The corner that the Obama administration has boxed itself into on Egypt is growing increasingly cramped and awkward by the hour. As Leon Wieseltier noted at the New Republic website yesterday, the U.S.’s position is “strategically complicated: since Mubarak may fall, it cannot afford to alienate the protestors, but since the protestors may fail, it cannot afford to alienate Mubarak.”
The end result is like watching a tight-rope walker swaying dangerously from one side to the other. It’s stomach-churning. First, it looked like the administration would throw its full support behind Mubarak, with Vice President Biden asserting that the Egyptian leader was no dictator. Then the U.S. position appeared to lurch sharply to the other side during Robert Gibbs’s Friday press conference, where he announced that President Obama hadn’t even tried to contact Mubarak. And then, just when it looked like the administration was about to tip to the side of the Egyptian people, Obama’s public address made it clear that he wasn’t ready to throw “President Mubarak” under the bus just yet.
The equivocation is becoming increasingly uncomfortable to watch. Mainly because it’s so plainly obvious — to both the people saying it and listening to it — that it’s equivocation.
But now that the administration has set out on this strategic high-wire, it’s following it to the end. On Fox News Sunday this morning, Hillary Clinton noted that the Egyptian people “have legitimate grievances and are seeking greater political freedom, a real path to democracy, and economic opportunity.”
She then added that this democratic change could come about under the current regime. “[W]e see a dialogue opening … that has the concrete steps for democratic and economic reform that President Mubarak himself said that he was going to pursue,” she said.
From a logical standpoint, this is an impossible position. You can’t support both the will of the people and Mubarak. Yes, the people want democracy, political freedom, and economic reform. But, more plainly, they don’t want Mubarak — and they could not have made that more obvious over the past few days.
As Max wrote earlier, the Obama administration needs to make a decision. The current balancing act isn’t fooling anybody.