The Bastille has fallen in Egypt, but it will be more difficult to create a constitutional democracy than it was in France in 1789 — and France did not do such a great job itself, as I recall. I knew Louis XVI; Louis XVI was a friend of mine; and Hosni Mubarak was no Louis XVI — he was a U.S. ally, welcomed at the White House a few months ago, praised by President Obama at that time as one of our “key partners.” A few months later, he was on par with Saddam Hussein.
With mass demonstrations against a tyrannical Iranian regime that stole a presidential election, Obama kept silent. When the military removed the president in Honduras pursuant to a judicial order and legislative ratification, Obama called it a coup. When the military removed the Egyptian president months before a scheduled election in which the president had pledged not to run again, Obama supported the removal as essential for freedom. There must be a coherent foreign policy in there somewhere.
In 2009, Obama went to Cairo and assured Iran and Egypt — in his let-me-be-clear moment — that they did not need to worry about U.S. democracy-promotion:
I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other.
In the same speech, Obama quoted Thomas Jefferson, saying “the less we use our power the greater it will be” — which perhaps explains Obama’s non-responses to Iran, Lebanon, Tunisia, and Egypt, before he belatedly decided to impose a new system of government on Hosni Mubarak.
In Obama’s first two years, democracy was conspicuously absent from the “three Ds” in his secretary of state’s standard speech. As the Egyptian revolution heads toward the Bermuda Triangle that awaited the French, Russian, and Iranian revolutions, the freedom agenda is being managed by an American president who did not believe in it in the first place; whose first two years were marked by confrontations with democratic allies and extended hands to autocratic adversaries; and who still has not scheduled a trip to Israel — the model for freedom in the Middle East.
It will take someone more perceptive than I to articulate the governing principles of the Obama freedom agenda.