President Obama huffed and puffed about the need for Mubarak to listen to the people but within the country, the US wasn’t seen as a force that could effect change. Indeed, with Hillary Clinton calling Mubarak’s regime “stable” and vice president Joe Biden declaring that he didn’t regard Mubarak as a dictator, the US did little to endear Washington to the country or the region.
How about Libya? Yes the US was involved in Operation Odyssey Dawn, that helped to enforce a no-fly zone against President Gaddafi’s forces but initially France and the UK took the lead, eventually handing over operational control to NATO.
Then we have Syria. At the UN back in April, China and Russia led opposition that blocked an initiative by the U.S. and its European allies France and the UK for the UN Security Council to condemn the Syrian government’s attacks on peaceful protesters. Since then the US has appeared weak and directionless with regard to support for the anti-authoritarian protests that have sprung up like wildfire across the Middle East.
According to John Sexton writing in the on-line publication Hot Air http://hotair.com/archives/2011/04/28/syria-gloats-over-us-failure-at-the-un/ it is reported that Middle East activists say they avoid references to the United States as a political role model, for fear of alienating potential supporters.
In the article Toujan Faisal, a veteran democracy campaigner in Jordan is quoted as saying, “I don’t think America appeals to the younger generation. I’m cautious not to present them with the American example because there’s a negative attitude to America, a disappointment”.
The attitude of the protesters towards the European powers is though, just as bad. The region after all has a long memory. A history of British and French colonization and exploitation has not enhance trust of Western countries or institutions. Whilst grateful for military support and humanitarian aid, the people of the Middle East are not looking to the US or Europe as models of the democratic process.
What this means for the political influence of the US in the Middle East is unclear at the moment but if as seems likely, the September elections in Egypt bring about a government either led by the Muslim Brotherhood or much more sympathetic towards radical Islam we will all be in a brand new ballgame.
Rami Khouri, director of the Fares Institute of Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut says in the same article, “nobody’s listening to America anymore, it’s become irrelevant.”