Thursday, February 03, 2011

Time for United States to publicly cut Mubarak loose

I think Obama has been right to be circumspect about commenting on the demonstrations in Egypt until now. Forceful statements by the US could be used by Mubarak to paint the opposition as agents of a foreign power. Sometimes the best move is just to shut up and let things take their course. We should remember that we can't control events everywhere all the time anyway.

But since the violence against the protesters has increased, I think the time has come for the US to publicly throw Mubarak under the bus, or at least let him know publicly that we are willing to do so. Now that it appears as though gangs of pro-government thugs are being unleashed on demonstrators, our reticence is looking less like deference to Egypt's internal political processes and more like looking the other way while "our guy" oppresses his people to stay in power.

Obama should also let the Egyptian military know that if it values its cozy relationship with the United States (and all that military aid we give them), it had better play a constructive role in easing Mubarak into exile and ushering in political reforms.

It's deeply embarrassing that the United States has been backing this guy, and it should prompt us to examine who we're backing throughout the world, and in what way, and to what ends. Those "MADE IN USA" tear gas canisters will be remembered.

I'm certainly aware that there were advantages to working with Mubarak, and that some of the alternatives (chaos, another dictator, radical theocracy) may be worse for both Egypt and the world. But I think the short-term gains we get from backing convenient dictators (and I'm dubious even about those gains: I certainly don't see what I get out of it) are being outweighed by the medium- and longer-term losses we suffer. American collusion with oppressive dictators in the region is both wrong and a significant source of legitimate anti-American sentiment. Let's hope we can play a more constructive role going forward.

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