There were several times during the 18-day Egyptian revolution when it felt as though the Obama/Clinton bunch was on the very edge of coming down on the wrong side.
On February 6, for example, Obama’s special envoy to Egypt, Frank Wisner, who enjoys major support from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said that Mubarak, “an old friend” of the United States, should stay in office during a “democratic transition.” Clinton backed him and agreed with him, judging by subsequent reports from Washington, but Obama was greatly angered.
But who, at that point, without later reporting we’ve now seen, would have been surprised if the president echoed his envoy?
The very serious problem with both Obama and his secretary of state is that both tend to get so deep into political calculations that they often can’t see obvious truths. They have a propensity to “triangulate” themselves right into the ground.
Clinton and about half of the White House coterie of advisers, seem to lack even a fingernail hold on an essential truth applying to any functioning democracy: Sometimes leaders must do something not because of political fallout but because it is the right thing to do. Obama’s hold on that truth seems tenuous and sporadic.
I feel that we lucked out this time. Their uncertainty about which way the events in Egypt were going to fall kept the Obama administration from doing something terminally stupid.
And, yes, I know people running a country have to do some fine calculating, and have to work primarily, if not exclusively, for the interests of that country and its people. (Not that I think “the people” count all that much for Obama and crew.) But the basic principle, as stated above, must sometimes take precedence, and this was one of those times.
When you think about it, Obama’s constant concern with the politics of any situation –- and his frequent getting it wrong -– is not all that surprising.
He came to the political life in Chicago, in Illinois, where voters, alive and dead, know that betrayal is the likely eventual result of any election. They long ago came to expect their politicians to act on the basis of any combination of these forces: greed, power hunger and a desire of “stature” or “legacy.” (They also hope to stay out of prison, something that only slightly more than half of Illinois’ governors accomplish.) No one there takes politicians or their campaigns at face value; cynicism is the only reasonable stance. And politicians know no one really expects them to behave with honor.
Obama just talks purtier than most Illinois pols.
Clinton is not so obvious. Maybe she, like her husband, was simply born a cynic. At any rate, to our almost certain detriment at some point, she will go with power and “stability” every time.
Anyway, we weathered that one. Egyptians are free to make their own mistakes and shape their own future. And, yes, the odds are that John McCain would have turned the Egyptian revolution into a disaster for this country. That doesn’t make Barack Obama a genius.
Now we should get to recovering democracy in this country.
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