Official: White House 'stood on the side of change' since start of Arab Spring

McDonough went on to draw a sharp distinction with the situation when Obama took office in 2009, a time, he said, when U.S.-Arab relations were “either frayed or stagnant” as a result of the war in Iraq and other policies pursued by George W. Bush.

“So let me speak candidly about the role of the United States,” he said. “First, history will show that we stood on the side of change from the beginning of these events. 

“We embraced the transformation in Tunisia. We sided with the aspirations of citizens on the streets in Egypt, even though the United States knew very well the leader that was overthrown, because we believe Egypt is made stronger by electing a government that is responsive to its people. We led an intervention to protect the Libyan people. We worked diligently, for months — literally months — to support the transition of power that has taken place in Yemen. And in countries like Bahrain, which I just visited, Morocco and Jordan, we have been advocates for reform. And in Syria, we stand for the dignity of the Syrian people, who deserve a new government that represents its citizens instead of killing them.”

The record on the ground is a little more nuanced, however.

In Yemen, the White House backed a deal to transfer power from war on terror ally President Ali Abdullah Saleh to his deputy Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi following an uncontested election. In Bahrain, home of the U.S. Navy's 5th fleet, the U.S. continues to support a government that crushed a popular uprising last year by the Shiite majority. And in Syria, the White House has so far refused to take additional measures such as arming rebel forces or guaranteeing the safety of humanitarian corridors.