Saturday, February 12, 2011

US can celebrate Egyptian people\'s triumph

11 February 2011,

Obama\'s speech, on CNN

My God, what a moving day this is. To think that just 18 days of largely peaceful protests can accomplish this. Remarkable.

President Obama\'s remarks on Friday afternoon were appropriate and powerful: the people of Egypt have inspired the world. For all the understandable frustration on the part of Egyptian protesters over the fact the the US wouldn\'t commit to them more fully earlier, I think Obama and his people ended up playing this rather well. They turned up the heat incrementally, and but for one or two missteps, the timing was actually pretty good.

Critics, neocons especially, will say he didn\'t lead, he followed. That\'s true. And that was appropriate. It was up to the Egyptian people to lead this, not the United States.

And the Egyptian military. Someday, we\'ll get the back story on how, in just 24 hours, the military went from evidently backing Mubarak to ditching him. This was crucial, and I doubt very much the US played no role in this. I\'d wager that Pentagon chief Robert Gates and Mike Mullen, the heads of the joint chiefs of staff, had quite a lot to do with that.

With the Egyptian army relying on US military aid basically to exist, their words surely carried weight. Maybe all that aid over years, excessive as it has been in many ways, paid important dividends in the last two weeks. The army behaved professionally, not like some tinhorn\'s personal secret security service. That was one of the most breathtaking things about this, and could stand as one of the most hopeful in terms of serving as a model for future situations like this.

There\'s a long way to go from here, of course. This is a happy beginning, not a happy ending. But now, the US can and should start playing the less ambiguous role it took on, as of Thursday night. We need to be on the side of democracy and rights and freedoms, and stay on that side, and we do need to continue to be concerned with the positive aspects of regional stability to which Egypt has contributed. There are more needles to thread.

Finally: no, I will not say that Obama deserves much credit for this. At the same time, I have no doubt in my mind that if President McCain had given a speech on democracy in Cairo 20 months ago and now this happened, the neocons and Fox News and the usual suspects would be calling it \"the McCain Revolution\" and baying about how it proved that a bold stance by an American president had made all the difference.

I won\'t parrot that kind of inanity. I\'ll simply say that, from his Cairo speech until today, Obama has helped this process more than he\'s hindered it. And we didn\'t have to invade two countries, either. That\'s the right side – for him, and for us, the people of the United States. Now, we need to stay there.

This is a great opportunity for the US, and all of the west, to help a people learn the habits of freedom, and for those habits to spread.

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