How the U.S. can Use the Arab Uprisings to its Advantage

February 28, 2011 |  by  |  Politics and Society  |  Share
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The author of this post discusses how the ongoing protests in the Middle East and North Africa provides an opportunity for the U.S. to conduct strategic foreign policy moves in the respective regions.

The entire world anxiously watched as Tunisian and Egyptian presidents, Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak, were ousted from power by rebellions that were sparked by a combination of high food prices, unemployment, and corrupt governments.  Their demise was a shame as both leaders were staunch American kinsmen, and had a history of promoting cooperation with the U.S. on the global war on terror.  Due to the success of the rebellions in Tunisia and Egypt, violent uprisings have ignited throughout the rest of North Africa and into parts of the Middle East.  It is important that the U.S. stay frosty as many of the countries that have been pulled into this mess are its strategic allies.  Necessity calls for the Obama administration to do its very best to influence the outcomes of at least some of the uprisings that are plaguing allies, and crushing enemies.

A Red, White, and Blue North Africa

Of first and foremost importance is how President Barack Obama handles Egypt. The chances of Egypt transitioning into a constitutional democracy are about as high as Haiti repaying its loans to the IMF and World Bank.  Egyptian people could care less about having a democratic government; the real reason they revolted was because of frustration over economic disparity and skyrocketing food prices.  Currently, the military under Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, is in the awkward position of governing Egypt.  It is highly unlikely that Tantawi will give up his position of power all in the name of free and fair elections.  Given that the military currently constitutes the Egyptian government, it means that the military is the sole recipient of all government revenue.  Tantawi would be foolish to give that all up.  The military is also highly integrated into the Egyptian economy; according to leaked online 2008 U.S. embassy cables appearing in the Guardian newspaper, “Contacts told us that military-owned companies, often run by retired generals, are particularly active in the water, olive oil, cement, construction, hotel and gasoline industries.”

Given Egypt’s apparent future of military rule, the Obama administration should start positioning itself as a silent supporter of Tantawi (or whomever he decides to install next).  The bloodshed from an impending Egyptian civil war is on the horizon as civilians and soldiers disagree about the meaning of innate human rights and civil liberties, as well as, how to handle the obscene rise in food prices.  What this means is that the U.S. needs to refrain from criticizing, much less, commenting, on how Tantawi and his military decide to govern Egypt.  The understanding would be that in exchange for Obama’s silence, Tantawi would show his gratitude by cooperating on a host of issues that are important to the U.S..  In a nutshell, the U.S. could use Egypt’s historic leadership role in the Middle East and North Africa for wrangling other Arab nations for cooperation on the war on terror.  More importantly, President Obama may even convince Tantawi (or whoever his military installed successor is) to allow for the American construction of large-scale naval, army, and/or air-force base in the country.  After all, the U.S.’s military presence in the African continent is rather weak and is more than due for a rebuffing.  This would also allow the U.S. to keep a close watch on how diligent Egypt is in sustaining the peace treaty it has with Israel.

The other North African country the U.S. has been, and should continue to focus on, is Libya.  President Obama should be applauded for his sound tactical move of announcing sanctions against Libya’s parasite of a dictator, Muammar Gaddafi.  Similar to the situation in Egypt, the people of Libya are frustrated with their poverty and have translated their anger into a full blown civil war.  It is clear that the outcome of this civil war will lead to the demise of Gaddafi; this is a clear benefit for U.S. foreign policy in North Africa.  However, Obama needs to act decisively in determining what steps the America needs to take to turn Libya into a puppet state.  It is no secret that American oil conglomerates have vast commercial interests in Libyan oil reserves, and could use some help to expand their holdings without facing the prospects of barbarism from rebels.  Also with the combined pocketing of Libya and Egypt, the U.S. can finally establish a cohesive relationship with all of North Africa, perhaps even establishing a U.S.-North African free trade agreement.

The Middle East Does Not Need Democracy

The one country in the Middle East that is facing civil strife, and that the U.S. needs to empathize with, is Bahrain.  Bahrain is a small island country off the coast of Saudi Arabia, ruled by the Al-Khalifa family since the late 1700s.  The issue that is plaguing Bahrain is the animosity between the population dominant Shia Muslims, and the Sunni elite.  Basically, the Shia population constitutes the poverty stricken day laborers, and the minority Sunni population holds all the wealth; the Al-Khalifa family is also Sunni.  Naturally, the Shia population wants both economic and social reforms.  This most likely will not happen until Bahrain becomes a democracy whereby the Shia people actually have a political voice.

President Obama cannot allow the Shia majority to depose the Al-Khalifa family.  The Al-Khalifa family is nothing short of a close American friend, making Bahrain a strategic ally.  Bahrain houses the United States Naval Forces Central Command, which is responsible for carrying out all naval operations in Middle Eastern waters.  The naval base is so important to America that it supports operations related to the war in Afghanistan as well as U.S. and British operations in Iraq.  Needless to say, it is imperative that this base stay clear of problems related to civil war in Bahrain.  Recently, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa issued a shoot-to-kill command to his security forces on pro-democracy protestors, and the king’s army would be more than happy to fire away.  Problems will certainly become worse and the king will have to take more callous steps to stay in power.  What President Obama can offer to this close friend of America is his own, and his cabinet’s, silence.  American silence with regard to Bahrain’s problems will send a message to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Yemen, that the United States of America does not forget its friends.

Works Cited

Audi, Nadim. “Security Forces in Bahrain Open Fire on Protestors.” New York Times. New York Times, 18 Feb. 2011. Web. 28 Feb. 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/19/world/middleeast/19bahrain.html?_r=2

“Obama Announces Libya Sanctions.” The Press Association. 25 Feb. 2011. Web. 28 Feb. 2011. http://www.google.com/hostednews/ukpress/article/ALeqM5gJdHadyF2yI8f__w_DQyVgdgaMKQ?docId=N0172481298685461680A

“US Embassy Cables: Egyptian Military’s Influence in Decline, US Told | World News | Guardian.co.uk.” Latest News, Comment and Reviews from the Guardian | Guardian.co.uk. Web. 28 Feb. 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/us-embassy-cables-documents/171176

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