Many are critical of the Obama administration for its handling of the Egypt crisis — although for contradictory reasons. Some believe Obama went too far, too fast in disassociating himself from Mubarak; others argue he didn’t do enough.
I agree with many of the specific criticisms made of the administration: that it should have been better prepared for the crisis and that it should have projected a more consistent message instead of seemingly letting the State Department and the White House run separate foreign policies — the former pro-Mubarak, the latter anti-Mubarak. But I also have a lot of sympathy for Pete Wehner’s view — informed by Pete’s own service in the White House — that we should cut a little slack to officials faced with a fast-moving crisis in which every response carries considerable risk.
Sure, the administration response left something to be desired — but it wasn’t that bad. Obama did finally get behind the Egyptian people and he did make a clean break with Mubarak while preserving our relations with the Egyptian army, which remains the most powerful force in the country. The outcome so far has been pretty decent, with a discredited dictator gone but the Muslim Brotherhood firmly kept out of power.
Problem is, it’s still early days. We still don’t know how this will turn out. The Egyptian military could decide to hang on to power as it has done since 1952, trying to preserve an unpopular and corrupt regime. That would be a bad outcome. Or — less likely but in the realm of possibility — there could be further disturbances that would allow the extremists to gain power. The post-Mubarak situation remains very much in flux, and the U.S. will have to continue to play a major role in guiding Egypt toward liberal democracy. Ellen Bork has some valuable ideas at the Foreign Policy Initiative website about how we can remold our aid programs to help achieve this important objective.
For now I would give Obama an “incomplete” on Egypt. The report card won’t come out for at least a year, and maybe later.