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)
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

Egyptian Court Jails 23 Pro-Morsi Supporters

Meanwhile, Egyptian officials say gunmen have killed two members of the country's security forces More

Pakistani Journalists Protest Shooting of Colleague

Hamid Mir, a host for private television channel Geo, was wounded after being shot three times Saturday, but is expected to survive More

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.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid