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EGYPT: LOST OR FOUNDERING
BY BOB FRANKEN
Oh sure, the president is grappling with the conflicting considerations swirling around the chaos in Egypt ... human rights vis-à-vis the need for maintaining ties to a longtime reliable Arab ally. We're hearing a lot of tepid public statements as the administration tries to have it both ways. As the man says, though, make no mistake about it, there is a political undertone that easily could become an overtone if Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is run out and replaced by anti-American Islamists.
If that happens, Barack Obama will face a huge uphill battle to overcome Republicans piling on and accusing him of being the president who “lost Egypt.” Just ask Jimmy Carter about Iran. His failed attempts to live up to this nation's human-rights rhetoric merely resulted in a despotic shah being replaced by even more oppressive religious fanatics, who threaten the world still today.
Or ask the Democrats who “lost China,” which became a potent campaign slogan that helped propel the GOP's Dwight Eisenhower to power after the pro-American Nationalists were overrun by Mao's revolutionaries. Again, we're still bedeviled by that one.
Now we have Mubarak, trying to hang on as a popular wave across the Arab deserts threatens to sweep him away after 30 years of brutal rule and cronyism, buttressed by massive foreign aid from the United States through the entire period of his rule. The great bulk of that is spent on the military, which this year is $1.3 billion. That's a huge investment in a dictator who has weathered decades of U.S. sanctimony from one president to another.
So, in an effort to stay with the shifting sands, there was Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton playing the role of U.S. government pinball and bouncing from one Sunday talk show to another. She recited carefully constructed talking points, like that the U.S. is “ready to help with the kind of transition that will lead to greater political and economic freedom.” In diplo-speak that translates to “Hosni, don't let the door hit you in the butt on the way out.” But it also hedges the American bets to make sure no one is antagonized. The obvious worst case is that Egypt is seized by those who would turn that pro-American government, and not incidentally pro-Israeli government, anti-both.
Obviously, a lot of discussions are being held behind the scenes. Assuming that's possible in these post- WikiLeaks times, the various diplomatic buttons are being pushed in the hope that the United States can walk the tightrope and look like the champion of human rights and “small d” democracy. At the same time, Obama needs to hold on as the political champion of “big D” Democrats. You can bet Republicans are making their plans in case the bottom falls out.
Look no further than an op-ed by Dick Morris, now a commentator for the GOP house organ Fox News. On the conservative website Free Republic, he writes “Now is the time for Republicans and conservatives to start asking the question: Who is losing Egypt?”
They didn't need it, but those in the White House have gotten their fair warning, or unfair warning. If Egypt falls, if the attempts at finesse turn into clumsy failure, the blame will dump on Barack Obama, who will be the man who “lost Egypt.”
Do not for a minute think that the fear of that doesn't influence every pronouncement we hear in public and every maneuver in private. Politically, this is still another crisis waiting to be exploited. A “lost” Egypt will not be lost on those looking for ways to make this president another one-termer.
© 2011 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.