17, 2011

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By Li Hongmei

When Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in Tunisia on Dec. 17 after a municipal worker confiscated his wares, the young man's act of desperation has thus far spurred a wave of revolts sweeping the entire region, toppling the regimes in Tunisia and Egypt and threatening to engulf other countries across the Middle East---- from Algeria to Iran and the countries in between, the "revolution" is rippling across the Arab world.

Even though the upheavals affecting the region have not followed the same course, they are all put under the sharp Eagle Eyes of the U.S., and some even labeled as "Made-in-USA" popular uprisings.

The White House promptly expresses its willingness to push "autocratic governments" in the Middle East to accelerate political and economic reforms, a message that is also raising fears in those countries about the hidden hand of the U.S. behind the chaos, mainly because of America's woeful reputation throughout the Middle East.

The Obama administration's tepid, perhaps, reluctant, open backing for Mr Mubarak and its backroom machinations to push him aside have actually provoked an alarmed reaction from officials in Saudi Arabia, other Persian Gulf states and Israel. Saudi officials have complained for days about the ''blatant interference'' of foreign governments in the Egyptian crisis.

Currently, It might be advisable for the Obama administration to keep low-profiled and, resist the temptation to play an active role on behalf of demonstrators that are now challenging the "tyranny regimes", as attempts of the kind could throw American credibility at especially low ebb, no matter how desirable the over-zealous American politicians think it is to rush in and teach the region's "would-be-nation-builders" how to create and operate an effective democratic political system.

On the flip side, the Mideast governments should refrain from expecting much on the U.S help, if they happen to face mass protests. As a matter of fact, there is already a sharp division within the White House over how much hope or pressure to exert on the concerned countries in the region, in particular, its allies, whose cooperation is critical to US priorities of counterterrorism, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, containing Iran and its other interest-related concerns.

What counts most to the U.S. is nothing but its own interests, which is shown crystal clear when Obama came out to say it was time for Mubarak to go. The statement made by the White House that it intends to stand by its friends and seeks the regional stability is merely a lip service, always outweighed by American strategic interests.

As for the exaggerating power of twitter and face book allegedly behind all the upheavals, and the so-called "Internet diplomacy" which is a new fever intoxicating the US top diplomat Hillary Clinton, they more likely tend to be a double-edged sword than a handy tool for "democracy promotion" as imagined by Americans. The fallout thereby brought about would also entangle the U.S. with a sea of troubles.

The articles in this column represent the author's views only. They do not represent opinions of People's Daily or People's Daily Online.

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About this column

Li Hongmei, editor and columnist of PD Online.


Li HongLi Hong

After 19 years working for China Daily and its website, Li Hong moved to english.people.com.cn in March 2009.

Li has been a reporter and column writer, mainly on China's economy and politics.

He was graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University, and once studied in University of Hawaii and the Poynter Institute in Florida.

Dai MinJohn
Dai Min

John Milligan-Whyte and Dai Min, the executive producers and co-hosts of the Collaboration of Civilizations television series adapted by the eight books they wrote in the America-China Partnership Book Series published in English and Mandarin in 2009-2010 that created the "New School of America-China Relations." They founded the America-China Partnership Foundation and Forum in 2008 and the Center for American-China Partnership in 2005, which was recognized in 2009 as "the first American think tank to combine and integrate American and Chinese perspectives providing a complete answer for America and China's success in the 21st century."