Hunter Johnson, Staff Writer
It seems that no matter what the United States does, relations with the Arab world never go in its favor for very long. Recent violence in the region, supposedly over a poorly made, anti-Islamic film, stands as testament to this.
On the 11th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, protesters in Egypt scaled the walls of the U.S. embassy in Cairo and destroyed the American flag flying overhead. Later that day, rioters in Benghazi, Libya, stormed the American consulate and killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to that nation. Weeks following the attack, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed suspicions that the Libya incident was an intentional attack carried out by terrorists, possibly with al-Qaeda ties, instead of the “spontaneous reaction” that it initially appeared to be.
Unfortunately, the violence did not end there. Emboldened by the success of protesters in Egypt and Libya, anti-American groups in numerous Middle Eastern and African countries took to the streets. On Sept. 14, 2,000 rioters in Yemen stormed the American embassy grounds. During a similar attack in their capital of Tunis, at least two Tunisians were killed and 29 wounded.
This latest bout of turmoil should now prompt the U.S. to re-evaluate its approach to foreign policy in the region. It also needs to decide whether the “Arab Spring,” the movement of revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa over the last 21 months, was completely positive. Egypt and Libya, the two nations largely responsible for giving the Arab Spring the energy necessary to take the Arab world by storm, became the catalyst countries for this most recent surge of violence.
Americans should also remember that the United States allowed Egypt’s and Libya’s revolutions to succeed. When government forces in Egypt began violently cracking down on protesters against President Hosni Mubarak, the U.S. turned on its former ally in Mubarak and joined the international chorus calling for his resignation. In Libya’s case, the United States did far more than write a strongly worded letter. When it became obvious that rebels were fighting an uphill battle against Muammar Gaddafi, the U.S. led a coalition of nations in creating a no-fly zone that cleared the skies for the rebels.
The result of these U.S. supported revolutions? An unstable government in Egypt, a far more unstable government in Libya, the loss of American lives and the need to send additional Marines to defend embassies all over the region. It’s a bit ironic that before the Arab Spring there would not have been a U.S. consulate in Libya for fighters to attack, and that Hosni Mubarak would never have allowed rioters to storm the American embassy in Egypt.
Given the violence inflicted on civilians in those countries, the United States was justified in its decision to side with the uprisings. The U.S. has frequently asked other nations to strive for stronger human rights protection around the globe; it’s only responsible that America, as the world’s main superpower, should take action when a country tramples those rights.
Perhaps, though, the U.S. should have considered how best to support those countries’ new governments before ever backing the revolutions. A thorough understanding of the groups that would compose a new government, and which the U.S. therefore would have to deal with, is a foremost consideration and should be attained in future circumstances. That information would allow the U.S. to decide whether an intervention of sorts was prudent. If an intervention were then undertaken, America should also attempt to work closely, though not overbearingly, with any new government to ensure that repeats of the violence we have seen recently could be avoided.
Such foresight and planning can allow America to be a positive influence in other uprisings attempting to inject democracy into the region. Until those times come, all the U.S. can do is watch – and hope that the Arab Spring doesn’t deteriorate into an Arab Winter.