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Obama's Egypt Flip-Flop

Author: Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow
February 4, 2011
The Daily Beast


As the Egyptian earthquake rumbles into its second week—with implications for U.S. security in the Middle East rivaling those for the Soviet Union during the 1989 uprisings in Eastern Europe—three matters roil my mind:

First, most of the American talkocracy is now so utterly intoxicated with protestocracy, which they call democracy, that they outright neglect the enormous trials of getting from the streets to a real democracy. It's hard as hell, and the process lends itself to hijacking by extremists.

Second, the Muslim Brotherhood jumps immediately to mind as hijackers, but don't overlook the potentially equal or greater threat to democracy from Egypt's beloved armed forces. The history of venomous domestic and foreign-policy pronouncements by the MB should keep us all awake at night. All who ignore this history are naïve, best suited to cable-TV commentary, not policymaking.

Third, the Obama White House hasn't helped matters by shifting policy ground almost daily, causing confusion, and thereby squandering America's credibility and limited but precious influence. President Obama has got to learn the fundamental rule of dealing with careening crises: State your basic principles and then shut up publicly! (Meaning, just boringly repeat your mantra daily.)

I'd like to believe that, if I were an Egyptian, I would be in the streets with the protesters. I'd be mad as hell with Mubarak and would want to get rid of him as quickly as possible. But that wouldn't make me or my fellow mobsters democrats. Generally, one cannot count on mobs, no matter how nice or liberal or unfilled with hatred, to produce democracies.

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