President Obama addresses the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Tuesday.
President Obama addresses the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Tuesday. // AP Photo

Obama’s 5 Rules for the Middle East

President Obama used his speech before the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday to spell out the five tenets of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and North Africa. Obama did not detail the full Middle East strategy that his critics have demanded more than two years into the Arab spring. But the president, defying any sense of an American withdrawal from conflicts in the region, said the question over U.S. military intervention into Syria illustrates a deep divide over how the rest of the world sees U.S. engagement in the region: some wanting the U.S. avoid “meddling” while calling on the U.S. to do more to solve “the region’s problems.”

“I know there are those who have been frustrated by our unwillingness to use our military might to depose [Syrian President Bashar al] Assad, and believe that a failure to do so indicates a weakening of America’s resolve in the region. Others have suggested that my willingness to direct even limited military strikes to deter the further use of chemical weapons shows that we have learned nothing from Iraq, and that America continues to seek control over the Middle East for our own purposes,” Obama said, according to his prepared remarks. “In this way, the situation in Syria mirrors a contradiction that has persisted in the region for decades: the United States is chastised for meddling in the region, and accused of having a hand in all manner of conspiracy; at the same time, the United States is blamed for failing to do enough to solve the region’s problems, and for showing indifference toward suffering Muslim populations.”

“I realize some of this is inevitable, given America’s role in the world. But these attitudes have a practical impact on the American peoples’ support for our involvement in the region, and allow leaders in the region – and the international community – to avoid addressing difficult problems,” Obama said. “So let me take this opportunity to outline what has been U.S. policy towards the Middle East and North Africa, and what will be my policy during the remainder of my presidency.”

These are Obama’s five goals for U.S. foreign policy and military engagement in the Middle East and North Africa:

1.      “The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure these core interests in the region.”

2.      “We will confront external aggression against our allies and partners, as we did in the Gulf War.”

3.      “We will ensure the free flow of energy from the region to the world. Although America is steadily reducing our own dependence on imported oil, the world still depends upon the region’s energy supply, and a severe disruption could destabilize the entire global economy.”

4.      “We will dismantle terrorist networks that threaten our people. Wherever possible, we will build the capacity of our partners, respect the sovereignty of nations, and work to address the root causes of terror. But when its necessary to defend the United States against terrorist attacks, we will take direct action.” 

5.      “And finally, we will not tolerate the development or use of weapons of mass destruction. Just as we consider the use of chemical weapons in Syria to be a threat to our own national security, we reject the development of nuclear weapons that could trigger a nuclear arms race in the region, and undermine the global non-proliferation regime.”

[Read more: The Obama Doctrine]

“Now, to say these are America’s core interests is not to say these are our only interests. We deeply believe it is in our interest to see a Middle East and North Africa that is peaceful and prosperous; and will continue to promote democracy, human rights, and open markets, because we believe these practices achieve peace and prosperity,” Obama said. “But I also believe that we can rarely achieve these objectives through unilateral American action – particularly with military action. Iraq shows us that democracy cannot be imposed by force. Rather, these objectives are best achieved when we partner with the international community, and with the countries and people of the region.”