Supporting democratic transitions in Arab and North African nations is “a strategic necessity” for the United States, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday.
“We will not return to the false choice between freedom and stability. And we will not pull back our support for emerging democracies when the going gets tough,” Clinton told a U.S. think tank.
“That would be a costly strategic mistake that would undermine both our interests and our values.”
Weeks before the revolution in Egypt against longtime leader Hosni Mubarak broke out, Clinton said she had warned Arab leaders at a meeting in Doha that the “region’s foundations were sinking into the sand.”
“It was clear even then that the status quo was unsustainable. That refusal to change was itself becoming a threat to stability,” Clinton told the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“So for the United States, supporting democratic transitions is not a matter of idealism. It is a strategic necessity.”
But she cautioned that “achieving genuine democracy and broad-based growth will be a long and difficult process.”
“There will be setbacks along the way. Times when some will surely ask if it was all worth it. But going back to the way things were in December 2010 isn't just undesirable, it is impossible.”
Last month’s attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, “revealed strains of extremism that threaten these nations, as well as the broader region and the United States,” the U.S. top diplomat added.
“On the other hand, we've seen actions that would have been hard to imagine just a few years ago: Democratically-elected leaders and free people in Arab countries standing up for a peaceful, pluralist future.”
“It is way too soon to say how these transitions will play out. But what's not in doubt is that America has a big stake in the outcome.”
Defending Rice on Benghazi attack
Earlier Friday, Clinton stepped into the fray of a row whipped up by Republicans against U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice over her comments on the Benghazi attack.
“To this day, to this day,” Clinton stressed, “we do not have a complete picture, we do not have all the answers” to what happened on Sept. 11 when the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was attacked by heavily-armed men.
“No one in this administration has ever claimed otherwise. Every one of us has made clear that we are providing the best information we have at that time,” Clinton added.
“That information continues to be updated, it also continues to be put into context and more deeply understood,” she said, amid investigations into how ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the attack.
In the midst of the heated White House race, Republicans have repeatedly denounced the U.S. administration of President Barack Obama for changing its account of what triggered the ferocious assault.
Initially officials said it was sparked by an angry protest over an anti-Islam film, before later in September finally acknowledging it was a terrorist attack.
Republican anger, however, has zeroed in on Rice, who on the Sunday after the attack went on the morning television talk shows and said that according to the information available at the time it was a “spontaneous” protest.
“Ambassador Rice had the same information from the intelligence community as every other senior official did,” Clinton told reporters, after talks with Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi di Sant'Agata.
“We can only tell you what we know based on our most current understanding of the attack, and what led up to it. Obviously we will know more as time goes by. And we will know even more than we did hours and days after the attack.”
Clinton vowed the administration was seeking “to understand what happened, and we are doing all we can to prevent it from ever happening again.”
“And as a government we are doing what it takes to track down those responsible.”