by Neil Hicks, Thu Apr 14, 2011 at 06:40:43 PM EDT
In a speech earlier this week to the U.S. – Islamic World Forum Secretary of State Hillary Clinton again exposed tensions at the core of the Obama administration’s response to popular uprisings for human dignity throughout the Middle East and North Africa. These inconsistencies leave human rights and democracy activists in the region wondering which side the U.S. government is on, and how far it is prepared to support a new vision for a region grounded in democratic government, respect for the rule of law and human rights.
The general theory of the administration’s approach to the region is clear enough: denying the legitimate rights and aspirations of people throughout the region is not a sustainable way for governments to rule. In her speech secretary Clinton spoke of “exposed myths…that governments can hold on to power without responding to their people’s aspirations or respecting their rights.”
Problems come when the administration is required to apply its theory in practice in the form of specific policies designed to deal with the challenges presented by specific country situations. Here the speech is laced with caveats and qualifications: will the Arab spring result in lasting reforms? Well, “these questions can only be answered by the people and leaders of the Middle East and North Africa themselves. The United States certainly does not have all the answers…” Hardly a ringing endorsement of the reform agenda.