So, this is how I imagine it. The phone rings at the White House. It’s Mubarak. He tells Obama that he will step aside and not run for reelection. Obama says great and says that he will make a public statement calling for a peaceful transition of power. Obama gets on television and makes some appropriate statements of support of the peaceful democratic movement of people seeking freedom and continuing attention to non-violence and human rights. Then, he puts his foot in his mouth by saying the transition of power has to happen smoothly and beginning NOW. I groaned when he said that. It was clearly a mistake. And sure enough, Obama’s statement has been used by the pro-Mubarak people whose appearance led to violence (directed at both reformers and media) who claim that the U.S. is engineering the opposition. In other words, Mubarak took Obama to the cleaners. I would have expected smarter choices from Obama.
Here’s the deal:
The popular counter-narrative in the Middle East is that the U.S. props up lots of stagnant and despotic regimes in the region that suit U.S. interests (and I would like to say that this isn’t just magical thinking). Any statements that can be read as the U.S. taking a role in the operations and outcome of Egyptian politics are unwise. We need to let it play out and confine out statements to supporting non-violence, human rights and the efforts of ordinary people seeking a better life and democratic government.
It’s not about us, so we need to not make it about us. I reiterate something I wrote in an earlier post: leave them alone aside from frequent statements of the principles listed above.
There is one caveat here. If it is really true, as it is reported, that the U.S. has independent contact with the military. I think a private, unofficial role in advising the military in how to maintain stability in the face of the political turmoil makes sense. Although this should be VERY limited contact. The military has done pretty well thus far.