Obama Outlines Five Tenants for U.S. Foreign Policy in Middle East

President Obama addresses the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday.
National Journal
Stephanie Gaskell, Defense One
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Stephanie Gaskell, Defense One
Sept. 24, 2013, 8:13 a.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama used his speech be­fore the United Na­tions Gen­er­al As­sembly on Tues­day to spell out the five ten­ants of U.S. for­eign policy in the Middle East and North Africa. Obama did not de­tail the full Middle East strategy that his crit­ics have de­man­ded more than two years in­to the Ar­ab spring. But the pres­id­ent, de­fy­ing any sense of an Amer­ic­an with­draw­al from con­flicts in the re­gion, said the ques­tion over U.S. mil­it­ary in­ter­ven­tion in­to Syr­ia il­lus­trates a deep di­vide over how the rest of the world sees U.S. en­gage­ment in the re­gion: some want­ing the U.S. avoid “med­dling” while call­ing on the U.S. to do more to solve “the re­gion’s prob­lems.”

“I know there are those who have been frus­trated by our un­will­ing­ness to use our mil­it­ary might to de­pose [Syr­i­an Pres­id­ent Bashar al] As­sad, and be­lieve that a fail­ure to do so in­dic­ates a weak­en­ing of Amer­ica’s re­solve in the re­gion. Oth­ers have sug­ges­ted that my will­ing­ness to dir­ect even lim­ited mil­it­ary strikes to de­ter the fur­ther use of chem­ic­al weapons shows that we have learned noth­ing from Ir­aq, and that Amer­ica con­tin­ues to seek con­trol over the Middle East for our own pur­poses,” Obama said, ac­cord­ing to his pre­pared re­marks. “In this way, the situ­ation in Syr­ia mir­rors a con­tra­dic­tion that has per­sisted in the re­gion for dec­ades: the United States is chas­tised for med­dling in the re­gion, and ac­cused of hav­ing a hand in all man­ner of con­spir­acy; at the same time, the United States is blamed for fail­ing to do enough to solve the re­gion’s prob­lems, and for show­ing in­dif­fer­ence to­ward suf­fer­ing Muslim pop­u­la­tions.”

“I real­ize some of this is in­ev­it­able, giv­en Amer­ica’s role in the world. But these at­ti­tudes have a prac­tic­al im­pact on the Amer­ic­an peoples’ sup­port for our in­volve­ment in the re­gion, and al­low lead­ers in the re­gion ““ and the in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity ““ to avoid ad­dress­ing dif­fi­cult prob­lems,” Obama said. “So let me take this op­por­tun­ity to out­line what has been U.S. policy to­wards the Middle East and North Africa, and what will be my policy dur­ing the re­mainder of my pres­id­ency.”

These are Obama’s five goals for U.S. for­eign policy and mil­it­ary en­gage­ment in the Middle East and North Africa:

1. “The United States of Amer­ica is pre­pared to use all ele­ments of our power, in­clud­ing mil­it­ary force, to se­cure these core in­terests in the re­gion.”

2. “We will con­front ex­tern­al ag­gres­sion against our al­lies and part­ners, as we did in the Gulf War.”

3. “We will en­sure the free flow of en­ergy from the re­gion to the world. Al­though Amer­ica is stead­ily re­du­cing our own de­pend­ence on im­por­ted oil, the world still de­pends upon the re­gion’s en­ergy sup­ply, and a severe dis­rup­tion could destabil­ize the en­tire glob­al eco­nomy.”

4. “We will dis­mantle ter­ror­ist net­works that threaten our people. Wherever pos­sible, we will build the ca­pa­city of our part­ners, re­spect the sov­er­eignty of na­tions, and work to ad­dress the root causes of ter­ror. But when its ne­ces­sary to de­fend the United States against ter­ror­ist at­tacks, we will take dir­ect ac­tion.”

5. “And fi­nally, we will not tol­er­ate the de­vel­op­ment or use of weapons of mass de­struc­tion. Just as we con­sider the use of chem­ic­al weapons in Syr­ia to be a threat to our own na­tion­al se­cur­ity, we re­ject the de­vel­op­ment of nuc­le­ar weapons that could trig­ger a nuc­le­ar arms race in the re­gion, and un­der­mine the glob­al non-pro­lif­er­a­tion re­gime.”

“Now, to say these are Amer­ica’s core in­terests is not to say these are our only in­terests. We deeply be­lieve it is in our in­terest to see a Middle East and North Africa that is peace­ful and pros­per­ous; and will con­tin­ue to pro­mote demo­cracy, hu­man rights, and open mar­kets, be­cause we be­lieve these prac­tices achieve peace and prosper­ity,” Obama said. “But I also be­lieve that we can rarely achieve these ob­ject­ives through uni­lat­er­al Amer­ic­an ac­tion ““ par­tic­u­larly with mil­it­ary ac­tion. Ir­aq shows us that demo­cracy can­not be im­posed by force. Rather, these ob­ject­ives are best achieved when we part­ner with the in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity, and with the coun­tries and people of the re­gion.”

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