The New York Times reported over the weekend on how Obama administration advisors were divided on what to do about Egypt over the past several weeks. This isn’t surprising, as Egypt presented a difficult choice: Signal that the US is a reliable ally by backing Mubarak, or signal that the US supports the aspirations of democrats by backing the protestors. In a real failure of leadership on the part of President Obama himself, the administration ended up sending mixed signals that, to a large extent, courted the worst of both worlds: Unnerving allies without winning much goodwill from Mubarak’s opponents.
Understandably, the Secretary of State is trying to repair the damage done by this muddle by claiming they were consistent all along — and, to her credit, taking on the tyrants in Tehran with praise for those who protested in the streets today:
We had three very consistent messages: We were against violence, and we stated it often and we communicated it directly to Egyptian authorities. Secondly: We supported the universal human rights of the Egyptian people. And third: We stood for political change that would result in positive outcomes that would give the Egyptian people a better economic and political future. We believe the same for Iran.
This ought to be a no-brainer: While our alliance with Mubarak made trepidation about what comes next natural, the government in Iran could hardly get any worse. But during 2009 and 2010, the administration’s support for the Iranian opposition was decidedly muted. The prevailing theory was that overt American support for the Green Movement would undermine it. While this flattered the prejudices of those who think that an assertive American foreign policy tends to do more harm than good (and the Obama administration is full of such people), there was plenty of evidence that the fear of “hugging them to death” was overstated, and that Iranian dissidents would have liked to know that America was on their side.
Now that Iranian protests are heating up again, it’s a perfect time to reverse course. “We wish the opposition and the brave people in the streets across cities in Iran the same opportunity that they saw their Egyptian counterparts seize in the last week,” Hillary said. It would be nice to hear President Obama say the same thing. If he doesn’t, he risks sending the signal that he’s more enthusiastic about protests against allies than he is about those against enemies.
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