Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Nicholas Burns on Implications of Arab Spring for U.S. Policy

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Nicholas Burns on Implications of Arab Spring for U.S. Policy

Article excerpt

U.S. Ambassador Nicholas Burns discussed "The Arab Spring and Implications for U.S. Foreign Policy" at a June 23 World Affairs Council luncheon held at the City Club of Washington, DC. After three decades as a diplomat, during which he served as under-secretary of state for political affairs, U.S. ambassador to NATO and Greece, and State Department spokesman for Secretaries Madeleine Albright and Warren Christopher, Burns joined the faculty at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

He began his remarks by placing the Arab Spring in an international context he described as "the most challenging time for the U.S. since World War II." The global recession, tensions with Iran and North Korea, and the multiple wars that the U.S. is fighting in the Middle East, along with transnational issues like climate change, trafficking and terrorism, have created a complex agenda for the U.S. "America today no longer has the choice to be isolationist," stated Burns.

Praising President Barack Obama for his management of the Arab Spring thus far, Burns countered allegations that the U.S. is acting inconsistently in the region by arguing that "We cannot have a one-size-fits-all policy in the Middle East." Differing political, military and economic interests throughout the Middle East justify the vastly different responses to crises, he maintained.

Burns defended Obama's behind-the-scenes work in Egypt during President Hosni Mubarak's ousting and his decision to intervene in Libya despite initial skepticism. Deep concern from Britain and France, and support from the Arab League and the Security Council, pushed Obama to act proactively to "avoid a bloodbath in Benghazi," Burns explained. Efforts in Libya are undermined, however, by the lack of support from key NATO allies who publicly criticize the mission, most notably Germany, a country Burns called "semi-isolationist."

Asked why Washington responded to the Libyan and Syrian crises so differently, Burns pointed out that the two countries are vastly different. Syria is more densely populated, making an air attack more likely to cause a high number of civilian casualties. The lack of consensus in the U.N. Security Council on how to move forward also makes the Syrian case more complex, he noted, saying he supports isolating and sanctioning the Syrian government while encouraging its people to continue fighting. …

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