Michele Dunne’s criticism of the Obama administration, which got elected on the campaign slogan “Hope and Chang,” will sting — but it’s essentially meaningless. The expert on Egypt says that the US has to get involved in order to press for democratic change, but what exactly would that be? Dunne can’t formulate any specific actions, other than saying that we should favor democratic change. On one hand, Dunne says it will send a bad signal to other allies if we throw Mubarak under the bus, and on the other that we should publicly demand that Mubarak negotiate the terms of his abdication to “real democracy in Egypt.” That, however, presumes that “real democracy” is what’s coming after Mubarak:
Rasmussen polled voters on the subject of American policy towards Egypt in this crisis, which shows that most understand the lack of any good choices at Obama’s hands:
Most Americans expect the unrest in Egypt to spread to other Middle Eastern countries and think that will be bad for the United States. But a sizable majority also believe the United States should keep its nose out of Egypt’s current problems.
A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 75% of American Adults think it is at least somewhat likely that the unrest in Egypt will spread to other Middle Eastern countries, with 37% who say it is Very Likely. Only 11% say that’s not very or not at all likely to happen. Fourteen percent (14%) are undecided.
Fifty-nine percent (59%) say if the unrest in Egypt spreads to other countries, it will be bad for the United States. Just eight percent (8%) think the spreading popular discontent will be good for America, while 11% predict it will have no impact. However, nearly one-in-four Americans (23%) aren’t sure.
There’s an even higher level of uncertainty – 31% – when Americans are asked what impact the overthrow of the Egyptian government will have on the United States. Five percent (5%) think the impact will be a good one, but 38% say it will be bad for America. Twenty-six percent (26%) say it will have no impact.
Thanks to the decades of oppression in Egypt under Mubarak and his predecessors, the opposition has mainly rested with the radical Muslim Brotherhood, not democratization advocates. If the Mubarak regime collapses in a rush, democracy is unlikely to fill the void, just as was the case in Iran in 1978-9. I’m sure the White House would love to see democracy realized in a (mostly) nonviolent revolution in the streets, as was the case in Tunisia (at least so far), but Egypt is a far different country with a far different populace than Tunisia.
The best course of action at this point is the one the Obama administration is following, which is to keep talking about reform without pushing for any immediate outcome. If we can quietly get Mubarak to negotiate with legitimate democrats in Egypt and not stooges for the Ikhwan, so much the better, but in that case quietly is imperative. In a crisis with almost no leverage and almost no good options or outcomes, so far the Obama administration seems to be doing a good job of not overplaying its very weak hand.
One reason they may not be in a rush to push Mubarak into leaving is this CNN clip from Nick Robertson with protesters in Cairo, who explain that they want Egypt unleashed so that they can destroy Israel:
Be careful what change we wish for, in other words.