U.S. interests sometimes conflict with its values, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton conceded in a keynote speech to democratic activists, but the Obama administration will strive to support democracy in the Middle East as the best guarantee of long-term stability.
While U.S. democracy assistance groups were already on the ground “back when the streets of Arab cities were quiet,” the U.S. government cannot be so consistent in assisting democracy and human rights as circumstances differ from country to country, and compelling security interests will sometimes take precedence, she acknowledged in a speech to the National Democratic Institute.
Clinton used the speech to respond to frequently-heard criticisms of double standards and inconsistency, such as why Washington supported NATO intervention to oust Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi while exercising caution in Syria and indulging its allies in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
“Sometimes, as in Libya, we can bring dozens of countries together to protect civilians and help people liberate their country without a single American life lost,” she said.”Our choices also reflect other interests in the region with a real impact on Americans’ lives — including our fight against al Qaeda; defense of our allies; and a secure supply of energy.”
“Over time, a more democratic Middle East can provide a more sustainable basis for addressing all three,” she added. “But there will be times when not all of our interests align. We work to align them, but that is just reality.”
Her sentiments echoed those of President Obama’s Westminster address in which he said that the U.S. should “squarely acknowledge that we have enduring interests in the region — to fight terror with partners who may not always be perfect, and to protect against disruptions in the world’s energy supply,” while rejecting “as false the choice between our interests and our ideals; between stability and democracy.”
While addressing the criticisms of U.S. policy, Clinton insisted that “the most consequential questions of all are those the people and leaders of the region will have to answer for themselves,” she said.
But while the U.S. would provide aid to support democratic transitions, it would not try to engineer outcomes. Democracy is a home-grown process that can only be nurtured – and defended – by indigenous forces.
“Because ultimately, it is up to them…….to resist the calls of demagogues, to build coalitions, to keep faith in the system even when they lose at the polls, and to protect the principles and institutions that ultimately will protect them,” she said.
“Every democracy has to guard against those who would hijack its freedoms for ignoble ends.”
The administration would be “satisfied” if Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood came to power in a free and fair election, a senior official said last week.
Clinton affirmed that the United States was willing to engage democratically elected parties that do not necessarily share its values or views.
“What parties call themselves is less important than what they do,” she said. Any parties which respect the rule of law, reject violence, protect freedoms of speech and assembly and women’s rights should be considered legitimate political actors.
She applauded NDI’s work on a model code of conduct for parties across the political spectrum to reinforce democratic norms and hold leaders accountable for adhering to them.
Clinton also paid tribute to Geraldine Ferraro as “a trailblazing pioneer” for women’s political engagement “at the heart of democracy”; to Chuck Manatt, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, who “with his Republican counterpart, Frank Fahrenkopf, put together a bipartisan coalition to found the National Endowment for Democracy”; and to “the indomitable, unforgettable Richard Holbrooke,” a former NED board member.