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Posted at 12:58 PM ET, 02/11/2011

Obama's Egypt opportunity

By Charles Lane
From its beginning, the crisis in Egypt has reminded many Americans of similar events a generation ago in Iran, when the pro-American shah fell and -- because the Revolution evolved in a radical, anti-American direction -- took President Jimmy Carter down with him.

The analogy is, in many ways, superficial: To name just one crucial difference, in today's Egypt there is no charismatic figure to galvanize a theocratic Islamist movement, as the Ayatollah Khomeini did in Iran.

Still, even after the resignation of Hosni Mubarak, the revolution could go sour in any number of ways that would not only threaten democracy and U.S. interests in the Middle East but also the political fortunes of President Obama.

I know we're not supposed to think about foreign policy in such crass political terms. But in this case, there is no inherent contradiction between Obama's political self-interest, Egyptian democracy and Middle East stability. To the contrary, Mubarak's exit under mostly nonviolent circumstances opens a huge opportunity to secure all three.

I find it hard to fault Obama's management of the crisis so far: The situation was unpredicted (if not exactly unpredictable) and fraught with uncertainty and difficult tradeoffs. Yes, there were tactical missteps -- CIA chief Leon Panetta's premature forecast of Mubarak's resignation being the most embarrassing -- but overall, Obama and his team have managed to avoid doing any irreversible harm. And that's no small achievement. The United States can probably never control the transition ahead, but it has preserved enough credibility and leverage to influence it.

If Obama reaches out effectively to the democratic forces rising both within the military and the civilian population -- and if the Arab world's largest and most important country moves nonviolently toward free elections while maintaining peace with Israel -- he can banish the specter of Carter's Iran bungling and notch a major foreign policy accomplishment. No one would remember the zigs and zags of the past three weeks.

The Republicans would be forced to concede that this president had, indeed, fulfilled one of his major campaign promises of 2008: to catalyze a better understanding between the United States and the Muslim world. Obama would even be able to claim victory in a cause -- Middle East democracy -- that his predecessor articulated but did not irreversibly advance except, possibly, in Iraq.

It will take adjustments in Obama's thinking: He must embrace democratic change in the Arab world more forcefully than he has in the past, with all the risks that entails. But the rewards could be great, great enough to warrant a major investment of his administration's time and energy in Egypt over the rest of his term.

By Charles Lane  | February 11, 2011; 12:58 PM ET
Categories:  Lane  
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Next: It's official: A revolution in Egypt

Comments

1Obama will come out smelling like a rose despite the gross incompetense of his administration (especially Leon Panetta and the CIA). Already, I've heard two "pundits" on MSNBC allude to the possibility that Obama's election in 2008 lead directly to the uprising in 2011 in Egypt. The next thing will be to organize the Nobel Prize Committee to award another Nobel Prize to Obama. Surely, it has a way of awarding an Oak Leaf Cluster in lieu of another Nobel Prize.

Posted by: Paaa | February 11, 2011 1:34 PM | Report abuse


If the ditherer in chief would just not dither. That's about the size of it.

Posted by: edbyronadams | February 11, 2011 1:51 PM | Report abuse

Obama should parachute in and land in front of a Mission Accomplished banner hanging from the front of the State Dept.

Posted by: oldabandonedbeachhouse | February 11, 2011 1:55 PM | Report abuse

Why oh why do columnist/pundits insist on a Mubarack/Obama connection. He has been there for years and we have no idea who/what will replace him.

Posted by: rlj1 | February 11, 2011 2:26 PM | Report abuse

U.S. interests in the Middle East = this Krauthammer wannabe's allegiance to Israel.

Posted by: areyousaying | February 11, 2011 2:40 PM | Report abuse

Iran is NOT where we should take our lesson from in regard to the situation in Egypt. We should take it from Cuba. For those of us that are old enough to remember the U.S. whole heartedly supported Castro when he orginally took over Cuba only to have him steal the country from its citizens and tell us to go sc__w at the same time. Based on what this guy Clapper has said we in danger of doing the same thing in Egypt.

Posted by: AnAmerican5 | February 11, 2011 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Obama needs to fire his entire intelligence team if he has ANY HOPE OF OBTAINING OPPORTUNITY IN THE MID EAST! Clapper should be FIRED. That guy has proven in the past two months that he is just incompetent. Sadly, our adversaries see it and laugh! Same for the Director of the CIA! Obama's intell team FLUNKED THE COURSE ON EGYPT and they are (were) our friends!!

(NOTICE WAPO HAS BEEN SILENT ON THE MATTER!!)

Posted by: wheeljc | February 11, 2011 2:58 PM | Report abuse

So, the lesson from what has been going on in Egypt is that it is the responsibility of American intelligence to divine today what is going to happen tomorrow even when the main actors in the events unfolding have no clue where things are headed. Will he resign? Or will he?. Never mind, "he" himself did not know the answer until apparently the Army made a few things clear to him. All this in real time, too. Hey, folks, when events happen in real time, our spooks have no special faculty to predict what comes next.

As they say, the strength of an opinion is directly proportional to the ignorance about the matter on the part the person holding it.

Posted by: hollywoodog | February 11, 2011 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Too bad your not up to speed with the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood has demanded that the military give up their power and turn it over to a civilian authority. Namely the Muslim Brotherhood. It's better to hear what the Muslim Brotherhood has wouldn't you say.

Posted by: houstonian | February 11, 2011 4:09 PM | Report abuse

Obama seems to have been playing catch up and trying to second guess the outcome. The first reaction of Biden and Clinton was to support Mubarak - Biden saying he was democratically elected and Clinton calling him a family friend. Then they were trying to persuade them to allow more freedom but stay in power and only after the outcome was inevitable did they call on them to step down.

Posted by: glennet1 | February 11, 2011 4:20 PM | Report abuse

Obama puts a positive spin on the results of the Egyptians protesters. They succeeded in getting rid of Hosni Mubarak after only two weeks on the streets and help from Google “guy” social media orchestration of get the poor Egyptian people on the streets. Remember the March of the Millions and Obama says liberation. There is a stench in the air and it is not from all the garbage left on the streets of Cario.

It was good to see Hosni Mubarak jerk the news media around a bit with “first he says he will, but then he won’t, and then he says he will” and he leaves? The lesson for revolutionaries is that you can get rid of a President by protests. Let’s see what will happen under military rule. The protesters are so happy for what?

Americans are on the alert to Egypt’s revolution (so-called protesters) to overthrown the President of Egypt. Protesters interested in democracy do not demand the removal of the President. Instead they estabalish a group with a spokes person to articulate the changes they want to see in government and how those changes will improve social unrest and poverty.

It will be obvious to everyone when the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical Islam groups infiltrate Egyptian government and Egypt is transformed into a Nation of Islam the religion of the Muslim people. The mistake in the Islamic Republic of Iran will be repeated in Egypt right under the nose of the political liberal lefts Obama and possible with his encouragement.

Possibly, the Democrats can disguise the Muslim religious take over until Obama runs his 2012 election campaign. If Obama is elected in 2012, it will be clear sailing for the Muslim world accomplished by the religious banner of Islam.

Posted by: klausdmk | February 11, 2011 4:32 PM | Report abuse

Obama puts a positive spin on the results of the Egyptians protesters. They succeeded in getting rid of Hosni Mubarak after only two weeks on the streets and help from Google “guy” social media orchestration of get the poor Egyptian people on the streets. Remember the March of the Millions and Obama says liberation. There is a stench in the air and it is not from all the garbage left on the streets of Cario.

It was good to see Hosni Mubarak jerk the news media around a bit with “first he says he will, but then he won’t, and then he says he will” and he leaves? The lesson for revolutionaries is that you can get rid of a President by protests. Let’s see what will happen under military rule. The protesters are so happy for what?

Americans are on the alert to Egypt’s revolution (so-called protesters) to overthrown the President of Egypt. Protesters interested in democracy do not demand the removal of the President. Instead they estabalish a group with a spokes person to articulate the changes they want to see in government and how those changes will improve social unrest and poverty.

It will be obvious to everyone when the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical Islam groups infiltrate Egyptian government and Egypt is transformed into a Nation of Islam the religion of the Muslim people. The mistake in the Islamic Republic of Iran will be repeated in Egypt right under the nose of the political liberal lefts Obama and possible with his encouragement.

Possibly, the Democrats can disguise the Muslim religious take over until Obama runs his 2012 election campaign. If Obama is elected in 2012, it will be clear sailing for the Muslim world accomplished by the religious banner of Islam.

Posted by: klausdmk | February 11, 2011 4:36 PM | Report abuse

You want to know something Lane. I don't think that CIA chief Leon Panetta's was premature in forecasting Mubarak's resignation, or that he made a tactical mistake.

What I do believe is that Mubarak did agree to step down during his communications (timeline unknown) with the Obama administration right before he gave that speech yesterday.

But, in order to "save face" in front of the Egyptian people and millions of people watching from around the world, he (Mubarak) chose instead, to state something totally different than what was agreed upon between him and the Obama Administration, so as to not look like a failed leader.

So, Lane, why don't you also do the same and try to save face with your trivial little opt-eds and leave out the nasty little swipes against those working in the administration, who have been quite patient in dealing with this very sensitive issue.

Posted by: lcarter0311 | February 11, 2011 4:45 PM | Report abuse


But DON'T you LOVE this little itty bitty NO ONE

telling Obama what to do,
just as Obama proves his brilliance in Egypt

....as the whole world acknowledges. The world according to Lane. On what basis?

Posted by: whistling | February 11, 2011 4:54 PM | Report abuse

"Obama would even be able to claim victory in a cause -- Middle East democracy -- that his predecessor articulated but did not irreversibly advance"

Hold on a second. How can you claim victory for something you did not do anything to start, and then, as you say, zigged and zagged two weeks after it began?

Simply by "saying" the right thing in the end, after events are more certain, one can "claim victory"?

Posted by: carloz0 | February 11, 2011 4:55 PM | Report abuse


HERE! SEE THIS!

Though it's not worth your time.
What you see here is how pathetic, how small, how ridiculous Land and his
zonist posters are.

If you're smart, have it erased. Though nobody has seen it, it's shows what you are.

Posted by: whistling | February 11, 2011 4:59 PM | Report abuse


HERE! SEE THIS!

Though it's not worth your time.
What you see here is how pathetic, how small, how ridiculous Land and his
zonist posters are.

If you're smart, have it erased. Though nobody has seen it, it's shows what you are. But no description is low or silly enough.

Posted by: whistling | February 11, 2011 5:00 PM | Report abuse

Maybe if we the people take to the streets in D... maybe, just maybe we can outst the current regime of Obama and his cronies!

Posted by: meadmkr | February 11, 2011 6:23 PM | Report abuse

"...except possibly, in Iraq". What hilarity.
It is unreal how painful it is for journalists to attribute success to anything Bush did. US actions taken by Bush, brought democracy to Iraq. No matter how Egypt turns out - it will be less authentic if Obama is credited with it at all. But the press sure will hand it to him with a bow on it !!
Amazing.

Posted by: Hoops44 | February 11, 2011 6:34 PM | Report abuse

How can anybody possibly rate the administration's performance as anything but disappointing. Just as we settled on a gradual, slow transition under Mubarak as the formula for a stable Egypt, the people of Egypt begged to differ and ran the man out of town. I'm a strong Obama supporter. I will absolutely vote for him again and I believe he's been a pretty good President, but his performance on the Egypt crisis was embarrasing and mediocre. He gave a great speech in Cairo on how Africa needs strong institutions and not strong men! Many of us believed him and he had a perfect opportunity in Egypt to help make this happen and he blew it. He clearly was obsessed with tactical positioning rather than a strategic play, it made him look weak and unprincipled. Words do have meaning and if the President of United States does not believe in fundamental priciples of right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness for all, he should at least stop giving great speeches affirming these values, yes, words have meaning!!! On this Egypt crisis, I was deeply disappointed in my President!!!

Posted by: tayoogundipe | February 11, 2011 10:17 PM | Report abuse

Masood11

First I want to know Obama's Administration curiosity and decision are helpful for Egypt. If yes that's good. But I think U.S headache for all Muslim Country. Isn't right? Egypt's violence now is stopped. So I hope the country can return to peace very soon, for everyone's sake.

http://fms.nu/eGAMHL

Go to the link and see exclusive video footage.

Posted by: webcontent2011 | February 12, 2011 1:41 AM | Report abuse

President Obama, you will remember, went to Egypt and delivered a speech that indicated he thought the USA needed to hear more from the Muslim/Arab community. This got him an avalanche of critics that supported Israel. It should be remembered that in International Relations it is not a ZERO SUM situation. We must support Israel and all other countries that choose peace.
Love works better than hate.

Posted by: PowerpeaceMaster | February 12, 2011 12:48 PM | Report abuse

Charles Lane tries desperately to paint the Egyptian revolution as some kind of achievement for Obama.
"I find it hard to fault Obama's management of the crisis so far:..." and then this: "...but overall, Obama and his team have managed to avoid doing any irreversible harm."
He's already claiming credit for Obama because Obama didn't do any "irreversible harm".
An historic achievement indeed.

Posted by: spamsux1 | February 12, 2011 1:56 PM | Report abuse

Obama will be as successful in Egypt as Carter was in Iran. Brilliant international strategists at the top of their games!

Posted by: jy151310 | February 13, 2011 4:35 PM | Report abuse

When will you people learn that presidents ,both Bush and Obama,only read these lofty speeches from a teleprompter.They did not write these speeches.they were written by professional writers.These are not their own words from their minds and hearts.Therefore they(presidents)do not even remember,ten minutes later what they read,much less what they said.When a real president stands before the peope and speaks from the heart and mind,they remember what they say.President Abraham Lincoln himself wrote the most memorable speech ever given in our history,the Gettysberg address.They were his own words spoken from the heart and mind of an honest patriotic American.We dont have those anymore.They are all corrupt and rotten to the core.

Posted by: nannieturner | February 14, 2011 8:36 PM | Report abuse

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