News / USA

    Gates: US Help for Mideast Activists Tempered by Security Interests

    US Defense Secretary Robert Gates (file photo)
    US Defense Secretary Robert Gates (file photo)
    Al Pessin

    U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has sounded a cautious tone on the United States’ ability to help democracy advocates in the Middle East.  Gates used what was expected to be a routine speech at a library opening Thursday to send a message about the difference between moral support for the activists and what the United States can and should do based on its national security interests.  

    It is a thin line many U.S. officials have been trying to walk for months now, since people in several Middle Eastern countries began marching for freedom.

    President Barack Obama has made clear the United States supports the spread of democracy, and has urged leaders in the region to accept reforms, with mixed results.  Some analysts and members of congress have criticized him for not doing enough to help the demonstrators, while others have criticized him for putting U.S. interests at risk by encouraging the fall of allies in the war on terror, including Egypt’s former president Hosni Mubarak and Yemen’s leader Ali Abdullah Saleh.

    On Thursday, speaking at the opening of a library at the home of the first U.S. president, George Washington, Secretary Gates tried to explain what he called the persistent "dilemma" U.S. leaders have faced for more than 200 years between the desire to promote America’s values and the need to protect its interests.

    "It is vital that we speak out about what we believe and let the world know where we stand, even as we do what we must to protect our interests and our security," said Gates. "The most successful leaders, starting with Washington, have steadfastly encouraged the spread of liberty, democracy, and human rights.  At the same time, however, they have fashioned policies blending different approaches with different emphases in different places at different times."

    Gates acknowledged that doing "what we must" has sometimes meant working with what he called "some of the worst violators of human rights,"  even as American leaders made protection of human rights "the centerpiece" of their foreign policy.  And regarding today’s democracy movements in the Middle East, he said, U.S. moral support for demonstrators who are risking their lives for freedom and democracy does not necessarily mean support for quick, destabilizing change throughout the region.

    "When we discuss openly our desire for democratic values to take hold across the globe, we are describing a world that may be many years or decades off," he said.

    Gates said while the United States would like to see "democratic values" take hold across the globe, achieving that ideal "may be limited by time, space, resources or human nature."

    Secretary Gates - who is expected to retire in a few months - has been in government for 40 years and held numerous senior positions at the White House and the Central Intelligence Agency under eight presidents.  He is known as a "realist" on U.S. foreign policy.  That refers to someone who believes the United States must identify and defend its most important national interests, even if that sometimes involves dealing with dictators or not helping people in need.  "Idealists," on the other hand, believe the active promotion of U.S. values is more important, and will serve the country’s security interests in the long term.

    In public statements, President Obama and many of his predecessors have tended to emphasize the "idealist" view, as the president did two weeks ago in his speech explaining the U.S. participation in the international military operation in Libya.

    "We know that our own future is safer, our own future is brighter, if more of mankind can live with the bright light of freedom and dignity," said President Obama.

    But on Thursday, Secretary Gates put the proposition the other way around.

    "An underlying theme of American history going back to Washington is that we are compelled to defend our security and our interests in ways that, in the long run, lead to the spread of democratic values and institutions," said Gates.

    Gates noted that in the 1780s, President Washington himself chose to restore relations with the monarchy in Britain for economic and strategic reasons, rather than supporting the French revolutionaries who had just rebelled against their king.  Gates said "American leaders have struggled with ‘realistic’ versus ‘idealistic’ approaches to international challenges" ever since.  

    You May Like

    In Britain, The Sun Still Doesn’t Shine

    Invoking Spitfires and Merlin, Leave voters insist country can be great again, following surprising 'Brexit' vote last week

    Double Wave of Suicide Bombings Puts Lebanon, Refugees on Edge

    Following suicide bombings in Christian town of Al-Qaa, on Lebanon's northeast border with Syria, fears of further bombings have risen

    US Senators Warned on Zika After Failing to Pass Funding

    Zika threats and challenges, as well as issues of contraception and vaccines, spelled out as lawmakers point fingers

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeasti
    X
    June 29, 2016 6:15 PM
    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora