Saturday, February 12, 2011

Obama, Revolution & The Promotion of Democracy

Mubarak hasn't been out office 24 hours, and already the left is making their paean's to Obama's leadership as being one of the decisive factors in motivating the Egyptian revolution and bringing down Mubarak. Wolf Blitzer pondered on CNN whether "Obama’s Cairo speech had something to do with this." Chris Matthews, apparently with tingles up both legs, stated that, "in a way it’s like it took Obama to have this happen." And one unnamed Dem operative e-mailed to Politico:

Great news for the administration/president. People will remember , despite some fumbles yesterday, that the President played an excellent hand, walked the right line and that his statement last night was potentially decisive in bringing this issue to a close. The situation remains complicated and delicate going forward, but this is a huge affirmation of the President's leadership on the international stage.

This is historical revisionism on a scale with writing today that the South won the Civil War. First off, Obama's Cairo speech wasn't a call for democracy. It wasn't even a walk back from promoting democracy in the Middle East. It was a run back from it. Condi Rice, at a speech in Cairo in 2005, called for democracy. This is what it sounded like:

For 60 years, . . . the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in the [Middle East]. And we achieved neither. Now we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of the people.

What Obama did in Cairo was pay lip service to human rights and democracy after announcing that "no system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other." If there was any ambiguity in that statement, it should have been clarified in 2009 when Obama cut funding for promoting democracy throughout the Middle East.

As to Iran, as I wrote back when the Green Movement was dying in the streets while Obama played golf:

Obama defunded all the programs to promote democracy in Iran and has not reinstated their funding. Obama actively prevented other countries from imposing sanctions on Iran, and as recently as two months ago, cut off funding to an organization documenting human rights abuses in Iran. He has given legitimacy to the regime by reaching out to them, even after they brutally repressed demonstrations. And, of paramount importance, he has been all but silent when he should have been using the bully pulpit to excoriate the bloody mad mullahs for their murderous acts at every opportunity. When the world needs a Churchill, we instead have a Chamberlain.

And Obama did essentially the same with funding for promotion of democracy in Egypt. Bush left office with a budget of $45 million for promoting democracy in Egypt. In 2009, Obama not only slashed that amount to $7 million, but in a tip of the hat to Mubarak, he limited its dispersion only to civil groups that were approved by the Egyptian government. This from Jake Tapper at ABC News:

The Obama Administration has not done what they should have in terms of support for civil society,” said Jennifer Windsor, associate dean of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, who served for ten years as the executive director of Freedom House, an independent group dedicated to the advance of freedom. . . .

Says Windsor: “The attitude of Obama administration toward the pro-democracy movement was to put them at arm’s length, and make sure that US interaction with the pro-democracy movement did not in any way ruffle the feathers of a dictatorial regime.” . . .

So anyone that suggests that Obama played a unique role in motivating the revolution in Egypt is being far less than honest. As to Obama's performance during the past eighteen days of the revolution, this from Jennifer Rubin:

One can scarcely imagine how the U.S. in its handling of the Egyptian revolution could look more inept and less effective. If the stakes were not so high the last few weeks would be material for high farce. (And indeed, a recounting of events by a faux "Joe Biden" does just that.)

Initial caution was followed by insistence that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak "transition now." That, in turn, morphed into agreement to a very gradual transition. . . .

Ross Kaminsky at American Spectator is equally as critical of the Obama administration's performance during the 18 days of revolution. I am inclined to cut the Obama administration far more slack in this difficult situation, but perhaps that is only be because of how the situation ended. This from the WSJ yesterday, prior to the coup, gives a bit more insight into the pressures the administration was under and how difficult it was to influence events:

. . . The White House is now squeezed between Arab and Israeli allies, who have complained that Mr. Obama was pushing Mr. Mubarak too hard to step down, and lawmakers who accuse the White House of not pushing hard enough. Now, the White House finds itself largely a bystander.

"This is really bad," a senior U.S. official said after Mr. Mubarak's address. "We need to push harder—if not, the protests will get violent."
The official advocated raising U.S. pressure to force Mr. Mubarak from power, though other officials acknowledge Washington had little clout in Cairo. . . .

In the White House, frustration is giving way to a sense of powerlessness.

"The mystique of America's superpower status has been shattered," said Steve Clemons, director of the American Strategy Program of the New America Foundation, who has attended two meetings with the National Security Council on Egypt.

At a meeting with outside advisers Monday, four National Security Council officials were pressed on what U.S. diplomacy had accomplished. The officials said their efforts had helped avoid "catastrophic" bloodshed by helping to restrain Egyptian security forces, two participants said.

Possibly the real lesson of the Egyptian Revolution is that we need to reinstate the Bush policy of aggressively promoting democracy throughout the Middle East. That would likely leave us in a much stronger position than we find ourselves in Egypt, where there the secular parties are disorganized and we have very limited influence over the events.

All of that said, the Obama administration, from Sec. of State Clinton calling Mubarak stable to Biden stating that Mubarak was "not a dictator," were clearly caught flat footed when the massive demonstrations began in Egypt on January 23. And between Gibbs suggesting that the Muslim Brotherhood needed to be included in a "reform government" and the DNI portraying the Brotherhood as peaceful and "largely secular," it was clear that the administration was not exactly on top of the events in Egypt. Indeed, those latter two examples suggest that the Obama administration was considering pushing a contingency that would have proven disastrous.

In the end, the school solution to this revolution was, as I wrote from day one, a military coup that could then oversee time for secular parties to organize. That is what seems to have happened - and indeed, it was the most likely outcome from the day the Army replaced the police on the streets, then refused to act against the protesters. I saw nothing to suggest that Obama was anything more than following these events, rather than leading them. That said, he didn't get in their way, and that has to count for something. Thus while I am far less critical of the administration than Jennifer Rubin, I think anyone who credits the Obama administration for a successful conclusion to this stage of Egypt's revolution is being disingenuous in the least.

1 comment:

Kurt said...

In line with what you wrote, I was surprised to see that the AP was actually running this story about what happened, and I was even more surprised to see it as a featured article on Yahoo. Nevertheless, I think that the media at large will still do its best to provide as much cover to Obama's claim to have played a roll in the change--until things starting turning worse.