Remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City
I want to speak plainly this morning about the opportunities and the dangers we face today in the Middle East. The revolutions now roiling that region offer the promise of a more democratic, more open, and a more prosperous Arab world. From Morocco to the Arabian Gulf, the escape from the dead hand of oppression is now a real possibility.
Now is not the time to retreat from freedom's rise.
Yet at the same time, we know these revolutions can bring to power forces that are neither democratic nor forward-looking. Just as the people of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria and elsewhere see a chance for a better life of genuine freedom, the leaders of radical Islam see a chance to ride political turmoil into power.
The United States has a vital stake in the future of this region. We have been presented with a challenge as great as any we have faced in recent decades. And we must get it right. The question is, are we up to the challenge?
My answer is, of course we are. If we are clear about our interests and guided by our principles, we can help steer events in the right direction. Our nation has done this in the past -- at the end of World War II, in the last decade of the Cold War, and in the more recent war on terror … and we can do it again.
But President Obama has failed to formulate and carry out an effective and coherent strategy in response to these events. He has been timid, slow, and too often without a clear understanding of our interests or a clear commitment to our principles.
And parts of the Republican Party now seem to be trying to out-bid the Democrats in appealing to isolationist sentiments. This is no time for uncertain leadership in either party. The stakes are simply too high, and the opportunity is simply too great.
No one in this Administration predicted the events of the Arab spring - but the freedom deficit in the Arab world was no secret. For 60 years, Western nations excused and accommodated the lack of freedom in the Middle East. That could not last. The days of comfortable private deals with dictators were coming to an end in the age of Twitter, You Tube, and Facebook. And history teaches there is no such thing as stable oppression.
President Obama has ignored that lesson of history. Instead of promoting democracy – whose fruit we see now ripening across the region – he adopted a murky policy he called “engagement.”
“Engagement” meant that in 2009, when the Iranian ayatollahs stole an election, and the people of that country rose up in protest, President Obama held his tongue. His silence validated the mullahs, despite the blood on their hands and the nuclear centrifuges in their tunnels.
While protesters were killed and tortured, Secretary Clinton said the Administration was “waiting to see the outcome of the internal Iranian processes.” She and the president waited long enough to see the Green Movement crushed.
“Engagement” meant that in his first year in office, President Obama cut democracy funding for Egyptian civil society by 74 percent. As one American democracy organization noted, this was “perceived by Egyptian democracy activists as signaling a lack of support.” They perceived correctly. It was a lack of support.
“Engagement” meant that when crisis erupted in Cairo this year, as tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Tahrir Square, Secretary Clinton declared, “the Egyptian Government is stable.” Two weeks later, Mubarak was gone. When Secretary Clinton visited Cairo after Mubarak's fall, democratic activist groups refused to meet with her. And who can blame them?
The forces we now need to succeed in Egypt -- the pro-democracy, secular political parties -- these are the very people President Obama cut off, and Secretary Clinton dismissed.
The Obama “engagement” policy in Syria led the Administration to call Bashar al Assad a “reformer.” Even as Assad's regime was shooting hundreds of protesters dead in the street, President Obama announced his plan to give Assad “an alternative vision of himself.” Does anyone outside a therapist's office have any idea what that means? This is what passes for moral clarity in the Obama Administration.
By contrast, I called for Assad's departure on March 29; I call for it again today. We should recall our ambassador from Damascus; and I call for that again today. The leader of the United States should never leave those willing to sacrifice their lives in the cause of freedom wondering where America stands. As President, I will not.
We need a president who fully understands that America never “leads from behind.”
We cannot underestimate how pivotal this moment is in Middle Eastern history. We need decisive, clear-eyed leadership that is responsive to this historical moment of change in ways that are consistent with our deepest principles and safeguards our vital interests.
Opportunity still exists amid the turmoil of the Arab Spring -- and we should seize it.
As I see it, the governments of the Middle East fall into four broad categories, and each requires a different strategic approach.
The first category consists of three countries now at various stages of transition toward democracy – the formerly fake republics in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. Iraq is also in this category, but is further along on its journey toward democracy.
For these countries, our goal should be to help promote freedom and democracy.
Elections that produce anti-democratic regimes undermine both freedom and stability. We must do more than monitor polling places. We must redirect foreign aid away from efforts to merely build good will, and toward efforts to build good allies -- genuine democracies governed by free people according to the rule of law. And we must insist that our international partners get off the sidelines and do the same.
We should have no illusions about the difficulty of the transitions faced by Libya, Tunisia, and especially Egypt. Whereas Libya is rich in oil, and Tunisia is small, Egypt is large, populous, and poor. Among the region's emerging democracies, it remains the biggest opportunity and the biggest danger for American interests.
Having ejected the Mubarak regime, too many Egyptians are now rejecting the beginnings of the economic opening engineered in the last decade. We act out of friendship when we tell Egyptians, and every new democracy, that economic growth and prosperity are the result of free markets and free trade—not subsidies and foreign aid. If we want these countries to succeed, we must afford them the respect of telling them the truth.
In Libya, the best help America can provide to these new friends is to stop leading from behind and commit America's strength to removing Ghadafi, recognizing the TNC as the government of Libya, and unfreezing assets so the TNC can afford security and essential services as it marches toward Tripoli.
Beyond Libya, America should always promote the universal principles that undergird freedom. We should press new friends to end discrimination against women, to establish independent courts, and freedom of speech and the press. We must insist on religious freedoms for all, including the region's minorities—whether Christian, Shia, Sunni, or Bahai.
The second category of states is the Arab monarchies. Some – like Jordan and Morocco – are engaging now in what looks like genuine reform. This should earn our praise and our assistance. These kings have understood they must forge a partnership with their own people, leading step by step toward more democratic societies. These monarchies can smooth the path to constitutional reform and freedom and thereby deepen their own legitimacy. If they choose this route, they, too, deserve our help.
But others are resisting reform. While President Obama spoke well about Bahrain in his recent speech, he neglected to utter two important words: Saudi Arabia.
US-Saudi relations are at an all-time low—and not primarily because of the Arab Spring. They were going downhill fast, long before the uprisings began. The Saudis saw an American Administration yearning to engage Iran—just at the time they saw Iran, correctly, as a mortal enemy.
We need to tell the Saudis what we think, which will only be effective if we have a position of trust with them. We will develop that trust by demonstrating that we share their great concern about Iran and that we are committed to doing all that is necessary to defend the region from Iranian aggression.
At the same time, we need to be frank about what the Saudis must do to insure stability in their own country. Above all, they need to reform and open their society. Their treatment of Christians and other minorities, and their treatment of women, is indefensible and must change.
We know that reform will come to Saudi Arabia—sooner and more smoothly if the royal family accepts and designs it. It will come later and with turbulence and even violence if they resist. The vast wealth of their country should be used to support reforms that fit Saudi history and culture—but not to buy off the people as a substitute for lasting reform.
The third category consists of states that are directly hostile to America. They include Iran and Syria. The Arab Spring has already vastly undermined the appeal of Al Qaeda and the killing of Osama Bin Laden has significantly weakened it.
The success of peaceful protests in several Arab countries has shown the world that terror is not only evil, but will eventually be overcome by good. Peaceful protests may soon bring down the Assad regime in Syria. The 2009 protests in Iran inspired Arabs to seek their freedom. Similarly, the Arab protests of this year, and the fall of regime after broken regime, can inspire Iranians to seek their freedom once again.
We have a clear interest in seeing an end to Assad's murderous regime. By sticking to Bashar al Assad so long, the Obama Administration has not only frustrated Syrians who are fighting for freedom—it has demonstrated strategic blindness. The governments of Iran and Syria are enemies of the United States. They are not reformers and never will be. They support each other. To weaken or replace one, is to weaken or replace the other.
The fall of the Assad mafia in Damascus would weaken Hamas, which is headquartered there. It would weaken Hezbollah, which gets its arms from Iran, through Syria. And it would weaken the Iranian regime itself.
To take advantage of this moment, we should press every diplomatic and economic channel to bring the Assad reign of terror to an end. We need more forceful sanctions to persuade Syria's Sunni business elite that Assad is too expensive to keep backing. We need to work with Turkey and the Arab nations and the Europeans, to further isolate the regime. And we need to encourage opponents of the regime by making our own position very clear, right now: Bashar al-Assad must go.
When he does, the mullahs of Iran will find themselves isolated and vulnerable. Syria is Iran's only Arab ally. If we peel that away, I believe it will hasten the fall of the mullahs. And that is the ultimate goal we must pursue. It's the singular opportunity offered to the world by the brave men and women of the Arab Spring.
The march of freedom in the Middle East cuts across the region's diversity of religious, ethnic, and political groups. But it is born of a particular unity. It is a united front against stolen elections and stolen liberty, secret police, corruption, and the state-sanctioned violence that is the essence of the Iranian regime's tyranny.
So this is a moment to ratchet up pressure and speak with clarity. More sanctions. More and better broadcasting into Iran. More assistance to Iranians to access the Internet and satellite TV and the knowledge and freedom that comes with it. More efforts to expose the vicious repression inside that country and expose Teheran's regime for the pariah it is.
And, very critically, we must have more clarity when it comes to Iran's nuclear program. In 2008, candidate Barack Obama told AIPAC that he would “always keep the threat of military action on the table to defend our security and our ally Israel.” This year, he told AIPAC “we remain committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.” So I have to ask: are all the options still on the table or not? If he's not clear with us, it's no wonder that even our closest allies are confused.
The Administration should enforce all sanctions for which legal authority already exits. We should enact and then enforce new pending legislation which strengthens sanctions particularly against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards who control much of the Iranian economy.
And in the middle of all this, is Israel.
Israel is unique in the region because of what it stands for and what it has accomplished. And it is unique in the threat it faces—the threat of annihilation. It has long been a bastion of democracy in a region of tyranny and violence. And it is by far our closest ally in that part of the world.
Despite wars and terrorists attacks, Israel offers all its citizens, men and women, Jews, Christians, Muslims and, others including 1.5 million Arabs, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, the right to vote, access to independent courts and all other democratic rights.
Nowhere has President Obama's lack of judgment been more stunning than in his dealings with Israel.
It breaks my heart that President Obama treats Israel, our great friend, as a problem, rather than as an ally. The President seems to genuinely believe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lies at the heart of every problem in the Middle East. He said it Cairo in 2009 and again this year.
President Obama could not be more wrong.
The uprisings in Tunis, Cairo, Tripoli and elsewhere are not about Israelis and Palestinians. They're about oppressed people yearning for freedom and prosperity. Whether those countries become prosperous and free is not about how many apartments Israel builds in Jerusalem.
Today the president doesn't really have a policy toward the peace process. He has an attitude. And let's be frank about what that attitude is: he thinks Israel is the problem. And he thinks the answer is always more pressure on Israel.
I reject that anti-Israel attitude. I reject it because Israel is a close and reliable democratic ally. And I reject it because I know the people of Israel want peace.
Israeli – Palestinian peace is further away now than the day Barack Obama came to office. But that does not have to be a permanent situation.
We must recognize that peace will only come if everyone in the region perceives clearly that America stands strongly with Israel.
I would take a new approach.
First, I would never undermine Israel's negotiating position, nor pressure it to accept borders which jeopardize security and its ability to defend itself.
Second, I would not pressure Israel to negotiate with Hamas or a Palestinian government that includes Hamas, unless Hamas renounces terror, accepts Israel's right to exist, and honors the previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. In short, Hamas needs to cease being a terrorist group in both word and deed as a first step towards global legitimacy.
Third, I would ensure our assistance to the Palestinians immediately ends if the teaching of hatred in Palestinian classrooms and airwaves continues. That incitement must end now.
Fourth, I would recommend cultivating and empowering moderate forces in Palestinian society.
When the Palestinians have leaders who are honest and capable, who appreciate the rule of law, who understand that war against Israel has doomed generations of Palestinians to lives of bitterness, violence, and poverty – then peace will come.
The Middle East is changing before our eyes—but our government has not kept up. It abandoned the promotion of democracy just as Arabs were about to seize it. It sought to cozy up to dictators just as their own people rose against them. It downplayed our principles and distanced us from key allies.
All this was wrong, and these policies have failed. The Administration has abandoned them, and at the price of American leadership. A region that since World War II has looked to us for security and progress now wonders where we are and what we're up to.
The next president must do better. Today, in our own Republican Party, some look back and conclude our projection of strength and defense of freedom was a product of different times and different challenges. While times have changed, the nature of the challenge has not.
In the 1980s, we were up against a violent, totalitarian ideology bent on subjugating the people and principles of the West. While others sought to co-exist, President Reagan instead sought victory. So must we, today. For America is exceptional, and we have the moral clarity to lead the world.
It is not wrong for Republicans to question the conduct of President Obama's military leadership in Libya. There is much to question. And it is not wrong for Republicans to debate the timing of our military drawdown in Afghanistan— though my belief is that General Petraeus' voice ought to carry the most weight on that question.
What is wrong, is for the Republican Party to shrink from the challenges of American leadership in the world. History repeatedly warns us that in the long run, weakness in foreign policy costs us and our children much more than we'll save in a budget line item.
America already has one political party devoted to decline, retrenchment, and withdrawal. It does not need a second one.
Our enemies in the War on Terror, just like our opponents in the Cold War, respect and respond to strength. Sometimes strength means military intervention. Sometimes it means diplomatic pressure. It always means moral clarity in word and deed.
That is the legacy of Republican foreign policy at its best, and the banner our next Republican President must carry around the world.
Our ideals of economic and political freedom, of equality and opportunity for all citizens, remain the dream of people in the Middle East and throughout the world. As America stands for these principles, and stands with our friends and allies, we will help the Middle East transform this moment of turbulence into a firmer, more lasting opportunity for freedom, peace, and progress.
Tim Pawlenty, Remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/290848