John Tabin provides a sharp and well-informed analysis of the Obama administration’s manifest failures vis-à-vis Egypt. But one question that must be answered — because it is distorting our collective understanding of how the United States should respond — is this: What should President Obama have done differently, and what must he now do?
As I mentioned yesterday here at AmSpec, Obama should have announced, both publicly and privately, that while Mubarak has been a great American ally, his time has passed; and he must, therefore, leave office.
At the same time, Obama should have conditioned continued U.S. aid to Egypt upon the peaceful resolution of the situation there. That is, he should have said — and can say still — that Egypt will not receive another dime from the United States unless Egyptian blood is spared and until the situation there is resolved peacefully.
This would have sent a clear and unmistakable message to Egypt’s most important institution, the Egyptian military. To wit: that not only must the Egyptian military refrain from instigating violence; it also must actively prevent bloodshed and keep the peace.
Given that the Egyptian military receives more than $1.3 billion annually in U.S. aid and assistance, this would have been a powerful inducement to ensure that the protests in Egypt remained peaceful.
Certainly, an American pledge to cut off aid would have helped to stop Mubarak from unleashing violent, paid thugs into the streets of Cairo. In fact, had Obama acted more quickly, less ambiguously and more resolutely than he has thus far, the violence that began yesterday might well have been averted.
Obama, then, has missed a crucial and fleeting opportunity. However, it is still not too late for him to do the right thing in order to prevent further violence.
Yet too many analysts and politicians, on both the Left and the Right, continue to make excuses for Obama. “He has to walk a fine line,” they say. “He can’t risk alienating Mubarak.”
“If he dumps Mubarak, that will frighten our other key allies in the region who have less-than-savory records.” “He should privately urge Mubarak to leave, but be much more circumspect in public.”
Nonsense. Obama doesn’t have a fine line to walk. His choice is clear, not complicated. And it is to stand, visibly and publicly, with the forces of freedom and democracy, not the forces of repression and autocracy.
Mubarak is 82 years old. He knows he has no future in Egypt. And he’s benefited for 30 years from steadfast American support. He hardly can be surprised, then, that the United States is looking past him, with the aim of engaging Egypt’s new and future leaders.
In short, we don’t owe Mubarak anything. Our debt to him has been well paid, literally and figuratively, for more than three decades.
As for our other autocratic allies in the Middle East and elsewhere, they should be put on notice: If they do not begin to institute democratic reforms that result in more representative governments and more open societies, then they may soon find themselves ushered away by history-changing events similar to those now playing out in Egypt.
And the reason for this is not the United States; the reason is their own people: They expect and demand better. Everyone knows this; so there is no harm if Obama says this.
In fact, it is helpful when the President of the United States publicly champions liberal democracy and prods countries to reform. Autocracies are inherently unstable, after all. And so, the time for repressive and illiberal regimes to change and to liberalize is before a crisis strikes.
Indeed, that’s the lesson that is now being learned in Egypt. Obama, as Tabin notes, has been late and tardy to history. However, he still has time to align and focus American foreign policy. And he must do so now.
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