Regarding today's enormous, revolutionary protests in Egypt: I keep asking myself, "What will Obama do?"
Plenty of others have noted the bind he's in—caught between the words of his Cairo speech and the Devil-You-Know deals the U.S. has been striking with Mubarak for decades. Today, he's given the clearest indication so far that he's standing by his words of June 4, 2009, which are worth re-reading as the events in Egypt unfold:
Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.
At present, Obama is only standing by these words via "back channel" messages and strategic leaks about the contents of those messages. That's no small thing. But remember that September—the deadline that Obama has reportedly given Mubarak for stepping aside—is a long way off.
My guess is the protesters won't want to wait that long, and when they hear that Obama's gently distancing himself from Mubarak they'll want him gone immediately. Not in September. Now. And that desire is going to severely test Obama's "we will support them" pledge in Cairo.
If he's going to make his speech into more than just words—to borrow a well worn phrase from the 2008 campaign—he'll have no choice but to back the people's time line, not a global realpolitik time line.
THIS JUST IN: Mubarak announces he will not run for reelection, and wants a "peaceful transfer of power."
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