February 2, 2011

On Egypt, Obama is being presidential

A few hours ago, President Obama made a brief and eloquent speech about the situation in Egypt [VIDEO link]. He is making the best of an uncertain situation, and one in which the United States necessarily is not in control. When Hosni Mubarak steps down, it will be due to a combination of popular uprising, military disenchantment, and White House resolve.

There has already been a good deal of finger-pointing over who "lost Egypt", alternating with lists of those who "saw it coming". On some level, everyone saw this coming. But no one in a position of influence had come up with any good option for managing the inevitable departure of the ailing, aged, autocratic leader of an impoverished and indispensable nation.

Should a new U.S. President facing a catastrophic global recession and collapsed Mideast peace process have forced Mubarak to liberalize and open up to opposition voices? How? Should the United States have cut off over $1 billion in assistance that is predicated upon Egypt's strategic partnership and lasting peace with Israel?

And what would some experts and scholars have Obama do right now: Keep Mubarak in power to avoid the possibility of an Islamist takeover? Most actually agree he is making the best of an uncertain situation by publicly reaffirming democratic principles, privately telling Mubarak to quit, and not trying to belatedly stage-manage the transition.

On the bright side, Egypt 2011 is not Iran 1979. Egyptians are revolting against Mubarak, not some corrupt "American Satan". The animosity toward the United States and Israel is not driving the popular uprising. It will not define future Egyptian grand strategy. Egypt has plenty of its own economic and political challenges. Also, Egypt's military is playing a different role than Iran's did, and that will prove decisive -- note President Obama's praise for their "professionalism and patriotism". However weakened or conflicted its emerging order may be, we will not be "losing" Egypt anytime soon.

Even a smart, successful American President can face difficult situations not entirely under his control (see under: Israeli settlements). His speech Tuesday evening was brief and eloquent, and masterful. It reflected a President being... presidential.

No comments:

Post a Comment