The protests in Egypt over the past week have forced President Obama and his team into a delicate dance of diplomacy. On one hand, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the country’s government have been an important ally for the United States in the Middle East, but the U.S. government has repeatedly called on Mubarak to make the necessary reforms to move toward democracy. The administration must walk a fine line—it could be disastrous for foreign policy moving forward if the U.S. government seems to support the side that loses the standoff. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Fox News Sunday that Obama’s efforts so far have been the right ones. “We have been very clear that we want to see a transition to democracy, and we want to see the kind of steps taken that will bring that about,” she said. “We also want to see an orderly transition.”
The administration has not asked Mubarak to step down, according to Foreign Policy, but has been giving him “direct and honest messages” about expectations. Obama said Friday that he told Mubarak over the phone that he must take concrete steps to fulfill the promises he made to his people: better democracy and improved economic opportunities. But a White House press release Monday said the president supports “an orderly transition to a government that is responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people,” a statement that seems to imply dramatic change of leadership without expressly excluding the Egyptian president. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the Egypt protests.]
Some see the administration as being too soft, hedging too much, and therefore trailing a few steps behind the developments in Egypt. “Reactive and confused” is how Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin describes the administration’s behavior. “Are U.S. diplomats being more candid with Mubarak privately and threatening to pull aid? If so, that effort is being undercut by the equivocating rhetoric in public,” she writes. “Why should he release his grip on power while Obama administration still recognizes him as the path (rather than the barrier) to democracy?”
U.S. News blogger Peter Roff isn’t sure the president and his foreign policy team are up to the challenge. He suggests they assemble a team of experts to strategize. “The people in charge at Foggy Bottom and within the White House are not ‘the first team’ when it comes to serious crises, no disrespect intended, and he needs to bring in help,” he writes. “The stakes are that high.”
But Republican House Speaker John Boehner praised the government’s actions so far. “I think the administration, our administration so far has handled this tense situation pretty well,” he said on Fox News Sunday. “Clearly reforms need to occur in Egypt, and frankly, anyplace around the world where people are calling out for freedom and democracy, I think we have a responsibility to respond.”
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