So here we are, the day we started referring to “Former president Hosni Mubarak,” and I can’t help feeling, with my 20/20 hindsight, that maybe our own president didn’t play things all so well.
Truthfully, I haven’t felt very confident in our foreign policy throughout this entire struggle. I was frankly surprised at the loudly tepid reaction of our leaders to Mubarak’s possible fall, and certainly I was concerned that the rebellion would be successful, and that they would remember how unexcited the U.S. seemed about their efforts.
I realize that Obama was caught between Scylla and Charybdis. On the one hand, we have a dictator leading a non-democratic nation, and he allows us access to the Suez canal, peace with Israel, and a diplomatic work-around for communication with Hamas. On the other, we have freedom, civil rights, democracy — all the things the U.S. normally stands for, but with an added tinge of uncertainty, the specter of an Islamic state being created, of the Camp David peace treaty being violated or even nullified.
Frankly, I think we’ve actually made the latter possibility more likely by our tiptoeing around. Egyptians have seen clearly that, when push comes to shove, freedom and democracy aren’t actually priorities for the U.S., no matter which party is talking. These abstractions apparently can’t measure up to the palpable cooperation we’ve had from Egypt over the years in the fields of anti-terrorism, commerce, and peace. The Egyptian people understand where we’re coming from, now. And it isn’t as the great supporters of international human rights.
We’ve made some enemies in the last two weeks of our doublespeak that pleased no one and angering many. (Whatever happened to “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”?*) We may make more before this wave crests (as civil unrest gets discouraged in Algeria, blocked in Iran, and implemented in, of all places, Bolivia).
Is it possible for a nation to stick to its ideals? Is a foreign policy based on beliefs instead of pragmatism inevitably a failure? I don’t know the answers. But I do have a very hard time having had our country been, once again, on the wrong side of a moral issue.
And, for the record, I don’t think a President McCain, or a President G.W. Bush, would have played it much differently.
*The same idea occurred independently to this author, who makes some interesting points. Recommended.