Thursday 22 Feb 2018 | 23:47 | SYDNEY
Thursday 22 Feb 2018 | 23:47 | SYDNEY

Egypt: Obama\'s caution



3 February 2011 13:54

Jonathan Chait at New Republic writes:

The Egyptian populace seems almost totally united in opposition to Mubarak, with the only significant support coming from those in Mubarak's pay. The opposition has all the nationalist and religious legitimacy it needs. At this point Obama needs to forcefully cut Mubarak loose. The only delay, I would hope, is his slowness to respond to events, a trait he has consistently displayed since the campaign. Sometimes that caution has served him well, but here it hasn't. If Obama does not act soon it will be a black mark.

What I want to know is, how does the current, more cautious, US policy actually harm US interests' OK, it runs the risk of giving Obama a 'black mark', which I assume is serious. But substantively, what is the damage'

Maybe there's a risk that, by not cutting Mubarak loose, Obama looks suspect in the eyes of whatever government takes over. But Obama has said enough to indicate where his sympathies lie. What's more, the US is a huge aid donor to the Egyptian Army and a major player in the region, so it's unlikely the US will be permanently sidelined.

The Obama Administration's approach — as described here, with quotes from a 'senior Administration official' — sounds about right to me. It conforms to one of the cardinal rules of diplomacy — never put your interlocutor in a position from which they cannot retreat without losing face:

It became U.S. policy to nudge Mubarak to a place where he considered it his best option to step aside and allow for free elections - truly free elections - as he had promised to do. By not pressing him to resign immediately, the U.S. was giving Mubarak a graceful way to exit.

(Though BTW, I still think this quote, and the article it comes from, implies a level of US influence over events that is not justified. Most of the 'nudging' on Mubarak surely comes from domestic forces, not any foreign government. And as for the street protests, the US has even less sway.) 


This, from Bernard Keane in today's Crikey newsletter (not online yet), addresses my question of what harm is done by Obama's cautious approach:

But its failure to think ahead, its unwillingness to accept that its client regime is about to go under, its inability to make the basic connection that even its conservative opponents are making, have all undoubtedly helped the Mubarak regime believe it can tough out the demonstrations by use of force.

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