Obama: U.S. Stands with Middle East Nations Open to Reform

WASHINGTON, May 19, 2011 — Amid extra­or­di­nary changes tak­ing place in the Mid­dle East and North Africa, the Unit­ed States is respond­ing in ways that advance the nation’s val­ues and strength­en its secu­ri­ty, Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma said in a speech here today.

Oba­ma described how peo­ple across the region have risen up against oppres­sive gov­ern­ments dur­ing the past six months, town by town, in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Syr­ia and Bahrain.

“The ques­tion before us is: What role Amer­i­ca will play as this sto­ry unfolds?” Oba­ma said.

“For decades, the Unit­ed States has pur­sued a set of core inter­ests in the region — coun­ter­ing ter­ror­ism and stop­ping the spread of nuclear weapons, secur­ing the free flow of com­merce and safe-guard­ing the secu­ri­ty of the region, stand­ing up for Israel’s secu­ri­ty and pur­su­ing Arab-Israeli peace,” he said.

The Unit­ed States will con­tin­ue these efforts, keep­ing com­mit­ments to friends and part­ners, the pres­i­dent said.

After years of war in Iraq, 100,000 troops have moved out of the coun­try, he said.

“The Iraqis have reject­ed the per­ils of polit­i­cal vio­lence in favor of a demo­c­ra­t­ic process, even as they’ve tak­en full respon­si­bil­i­ty for their own secu­ri­ty,” the pres­i­dent said. Sec­tar­i­an divides need not lead to con­flict, he added. Iraq is poised to play a key role in the region, he added, if its progress con­tin­ues.

“As they do,” he said, “we will be proud to stand with them as a stead­fast part­ner.”

In Afghanistan, the Unit­ed States and its coali­tion part­ners have bro­ken the Taliban’s momen­tum, Oba­ma said. Start­ing in July, U.S. troops will begin return­ing home and the job of secu­ri­ty in Afghanistan will tran­si­tion to that nation’s own mil­i­tary.

“And after years of war against al-Qai­da and its affil­i­ates,” Oba­ma said, “we have dealt al-Qai­da a huge blow by killing its leader, Osama bin Laden.” Bin Laden was no mar­tyr, the pres­i­dent said.

“He was a mass mur­der­er who offered a mes­sage of hate, an insis­tence that Mus­lims had to take up arms against the West, and that vio­lence against men, women and chil­dren was the only path to change,” Oba­ma said.

Bin Laden reject­ed democ­ra­cy and indi­vid­ual rights for Mus­lims in favor of vio­lent extrem­ism, win­ning some fol­low­ers but alien­at­ing oth­ers with his “slaugh­ter of inno­cents,” he said.

“By the time we found bin Laden,” the pres­i­dent said, “al-Qaida’s agen­da had come to be seen by the vast major­i­ty of the region as a dead end, and the peo­ple of the Mid­dle East and North Africa had tak­en their future into their own hands.”

In too many coun­tries in the region, “calls for change have been answered by vio­lence.” Oba­ma said.

The most extreme exam­ple is Libya, he said, where Moam­mar Gad­hafi launched a war against his own peo­ple, “promis­ing to hunt them down like rats.”

Today, “the oppo­si­tion has orga­nized a legit­i­mate and cred­i­ble inter­im coun­cil. And when Gad­hafi inevitably leaves or is forced from pow­er, decades of provo­ca­tion will come to an end and the tran­si­tion to a demo­c­ra­t­ic Libya can pro­ceed,” he said.

In the months ahead, Oba­ma said Amer­i­ca must use its influ­ence to encour­age all coun­tries in the region to embrace reform.

“Our mes­sage is sim­ple,” he said. “If you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the full sup­port of the Unit­ed States.”

Mid­dle East­ern and North African nations won their inde­pen­dence long ago, he said, but in too many places their peo­ple did not.

The choice that must be made in these nations is the same that must be made across the region, he said — the choice between hate and hope.

“It’s a choice that must be made by lead­ers and by peo­ple,” he said, and one “that will define the future of a region that served as the cra­dle of civ­i­liza­tion and a cru­cible of strife.”

For the Amer­i­can peo­ple, he said, the scenes of upheaval in the region may be unset­tling but the forces dri­ving it are famil­iar.

Our own nation was found­ed through a rebel­lion against an empire, Oba­ma said. Our peo­ple fought a painful civ­il war that extend­ed free­dom and dig­ni­ty to those who were enslaved, he said.

“I would not be stand­ing here today unless past gen­er­a­tions turned to the moral force of non­vi­o­lence as a way to per­fect our union,” the pres­i­dent said.

“Orga­niz­ing, march­ing, and protest­ing peace­ful­ly togeth­er,” Oba­ma said, “to make real those words that declared our nation: ‘We hold these truths to be self evi­dent, that all men are cre­at­ed equal.’ ”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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