However much President Obama wants to support the democratic thrust of the Arab spring, strategic considerations place real constraints on his policy options, writes Sean Yom. But there is scope for shifting the threshold of what is tolerable from Middle East rulers, while creating space for local democratic actors.
Tomorrow’s eagerly anticipated speech gives the President Obama an opportunity to offer the clearest articulation yet of the still-evolving Obama Doctrine. But observers should not expect a paradigmatic shift in foreign policy, in which the US sacrifices strategic interests wholesale on the altar of democratic idealism.
The Fifth Fleet needs a Persian Gulf base, not least because of Iran; so no policy principal will be calling for the deposal of the Al-Khalifa dynasty in Manama, despite the popular opposition it faces. Israeli security depends on its western flank, so Washington will hardly rejoice if Egypt’s next government is dominated by Islamists, no matter how free and fair the elections. In many ways, American grand strategy in the Middle East remains wedded to the realist overtones set by the Eisenhower Doctrine more than a half-century ago. The US desires stable democracies; but given the rarity of such states in the region, it will take stability if given a hard choice.