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Ambassador: U.S. should aid freedom fighters

Date: 3/1/2011

March 2, 2011

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD — Ambassador Mark Hambley, who continues his work in the Middle East after a 30-year diplomatic career, believes the United States should take a supporting role in the revolution currently in Libya by airdropping medical supplies and food to the parts of that nation controlled by the revolutionary forces.

The Springfield resident made his remarks to Reminder Publications several days after he made an address presented by the World Affairs Council. Hambley is a senior trustee at The Next Century Foundation (, an organization that works to resolve differences in the Middle East through dialogue.

Hambley was the U.S. ambassador in Qatar and Lebanon and the Consul General in Alexandria, Egypt, and in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He was also the special representative to the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development, the U.S. representative to the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests and the special negotiator on climate change during the Clinton and early months of the Bush administrations

He explained the events in Tunisia, which started this wave of revolution, were not expected.

"Everyone was surprised," he said.

He wasn't surprised by the revolution in Egypt, though, which he called "a pressure cooker."

Although one could generalize the protests are largely because of the need for more democratic governments, Hambley noted situations vary from country to country.

The protests in Oman were also a surprise to many Middle Eastern observers as Hambley explained the ruling sultan has been popular and had opened up the political process, but demonstrators seek greater reforms.

In Bahrain, though, the violent protests stem from the ruling royal family belonging to the Sunni sect of Islam, while the majority of the population is Shia, Hambley explained.

In Iraq, although the U.S. occupation has established a democratic base, people there are still concerned about security, government services and jobs, he added.

The U.S. has long stressed to the governments of many of these nations, most of which have been allies, the need to have more open governments, Hambley said. The release of confidential reports through Wikileaks has confirmed that stance, he added.

Hambley said American authorities have also traditionally opposed the way many of these governments have dealt with political prisoners.

Those urgings have not necessarily been heard. In Egypt, a major U.S. ally, Hambley said the last elections were "very, very fraudulent."

"It was the straw that broke the camel's back," he said.

The U.S. has supported the government Egypt with millions of dollars in economic aid, paid in part to help secure the peace with Israel. However, Hambley noted that on his recent trip to Egypt during the protests, there were no anti-American or Israeli signs. The issues were domestic.

Hambley said American officials should be speaking with opposition leaders in the various Middle Eastern and North African countries currently undergoing protests to remove totalitarian governments. He noted the failure in American policy by not encouraging the protesters in Iran in 2009 who demonstrated against their government.

He said Congress seldom focus on "the big picture" and only deals with international issues when they arise.

"We tend to firefight as a government," he said.

For Americans seeking information on international issues, the problem has been "the great news organizations have collapsed," he explained.

With oil prices increasing, Americans are now aware of some of the issues, but they need to be aware there is a difference between the prices set by oil speculators and the actual price of the oil itself, he noted. What interests him is why the American strategic oil reserves haven't been tapped as a way to lower gasoline costs.

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