There was a time when American presidents actually supported revolutionary movements. Of course that was when we had a relatively progressive foreign policy – back in 1789, for example, when the French overthrew their absolutist regime. Americans broadly supported their effort.
But over many decades, of course, we shifted away from our democratic and revolutionary ideals to become a plodding force for reaction and authoritarianism in the world covered over in a thin gloss of concern for human rights.
So it was not a surprise, tonight, that Barack Obama missed his chance to mark a return to our democratic roots. The Egyptian people, like their Tunisian brothers and sisters, will not stop until Mubarak is gone. Obama should have called for his removal from power and his arrest and deportation to the World Court in the Hague. But instead, he criticized the demonstrators for violence and made a feckless call for Mubarak to engage in dialogue. His comments were forgotten before he had left the room, made irrelevant in the minds of Americans and Egyptians alike by the images we are watching on CNN.
This new revolutionary wave sweeping the Arab world has passed our country’s leadership by. Not since 10 million people stood up against the Iraq war in February 2003 have we seen such moving independent expressions for political change. The movement is testing our country as well as those of the mideast, and right now our leadership has failed its global responsibilities.
Sadly our government has behaved like this in the past – in Hungary in 1956, in Czechoslovakia in 1968, in Poland in 1980-81, and in China in 1989. Each time our government’s unwillingness to lead opened the door to bloody repression and many more years of authoritarian rule. The liberal left’s “hope” for “change” has once again been dashed by Obama. Let us do hope that the independent democratic movement emerging in north Africa and the Arabian peninsula as we speak can break this pattern.