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America caught between a rock and a Hard Place

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America caught between a rock and a Hard Place

Post  Panda on Mon 17 Sep - 8:38

America Caught Between A Rock And A Hard Place

The US is always criticised for meddling in the Middle East - but disengaging from the region could create deeper problems.

4:30pm UK, Thursday 13 September 2012

There are no easy choices or single-policy solutions for Barack Obama

Tim Marshall

Foreign Affairs Editor

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When it comes to the 'new Middle East', the Americans are caught between a rock and a hard place. It was the same with the 'old' Middle East.

For years, America engaged with the Middle East dictatorships using a mix of dollars, weapons, and soft power. For years it was criticised for interfering in the region.

Now it continues its engagement with most of the dictatorships, but also with the newly-elected governments in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Yemen. It is still criticised.

There are those who argue the Americans should withdraw from the region, that they cause more trouble than they help.

Others say the US must be deeply engaged not only to safeguard its own interests but to help what are described as fledgling democracies.

To withdraw would be to go to a hard place, a place where the US could not help influence events in a geo-politically-crucial part of the world.

To stay is to continue to bump up against the rock that is anti-American opinion which manifests itself sometimes in violence.

When it comes to the Gulf, the US really has no choice. Given that the life blood of America, and the rest of the developed world, pumps out of the region, no American administration is ever to going to disengage from being able to influence events.

It is why the US keeps a huge military presence there.

When it comes to the less strategically important countries, such as Libya, there is more flexibility. President Obama could have kept his country out of last year's war but he intervened by choice.

Some people praised the action as being on the side of the angels, some felt it to be imperialism in disguise.

Washington could now ignore what happens in Libya, Egypt, and elsewhere. If it does, it will be accused of abandoning the fledgling democracies.

There are many groups and political movements across the region who wish to use the current instability to further a radical agenda in which democracy will play no part and which will be profoundly anti-Western.

Without outside help it is unlikely that genuine democracies will emerge, leaving the populations across an entire region as politically and financially impoverished as they are now.

On the other hand, if it seeks to influence events, for example by continuing to prop-up Egypt with money - or training - the anti-terrorist unit of the new Libyan government, it will be accused of interference.

And what of Syria? Does Obama arm the Free Syrian Army which contains elements similar to the group which killed the US ambassador in Libya? Or keep them at arm's length which would be to the relief of President Assad?

There are no easy answers, nor is there one policy. The Americans look at each country in its own right. Bahrain? They kept quiet, many people say because of the US naval base there.

Saudi Arabia? The State Department issues occasional softly-worded criticisms about human rights, but does little to stop the abuses. Libya? They knocked over a brutal dictator and are now trying to assist the growth of stability and democracy.

Egypt? They gave the nod to the army for the coup d'etat which got rid of Mubarak and are now trying to salvage their long-term relationship with a country now governed by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Sometimes they get it right, sometimes they get it wrong.
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