To a significant extent, President Obama’s innate caution and temperamentally conservative nature have served him well. It’s why he has reneged on his campaign pledge to close Guantanamo Bay. And it is why (after much dithering and indecision, admittedly) he finally and belatedly committed the United States to a prolonged strategy of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan.
But Obama’s strength has also been his profound weakness vis-à-vis Egypt. He has been cautious to a fault. Consequently, he and his administration have consistently been behind the curve, surprised by events, and caught flatfooted by the trajectory of history.
Thus his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, last week declared that the Mubarak regime was stable just before it dissolved.
Egypt is no doubt a difficult and challenging situation. However, this is a moment that cries out for bold and visible American leadership. And Obama’s statements thus far have been seriously inadequate.
Obama seems to be going out of his way not to offend Mubarak. This is a mistake. Mubarak is 82 years old. He has been a faithful and helpful American ally, but his time has passed. And the United States of America should say just that, clearly and publicly: Mubarak must go.
That we have not done so is a reason this crisis is continuing and now, it seems, with violent clashes in Cairo Tahrir Square. Indeed, pro-Mubarak thugs, with Molotov cocktails and a thirst for autocratic revenge, have been unleashed into the streets of Cairo.
This is unacceptable. Obama last night said that violence must be averted; however, he did not call for the man who precipitated this violence, Hosni Mubarak, to step down now. Yet public diplomacy in this media age is a crucial and integral aspect of American foreign policy.
Obama famously said that “words matter.” Too bad that when it comes to Egypt he doesn’t seem to heed his own advice.