I sympathize with President Obama as he performs the extremely difficult act of dealing with Egypt’s revolution-in-progress. I don’t know that he is doing any worse than any previous president confronted with such a chaotic situation in an important ally. That said, he has been consistently behind the curve. In the first place, events have plainly taken him by surprise. There was evidently no administration plan in place to respond to such a contingency, which everyone knew would come to pass some day. Thus Obama stumbled for a response. Over the weekend, the message from the administration was that Mubarak had to reform. Now the message is that Mubarak must not stand for re-election in September. Mubarak took that message to heart and made the announcement that was expected of him.
But does Obama really think that the vast throngs filling the streets of Cairo will stand for Mubarak remaining in office until September? That would have been a good demand to deliver a few months, weeks, or even days ago. Now it’s been overtaken by events. Clearly nothing will satisfy the demonstrators other than Mubarak’s removal from office.
The question is what comes next: who makes up the transitional government? One hopes that, behind the scenes, this question is consuming the administration and its best experts on Egypt, and that they are fruitfully engaging not only with the opposition but also with the army, which remains the most powerful power broker in the country. Liberal democrats are in a race with the Muslim Brotherhood to control Egypt’s destiny. We need to help them. We need to get ahead of the curve. For once.