President Obama and the Middle East

By Julian del Prado

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President Barack Obama has seen his share of crises in the Middle East, from Libya to Egypt to Syria, but to understand the consequences of his decisions, one must compare the interests of the United States to what was actually gained.

Collegian File Photo

Aside from tactical interests, the loss of human life as well as the current state of living in these affected countries must be factored in. A before and after of Egypt, Libya and Syria show a gruesome image of rhetoric rendered completely empty by the realities of civil war and mass murder.

Beginning with Egypt, where the largest recent protest took place, President Obama threw support to democracy and peaceful protest. On June 4, 2009, Obama delivered an inspiring speech to the University of Cairo, related his own upbringing to the struggles of the Egyptian students. The actions he took next were both reckless and presumptuous. While his foreign advisors, chiefly Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, pushed for a diplomatic plan that would have Hosni Mubarak out of the presidency after transitioning the government toward reform, the president had other plans. Instead of transitioning the government, Obama instead gave the Egyptian president an ultimatum: Step down from the Egyptian presidency or face the United States. Perhaps he really felt that an Egypt without a government would usher in democracy. Maybe Obama felt that his speech at Cairo University inspired the spirit of Egyptian youth to allow for a peaceful transition into a democracy. As it stands now, more than 800 people have died as a result of the two government overthrows in Egypt. After electing the Muslim Brotherhood to lead the country, Egyptian military took the reigns by force. Protests and demonstrations rage on in Egypt, and violence is on the rise. Instead of prudence and measured change, Obama opted for idealism and strong-arming, and Egyptian citizens paid the price. Egypt, however, was only the tip of the iceberg.

In addition to a total collapse of its government, Libya has suffered 30,000 casualties. Beginning with a demonstration in Libya’s capital, Benghazi, the Arab Spring resulted in a UN resolution that allowed an armed revolt to overthrow that country’s military dictator, Muammar Gaddafi. According to our president, this intervention could usher democracy into the region and thus bolster the United States’ interests in Africa. Additionally, the crackdown on protesters by the government of Libya was a humanitarian disaster that needed to be addressed. Once again, President Obama became a champion of free speech and liberty poised to depose yet another totalitarian dictator. The reality of the uprising, however, is that tens of thousands of both soldiers and civilians lay dead. Additionally, the country’s already weak infrastructure has suffered tremendously, and the country is now defined by warfare among several factions. Gaddafi, although truly despicable in his treatment of dissidents, was an ally of the United States and one of the more effective tools that the global community had in dealing with terrorism. Now, with Libya in a state of near anarchy, ultimately nobody knows who is going to wind up in governing the nation for any length of time. Where there was once consistency, there is now chaos.

Syria, of course, stands as the ultimate failure of the United States to assert any kind of authority in the Middle East. With over 100,000 dead and millions displaced, the same man who would condemn a dictator for cracking down on protesters stood by and watched the region ravaged by a war against an oppressive regime. Obama did go to other countries to rally support for a strike on Syria after a chemical attack resulted in over 1,300 deaths, but with so many people and their families destroyed, the designation of this particular attack as justification for force seems arbitrary. In fact, in the face of the atrocities committed in Syria, Obama’s outrage at Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi seems just as arbitrary. Ultimately the United States didn’t even muster up a plan of action for Syria. In his foreign policy with regard to the Middle East, President Obama looks like a hypocrite. Aside from the rhetoric of the speeches, the only thing he has contributed to the Middle East is turmoil and pain, all in the name of freedom of speech.

Julian del Prado is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]