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Posted at 4:00 PM ET, 02/ 4/2011

Friday question

By Jennifer Rubin

Tumultuous events occurred in the Middle East this week. Hosni Mubarak's rule over Egypt is ending, but the nature of what government will follow is far from certain. In Tunisa, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali has been thrown out after decades of repression. Meanwhile, Jordan's King Abdullah II, "struggling to stave off growing public discontent, widened his political outreach on Thursday and met with the Muslim Brotherhood for the first time in nearly a decade."

How do you think President Obama is handling the momentous events in the MIddle East and what, if anything else, do you think he should do?

Remember, all answers must be in by 6 p.m. ET on Sunday.

By Jennifer Rubin  | February 4, 2011; 4:00 PM ET
Categories:  Friday question  
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Comments

He has handled the crisis poorly. Hillary's 3am phone call commercial during the campaign was prescient. And his Nobel Peace Prize is laughable.

So, what should he do? Appoint some big heavyweight to go to Egypt and try to broker a deal between the (soon-to-be) warring sides. Who though? How about the Big Dog, Bill Clinton? It would need to be handled deftly so as not to upstage Hillary and BHO himself, but this mess has gotten to a point where it requires some imaginative and daring steps. Bill clearly wants to be on the Big Stage and be sharing the limelight with BHO in Charlotte in 2012.

Without some major "hail Mary" steps, I see Egypt eventually dissolving into, at best, a fractuous, inept government and at worst, Iran-lite. And that would not be good.

Posted by: DrBerkeley | February 4, 2011 5:24 PM | Report abuse

He and Valerie Jarrett should quit partying and immediately fly to Cairo with a plane full of Acorn workers and Chicago poll workers: "Need a petition? You got it."

Posted by: ZoltanNewberry | February 4, 2011 7:00 PM | Report abuse

Sometimes the best action is no action. Given how unpredictable the outcome is and how little influence the U.S. has in determining the outcome, I think we should say as little as possible of substance and avoid boxing ourselves in. This I think the Obama administration is doing quite well.

Posted by: gilliesproust | February 4, 2011 7:37 PM | Report abuse

President Obama will learn that Egypt is not General Motors, and replacing the head of a country is not like replacing the CEO of GM. Since when do revolutions and uprisings have "smooth transitions"? Today's revolutionaries are tomorrow's dictators.

Posted by: cheerspbc | February 4, 2011 8:48 PM | Report abuse

First of all, Obama put Mubarak in an untenable situation by announcing publicly what he had said to him. Those conversations should have been kept private. The people of Egypt do not want the U.S. calling the shots.

Our military is in touch with the Egyptian military. They have a lot of popular support and seem to be the best power broker right now. Our problem is how to keep things stable and while we want democracy, we don't want the Muslim Brotherhood. If they end up in charge, we can't support another Islamic Revolution.
Then listen to their proposals and support them in anything that will preserve peace and won't turn Egypt into another terrorist base. Then let them sell it to their own people or have their own people come up with something that meets our needs, which means being a good neighbor..

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

President Obama's initial public statements were terrible, as they were on Iran. How can a former law professor find it so difficult to speak out for freedom? After more than a week, he finally moved toward supporting the people, but even then he has not found inspiring words. Apparently, soaring rhetoric is reserved for Americans without health insurance, not human beings without rights in Iran, China, Burma, and Egypt.

In contrast, it appears that the behind-the-scenes work the administration and military have done has been much better.

What should the President do?

- Fly the Egyptian flag at the White House until an election is held.

- Make a YouTube video showing him (and not a surrogate) sitting at the Oval Office, typing a simple message of support into Twitter, mentioning that the flag will fly at the White House until they are free.

- Ask former President Bush, who championed Arab freedom, to travel to Egypt to speak to opposition leaders. (It would show that there is no partisan divide here on supporting their cause.)

- Play defense against too much U.N. involvement too early. (There are many Arab tyrants there.) Let them get involved when the topic turns to managing a fair election.

- Ed Lyons (Boston)

Posted by: edfactor | February 5, 2011 6:01 AM | Report abuse

Outwardly, Obama is doing fine, walking a fine line between support for opposing parties. But here's the thing: we don't know what we don't know. The US is obviously doing a lot of communication, spying, jabbering, pushing, and shoving behind the scene that we don't see or hear about. How's he doing there? We won't know until it's over.

Hopefully, he's working with the Egyptian Army, the key to stability in Egypt. They are the king makers. Working with the Army, the US can get the three things we want: a more democratic and open Egypt with more opportunities for growth and prosperity, a secure Suez canal so shipping can proceed freely, and as friendly relations with Israel as a muslim country can manage.

How's Obama doing? We'll see when we know how fast Mubarak is pushed out, and who's next in line.

Posted by: carldahlman | February 5, 2011 9:03 AM | Report abuse

edfactor wrote:

"How can a former law professor find it so difficult to speak out for freedom?"

Because governments do not try to foment revolutions in friendly governments. It's an elemental law of governing.

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | February 5, 2011 9:29 AM | Report abuse

Obama should sit down with Oprah and explore his inner feelings.

Posted by: metanis | February 5, 2011 9:47 AM | Report abuse

President Obama's actions have been fine. He has spoken out in favor of the rights of the people of Egypt to assemble and protest their gov't. He has condemn the use of violence against such protests. Clearly there are back office dialogues going on with Mubarak, the military and probably the protest leaders via surrogates. Beyond that what would anyone have us do? Tell the Egyptians what to do? Force Mubarak from power? What makes anyone here think we know what's best for Egypt? We have enough trouble figuring out what's best for us in America. The thought that we have the wisdom to direct another culture on the other side of the world is beyond silly. It is arrogant and self serving.

Posted by: kchses1 | February 5, 2011 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Barack Obama has made a dreadful hash of the entire Egyptian crisis, and may even have mismanaged it so badly that Jordan may be the next Middle East American ally to be violently confronted by a radical Islamist threat to it's regime.
Barack Obama seems to really believe the far Left narrative that any opposition to an undemocratic regime is perforce a democratic alternative, even though recent Middle East history, the Hizballa terrorists taking over in Lebanon, the Gaza Strip run by the terrorist gang Hamas, and of course the less recent radical Islamic takeover of Iran.
Barack Obama is in deeply over his head, and plainly has no idea how to extricate his administration from the betrayal of Egypt he has engineered.
It will not just be Israel that will pay a high price for Obama's naked incompetence, but ultimately the entire Middle East.
America may now regret having put a clown like Obama in charge, but as soon as the Mubarak regime is replaced by the Muslim Brotherhood, America will deeply rue the day that Obama took office.

Posted by: Beniyyar | February 5, 2011 12:46 PM | Report abuse

Barack Obama has made a dreadful hash of the entire Egyptian crisis, and may even have mismanaged it so badly that Jordan may be the next Middle East American ally to be violently confronted by a radical Islamist threat to it's regime.
Barack Obama seems to really believe the far Left narrative that any opposition to an undemocratic regime is perforce a democratic alternative, even though recent Middle East history, the Hizballa terrorists taking over in Lebanon, the Gaza Strip run by the terrorist gang Hamas, and of course the less recent radical Islamic takeover of Iran.
Barack Obama is in deeply over his head, and plainly has no idea how to extricate his administration from the betrayal of Egypt he has engineered.
It will not just be Israel that will pay a high price for Obama's naked incompetence, but ultimately the entire Middle East.
America may now regret having put a clown like Obama in charge, but as soon as the Mubarak regime is replaced by the Muslim Brotherhood, America will deeply rue the day that Obama took office.

Posted by: Beniyyar | February 5, 2011 12:48 PM | Report abuse

beniy:

Page after page of this, but you never suggest any alterante plan of action. As you know, I find Islam and deomcracy basically incompatible, but what exactly is your beef with Obama on this one. You never want to say what he should have done differently.

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | February 5, 2011 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Egypt is as Egypt does. It is not for America to decide. Duh!

Posted by: Amminadab | February 5, 2011 5:02 PM | Report abuse

J. Rufus Fears, a historian and Classics scholar at the University of Oklahoma, has a perspective I haven’t seen on this blog. He states that democracy is not a universal value, and that uprisings of the kind we’re seeing in the Middle East are how regime changes from one authoritarian ruler to another often occur. He sees little, if any, chance that democracy will evolve in these cases. (For an interview, go to: http://www.npr.org/templates/rundowns/rundown.php?prgId=7 and scroll to “Different Meanings of Democracy for West, Middle East”.) So while we in the West might wish for democracy, it may not be able to occur at this time.

Any overt attempt, however well-intentioned, by the U.S. to birth democratic principles in Egypt or Tunisia will likely be met with great suspicion by the local residents. Indeed, local pro-democracy groups may well shy away from any offered American support, lest they be labeled as pawns of the U.S.

Given that democracy is likely not to birth itself and U.S. efforts to birth it are likely to backfire, the U.S. must see that its priorities are met in a different way. In no particular order:
1) Respect the relationship the U.S. and Egypt currently have so that it may continue. That is being done.
2) Work behind the scenes to determine what’s feasible with regard to protecting that relationship. Ditto.
3) Call publicly for a smooth transition to minimize bloodshed and reduce the likelihood of further unrest in Egypt and elsewhere. Yep.
4) Protect Israel. At this point the situation is so fluid that any sudden action by either the U.S. or Israel is likely to explode into something more violent and unstable. Netanyahu originally wanted Obama to back Mubarak, but for Obama to overtly do so would probably have led to more anti-Americanism, and thus more anti-Israelism, than is already present. To me, it was Netanyahu who was shortsighted there, not Obama. Now that it’s highly unlikely Mubarak will remain in power for long, it’s Israel who must decide the price of peace, not the U.S.

Let’s get real. Mubarak is in his 80’s and Egypt has a history of violent changes in leadership. Did Israel honestly think the next regime change would be smooth and uneventful? It seems to me the government which got caught flat-footed here is Israel, not the U.S., contrary to what Ms. Rubin has been implying all week.

So I’ll turn the question around. Ms. Rubin and others, how do you think Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is handling these events, and what else, if anything should he do? If he steps up and starts thinking more globally, it could be very beneficial for his country. Right now, that's not happening.

Posted by: MsJS | February 5, 2011 5:47 PM | Report abuse

Obama gets a C. His necessary caution got trumped by a shift to thinking a nation with 5,000 years of autocracy can magically become a democracy if Mubarak resigns. The peaceful transfer of power is a hallmark of a real democracy, which Sec Clinton seemed to articulate without those words today in Germany.

One would think having Hezbollah dissolve Lebanon's governing coalition while PM Hariri was IN the White House would be a cautionary tale.

Obama should have used his bully pulpit to explain the building blocks of a real democracy, adding something eloquent on the tyranny of the minority being over-amplified by media (oh, yeah - that is how he got Obama got elected) while voicing general support for what all people want: freedom of thought and expression with dignity and safety.

It is very telling that Obama has no clue about either the American economy OR the Egyptian economy.

Posted by: K2K2 | February 5, 2011 10:34 PM | Report abuse

I find it interesting that Ms. Rubin's Saturday blog from Israel has disappeared. One can only wonder why.

Posted by: treetopsfarm | February 6, 2011 7:16 AM | Report abuse

K2 wtote:

"It is very telling that Obama has no clue about either the American economy OR the Egyptian economy."

Huh? That came from left field. What does Obamam have to do with the Egyptian economy?

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | February 6, 2011 11:35 AM | Report abuse

In the first half of his term, we've learned a few things about President Obama's foreign policy:

1) He doesn't care very much. He hasn't followed through with what he said on the campaign (anti-Iraq, pro-Afghanistan, anti-War on Terror) -- that was for show -- and he doesn't seem to invest much political capital in foreign affairs issues. He seems to have far more developed ideas in domestic policy than foreign policy.

2) One core idea he has is being the anti-Bush. He favors regimes Bush disfavored -- Iran, Venuzuela. He disfavors regimes Bush favored -- Great Britain, Israel.

3) Another core idea (or perhaps the same since they are related) is anti-colonialism. The West has been too powerful in the rest of the world and we need to be careful not to flex our political muscles in ways that suppress indigenous cultures.

This view falls into a trap that President Carter also fell into: how do you tell what is an authentic government rather than a pro-US or pro-Western lackey government? While I'm sure that President Obama would agree that a government could, in theory, be both pro-US and authentic, in practice, a government proves its authenticity by being anti-US. Thus, the Iranian government is authentic and we should protect it from demonstrators. The Egyptian government is unauthentic and therefore has to go when faced by demonstrators. Hugo Chavez and the proto-dictator in Honduras are authentic, Gordon Brown and Binyamin Netanyahu are inauthentic. The Moslem Brotherhood is inarguably authentic and the Egyptian military is questionable.

At any rate, these instincts are generally inapplicable in Egypt. This is not an idealistic enterprise. We have to choose among imperfect alternatives in an atmosphere of uncertainty and confusion. Adding a bunch of ideological constructs on top of the situation further confuses matters. It has, however, produced the decision that Mubarak has to go no matter what because his regime is inauthentic and pro-US.

President Obama's caution in foreign affairs complicates things further. He will not intervene strenuously to protect American interests, creating a substantial risk of Islamic influence and perhaps dominance in the resulting government.

I think it may still be possible that President Obama will get lucky and an acceptable government will result. I don't see him doing nearly enough to make his own luck, however. And I do think he underestimates the political organization of the Moslem Brotherhood and their determination to sabotage US interests in the region.

Posted by: rodomontade | February 6, 2011 6:12 PM | Report abuse

rodomontade wrote:

"One core idea he has is being the anti-Bush. He favors regimes Bush disfavored -- Iran, Venuzuela. He disfavors regimes Bush favored -- Great Britain, Israel."

I got this far in your post and just broke down laughing.

Only a person who knew absolutely nothing about foreign policy could make such a statement. Had you not been in a coma for 8 years, you would know that Chavez came to dictatorial power DURING the Bush years, which they effectively did nothing to stop.

Also the Bush team was the greatest friend to Iran imagineable in ignoring the advice of the Saudis and destroying the only genuine opponent of Iranian hegemony in the Islamic world.

I hit the next paragraph and I came to the anti-colonial line indicating that you have been reading the writings of conservative court jester Dinesh D'Souza.

I never did finish your post, but I can sum it up by saying

ROFL!

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | February 6, 2011 10:32 PM | Report abuse

jm5446, is it possible for you to disagree with another commenter without using terms like "I...just broke down laughing" or "only a person who knew absolutely nothing about [fill in the blank] could make such a statement"?

Just asking.

Posted by: MsJS | February 7, 2011 9:32 AM | Report abuse

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