Time for Obama to stand up in support of Arab freedom

Rami G. Khouri writes:

What is it about free Arabs that Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and other leading Western officials still do not fully understand or embrace?

I am troubled that every few months, we hear a drum roll of anticipation building up to a moment when we are told to expect a defining speech, or a new statement, or another initiative, or just a really heartfelt television interview in which the United States will clearly define its policy toward, well, toward many things – in fact, toward an entire, ever-changing constellation of moving targets in the Middle East that seem to deeply confound the United States government at the historic moment when Arabs en mass are agitating for their own liberty and rights. It is troubling to see those who claim to ring the bell of freedom for all humankind prove hesitant to apply a freedom-promoting foreign policy across the entire Arab world.

This is not purely an American issue, to be fair, as Europeans, Turks and other freedom-loving democrats have also supported the Arab revolts for freedom and citizenship rights with selectivity and serial hesitancy. So what should we make of the fact that we now hear that President Barack Obama will give a major speech next week outlining his country’s approach to the Middle East and the wider Islamic world in the wake of the killing of Osama Bin Laden?

We will listen to a fine speech once again, one ear cocked toward his speech, the other toward what Arab men and women are doing throughout the Middle East as they fight, suffer and die in the thousands now to achieve the liberty and democracy that Obama and others keep telling us comprise the shared values that unite us all.

Yet Washington’s attitude to the Arab Spring reflects a wider problem across much of the Western world that I personally experience daily in my assorted discussions with journalists, officials, diplomats and researchers. It is the same old and ugly problem of double standards in many Western governments’ treatment of Arab issues.

In this case, the problem is simply that the epic Arab struggle for liberty, rights and dignity is perceived by many abroad as a television drama that is captivating, even thrilling – but one that remains peculiarly detached from the world of Western powers and, more importantly, remains beyond that realm of people, political movements and social forces that the West can embrace with the same clarity and force with which, for example, it embraced the Soviet dissidents in the 1970s and 1980s. The Arab citizen’s right to liberty is neither clear nor consistent in Western eyes. When it touches on the realms of Israel or oil, especially, Arab liberty becomes the victim and ward of greater Western interests.

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