'US shifting strategy amid ongoing Mideast urest'

'The Wall Street Journal' reports that US moving support from protesters to longtime Arab allies, calling for reforms instead of ousters.

By JPOST.COM STAFF
March 5, 2011 11:37
3 minute read.
Protests in Bahrain

Bahrain protests Reuters 311. (photo credit: Reuters)

The United States has formulated a new strategy in response to the recent anti-government protests that have broken out through the Arab world since the start of 2011, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday. After weeks of internal discussions, the US decided to put its support behind longtime allies who may be willing to initiate political reform, even if that means citizens' demand for full democracy are delayed.

Despite the fact that US officials are still calling for
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's immediate removal from power, White House officials have formed the "Bahrain model." The proposed system endorses the ruling power to stay in control but works with the local population to create democratic reforms that suit demands of the protesters.

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The US  government's decision to shift its policy towards the recent Arab unrest comes after aggressive lobbying by representatives of Arab countries who were shocked at America's quick abandonment of longtime ally Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak was seen by many in the region, and in the US, as having maintained stability and peace in a potentially tumultuous region.

Israel has maintained that the US must ensure longtime allies in the region and that the US should not abandon them if protests begin to develop. Since Mubarak's fall, Israelis have feared that Islamic extremists might exploit the current unrest to realign the Middle East. 

The policy shift also comes in light of domestic US criticism of the Obama administration's mixed signals surrounding the Egyptian leader's ouster, initially backing Mubarak only to turn around and give its full support to demonstrators' demands for his removal.

The Wall Street Journal wrote that White House officials denied claims that they have sent mixed signals, saying that throughout the recent events, the Obama administration did not waver on its stance that rulers must avoid using violence against peaceful protesters. Even so, a White House senior official was reported to have said that its "approach will be country by country," and that important lessons are being learned every step of the way.

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turmoil in the Middle East

One example, Bahrain, highlights America's changed stance. Bahrain is a key ally of the US in the Persian Gulf region, host of a US naval base and valuable presence against Iranian influence. US officials fear that if the government of King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa were to fall, the majority Shi'ite country could be pushed into the Iranian sphere of influence, costing the US important strategic and military positions in the small island country.

Adding to the pressure for on US to hold onto Khalifa, US intelligence agencies believe that a scenario could arise wherein Saudi Arabia, also a Sunni-controlled monarchy, would invade Bahrain to quell the Shi'ite-led unrest. As such, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton have recently been pushing for a policy of support for the Bahraini king, paired with a reform plan that would suit the needs of demonstrators.

This "Bahrain model" could be used to help subdue protests in Morocco and Yemen that are already underway. On Sunday February 27, the US delivered messages to the kings of both Bahrain and Morocco, throwing their support behind the leaders and their political systems.


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