President Obama announced this day, in a stirring 45 minute speech centered on human rights, democracy, and the embracing of freedom, has proclaimed to the world that America will not stand idly by reform movements that are sweeping the Middle East. In a very clear and poignant message, President Obama has committed to using “all our influence” in the advancement of democracy and regime change where oppressed peoples are under siege.
Embracing and using a multipronged approach to pressuring the tyrannical regimes that have been built around dictatorships and monarchies the president is giving fair warning; tread carefully. President Obama has demonstrated that American military force can and will be used when nations threaten harm to their peoples as in the case of Libya’s Colonel Gadhafi and his threatened war against his own people.
President Obama also demonstrated that economic force could and would be used against tyrants. On May 18, President Obama signed an executive order for the blocking of assets held by Syrian senior political leadership in response to their oppressive assaults on protestors in that country.
President Obama, through his executive powers and privileges, is signaling these and other oppressive regimes that in the face of aggressive assaults on peaceful demonstrators, America will not sit on the sidelines. For the oppressed societies of the world, President Obama is promising that “you will have the full support of the United States”.
In order to further stimulate and support regime change, the President is offering economic incentives to those who embrace conversion. Recognizing that political change often comes from the simple act of those who want to “put food on the table” it is a requirement for the world to support the new governments with aid. Under those auspices, President Obama is offering Egypt 2 billion dollars in economic aid to further cement the changes occurring in that country, and reduce the chance of it returning to an oppressive regime.
Regime change is not without consequences and difficulty. President Obama cited the difficulty in establishing and maintaining democracies where democracy has been exported and not imported as in the case of Afghanistan and Iraq. However, citing the American revolutionary war, the American civil war, and the American civil rights movements, oppression can be opposed and freedom can be won, for the betterment of all, although these experiences can be painful.
The democratic movement sweeping across the Middle East is not simply based on ideological change. In a region of 400 million people, when you remove oil, they have the export equivalent of Switzerland. Simply put, the Middle East fails to produce anything that the world wants or needs other than oil. This in turn has given rise to high, long term unemployment and serious discontent among the peoples of the region.
The spark of the Arab Spring was simply one Tunisian fruit vendor who had his fruit stand seized by the corrupt police as reported by Aljazeera . Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26 year old from Sidi Bouzid, depended on his earnings from his fruit stand to feed his family. When he was shaken down by the local authorities, he refused to cooperate and his meager belongings were seized. When Mohamed tried to resolve the issue through the local authorities and explain his experience and abuse at their hands, the authorities refused to help him. Mohamed became frustrated and later distraught over his treatment by the local authorities. In a final act of desperation Mohamed set himself on fire in front of the local authorities. Mohamed’s actions were not political in nature, they were economic in nature. Mohamed’s actions would set forth the cry for change we see today in the Middle East.
President Obama while putting the United States on “point” and committing to assist fledgling democratic movements is putting the United States at odds with several long term allies who do have no interest in regime change. Several Middle East countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Iran have no interest in changing their leadership styles. Instead, they have all taken efforts to further cement their control over their peoples and their surrounding spheres of influence.
Saudi Arabia took the easiest route; they simply paid their people off with higher dividend checks in an effort to forestall the inevitable. However, in neighboring Bahrain where demonstrations were growing rapidly, the Saudis took the unprecedented action of dispatching their military force to suppress the protestors as reported by Arabia Today .
The United Arab Emirates has taken the extraordinary measures of increasing their security forces with non-Muslim mercenaries. As reported by the New York Times , the UAE has contracted with former Blackwater founder Erik Prince to build and arm a non-Muslim battalion Para-military force 800 persons strong. One of the missions of the force would be crowd control if such a need should arise.
The growing separation between the United States and the oil rich Middle Eastern countries over the idea of regime change may not bode well for the oil markets. Saudi Arabia accounts for about 9.8 mbpd (million barrels per day), Iran 4.2 mbpd, and the United Arab Emirates 2.8 mbpd according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Libya accounted for only 1.8 mbpd and the ripple effect of that regime change disruption caused oil to spike to the painful level we see today. What would happen if either Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirate or both, decided to embrace oil as a weapon of response for America’s encouragement of regime change?
Oil as a weapon against American political interfering has been used before. It could be used again. In the event that the Arab countries decided to engage in oil diplomacy, and cut off or simply disrupt oil supplies, we could see oil prices spike to levels never seen before. The response of such activity could plunge the United States into a depression that far exceeds any historical depression. The economic upheaval would produce the political setting and environment in America for our own regime change.
In today’s speech, President Obama, clearly committed America to democratic ideas and values around the world. In the coming months as these ideas, and America’s commitment to these ideas takes hold in aspiring revolutions, we could see an Arab Spring sweep the Middle East and a rise in democracies unlike anything we have ever seen before. By the same measure, we could also see unintended consequences like we have never seen before. No matter the progression, President Obama has now centered his reelection and presidential history on the coming struggles of those halfway around the world.