The Obama administration is facing its first substantial diplomatic test as the crisis in Egypt escalates and migrates into neighboring nations. Originally the official Washington response from Obama and Secretary of State Clinton to the riots in Cairo has been a tentative warning for the protesters to exercise restraint and a powerless plea to dictator (and US ally) Hosnai Mubarak to make efforts to move toward Democracy.
But how can the leader of the so-called "free world" make any pretense of caring about representative government and the rights of the people while propping up a dictatorship? It was that kind of hypocrisy that led one prominent Egyption -- Mohamed ElBaradi, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and 2006 Nobel Peace Prize recipient -- to denounce US policy on ABC's "This Week" program Sunday.
ElBaradi criticized Obama's support of Mubarak and urged him to let go of the dictator, stating, "I mean, to ask a dictator to implement democratic measure after 30 years in power is an oxymoron. So they need to let go of [President Hosni] Mubarak.ElBaradi criticized Obama's support of Mubarak and urged him to let go of the dictator, stating, "I mean, to ask a dictator to implement democratic measure after 30 years in power is an oxymoron. They need to go for, you know, transition, smooth transition, through a government of national salvation. This is the only way out."
Perhaps Obama and Clinton were listening -- or maybe the death toll just had to reach triple digits before they'd react- but within a few hours of ElBaradi's frank remarks, the administration changed its stance toward Mubarak and is now siding with the people of Egypt in their demand for a peaceful transition of government.
According to the IB Times, "In calls to a number of foreign leaders -- including Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey, Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel, and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia -- President Obama said he supports "an orderly transition to a government that is responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people." It's about time, Mr. President. We cannot pretend to be a Democracy while supporting dictators over the people who are crying, screaming, fighting, and dying for Democracy.
No word yet from VP Joe Biden, who on Thursday insisted that Mubarak was not a dictator and regime change was not in order. Hope he's since gotten the memo.
This abrupt reversal is a tremendous blow to the Mubarak regime, and should bolster the Egyptian people's efforts to maintain their opposition. What is not yet known is what impact this move will have on the region and our relationships there. The Saudi royal family is staunchly committed to the Mubarak dictatorship, and the partnership we have with Saudi Arabia (the 17 Saudi 9-11 bombers notwithstanding) has been coddled and carefully cultivated by every US administration since Carter. It has been reported by all major news agencies that King Abdullah told Obama on Saturday that there could be "no compromise" on the defense and support of the "stability" of Mubarak's regime.
Further complicating the situation, Tunisian's revolution (which sparked these Cairo protests) that ousted "President" Zine al-Abidine ben Ali is still in full swing, and now opposition movements have erupted in Yemen, Jordan, and Algeria. It seems the entire Mid East is erupting into chaos.
Is this the backlash the US government feared would result from the Wikileaks release of thousands of classified State Department documents a few weeks ago? Those pages were filled with details of corruption inside the ben Ali government.
"The WikiLeaks revelations confirmed that people surrounding president Ben Ali were corrupt and spent a lot of money. They lived in mansions and had their food delivered to them directly from France. It was happening at a time when ordinary Tunisians were struggling to find jobs and feed their families. It's a bit of Marie Antoinette-like disconnect between the people and the top," said North Africa and Mideast expert Mary-Jane Deeb.
If indeed Julian Assange/Wikileaks is responsible for these powerful resistance movements, then his efforts to establish global Democracy should be applauded by this and every free society on Earth.