We put him in power and sustained him for thirty years. We used him to build our mideast policy and now dictator Hosni Mubarak and his henchman Suleiman refuse to go.
Why should we be so surprised?
Obama chose to stick with Mubarak throughout the last month – the head of what Hillary Clinton called a “stable” government even as it was crumbling around him – a man that Joe Biden refused to call a dictator even as his regime tortured and imprisoned thousands of innocent Egyptians.
The Obama strategy was to drag this process out, delay the inevitable in the vain hope the revolution would die out and then “normalcy” could return thus preserving US power and leverage in the region. Mubarak likely thinks he is only following the script written in the White House Situation Room. After all, the first reaction from Obama this afternoon was, well, gosh, the Mubarak speech just wasn’t clear enough. As if the masses in the streets somehow did not understand what the US and Mubarak were trying to get away with.
But the crowd is not taking the medicine and now this has put Obama in a very precarious position. His global reputation is about to take a huge hit and his claim to represent the progressive left in the US is all but lost. If the appointment of bankers and CEOs to the Administration were not enough, siding with the CIA’s hit man, Suleiman, surely is for many in the party.
Obama forgets too easily that his re-nomination must come from a party base that is far to the left of the electorate. While it is very unlikely that that left would come up with a credible alternative to Obama a demoralized party base is unlikely to do the same kind of yeoman service that got Obama to the White House in 2008.
And one has to point out at the same time that if Hillary Clinton had hoped to follow Obama in 2016 after either a stint as Secretary of Defense or even as Vice President that possibility can now be considered all but dead. She has channeled Joe Lieberman in this crisis, playing the realist not realizing how deeply reality has shifted in the middle east. The Democratic Party has not nominated a realist for president since Hubert Humphrey and look how well that turned out.
In retrospect the Obama approach to this crisis was foreshadowed in their unwillingness to support the democracy movement in Iran fearing, again seeing the world in a realist vein, the impact of that movement on negotiations over nuclear weapons. Fearing the possibility that they would be tainted with the Bush era agenda of “bringing democracy” to the middle east, they ended support for human rights groups in the region and stayed on the sidelines as the mullahs cracked down on their own population.
Now a similar scenario is playing out in Egypt. Fortunately, the Mubarak regime has no serious support in the country and thus is unlikely to survive. The United States will have to get used to the idea that the world’s balance of power is shifting in important and lasting ways.