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What Will Pres. Obama Do Next?






Pres. Mubarak shutting down Al Jazeera in Cairo is going directly against what Pres. Obama said needed to be done by the Egyptian President, which poses a real opportunity and thorny challenge for our President that didn’t need another one.

Now, ElBaradei is part of the picture in a real way, the National Coalition for Change, which includes the Muslim Brotherhood, wanting him to negotiate with the Mubarak regime.

What ElBaradei has talked about so far is some sort of coalition government, saying today that there is “no going back.” Blake Hounshell verbalized my feelings: U.S. should NOT endorse ElBaradei, contra some chatter on the Internets tonight. His dropping in from outside Egypt to now be standing at the center of the protests brings back one parallel to the Shah of Iran back in ’79 coming in to save the day, which didn’t end well at all. That said, Middle East analysis is that he’s an important symbol, figure head, direct challenge to Mubarak now also having aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood. ElBaradei offers another strong sign to the military that Mubarak isn’t going to be around much longer.

Nick Kristof tweets: Until now, ElBaradei has been all stature, no support. But defying curfew, speaking in Sq, gives him street cred he needs.

The Obama administration has been struggling in plain sight all week. Pres. Obama’s speech late Friday was better, but a westerner can’t try to have it both ways in the Middle East and come out a winner or respected, especially in today’s global multi-platform media smorgasbord. America has slowly become part of the story attached to Mubarak and now also Suleiman, which is further complicating matters for Obama.

Jane Mayer reminds us that Mr. Suleiman was at the center of U.S. rendition policy.

Technically, U.S. law required the C.I.A. to seek “assurances” from Egypt that rendered suspects wouldn’t face torture. But under Suleiman’s reign at the intelligence service, such assurances were considered close to worthless. As Michael Scheuer, a former C.I.A. officer who helped set up the practice of rendition, later testified before Congress, even if such “assurances” were written in indelible ink, “they weren’t worth a bucket of warm spit.”

But even as frightened as people are at the memories of Iran and the Shah dancing in their heads, or elections under Bush’s push that delivered Hamas into power, what the people of Egypt have done this past week is make history in a new era. What’s happened this week is worlds apart. The advent of Al Jazeera, Twitter, Facebook and Wikileaks transparency, which I wrote about earlier this week, made the Egypt protests a multi media event.

If ever there was an American President who should have been able to unhesitatingly penetrate the Egyptian protests with American purpose and stand with the people, however cloaked in diplo-speak at first, it should have been Pres. Barack Obama and his administration. His Cairo speech held these possibilities.

Now the foreign policy community is taking the lead, along with the leaders of UK-France-Germany, pushing Obama to a position that was once hinted to be a natural inclination for him to make. Instead he seems permanently afflicted with the inability to take a jump and lead, which in a situation as fraught as the collapse of Mubarak is more obvious.

Carnegie Endowment:

Only free and fair elections provide the prospect for a peaceful transfer of power to a government recognized as legitimate by the Egyptian people. We urge the Obama administration to pursue these fundamental objectives in the coming days and press the Egyptian government to:

* call for free and fair elections for president and for parliament to be held as soon as possible;
* amend the Egyptian Constitution to allow opposition candidates to register to run for the presidency;
* immediately lift the state of emergency, release political prisoners, and allow for freedom of media and assembly;
* allow domestic election monitors to operate throughout the country, without fear of arrest or violence;
* immediately invite international monitors to enter the country and monitor the process leading to elections, reporting on the government’s compliance with these measures to the international community; and
* publicly declare that Hosni Mubarak will agree not to run for re-election.

We further recommend that the Obama administration suspend all economic and military assistance to Egypt until the government accepts and implements these measures.

Martin Indyk

At this point, facing by far the biggest foreign policy crisis of his presidency, Obama cannot afford to backtrack. Yesterday, he came out publicly on the side of the Egyptian people, insisting that Mubarak undertake significant reforms. But it is surely clear by now that the people will settle for nothing less than the removal of Mubarak. So Obama’s options are narrowing. He will soon have to decide whether to tell Mubarak that the United States no longer supports him and that it’s time for him to go.

Fortunately, Mubarak’s appointment of Omar Suleiman, the head of Military Intelligence, as his vice president and successor, has made it more possible for Obama to pursue this option with less fear of the potential destabilizing consequences. The United States has a good deal of leverage on the Egyptian military because we have trained, equipped and paid for their armaments. They now hold the key to a positive resolution of this crisis. Mubarak may have appointed Suleiman to shore up military support for his presidency, but he is now dependent on the same military for his survival and they may be willing to abandon him to ensure their own.

That’s the door on which Obama now needs to push. Suleiman needs to be encouraged to take over as Egypt’s new president, order the military to prevent looting but not harm the demonstrators, and announce that he will only serve for six months until free and fair elections allow for a legitimate president to form a new government. If he can put this understanding in place, Obama then needs to call Mubarak and tell him gently but firmly that for the good of his country it’s time for him to go.

Even understanding the double-edged sword of the choices, as well as the unfairness that the culmination of decades of bad American policy has landed on Pres. Obama’s desk, it’s not like he tried to right it on his own terms.

One cut is better than foreign policy catastrophe by a thousand.

The ever shifting, first using backward looking language, trying to correct it, then having Biden push harder backwards before Pres. Obama starting leaning in, all of it has finally ended in a better message today by Sect. Clinton, but it’s not been particularly pretty to watch.

However, anyone saying there is anyone who could have handled it better under the circumstances is lacking the humility for the situation, which renders their analysis moot.

That Pres. Obama has the job at a time when the consequences for U.S. are immeasurable, as well as Israel, which we are constantly reminded, also means this one is on him. Whatever he does or doesn’t do will matter to world history.

There isn’t one foreign policy expert who is ignorant to the type of regime Mubarak has had, as well as the treatment handed down on Egyptians who dared cross him, much of the torture economic hardship and poverty. The U.S. has known about the torture in this country for decades, even utilized it while turning the other way. Omar Suleiman is part of that legacy.

It’s a sick thing we’ve done, our country’s leaders and the people, because U.S. citizens are part of the problem, as is our pitifully inept national media, for looking the other way when our partnerships are with torturers, which in today’s Al Jazeera – Twitter – Facebook – Wikileaks world ends up with the citizens rising up and blaming us, too, for their oppression, as well as the armament that reins down on them.

Now ElBaradei has dropped in and stepped out to challenge Mubarak and Suleiman directly in honor of Egypt’s future, giving the protesters a face that might lead to a bridge to a different life.

Everyone is waiting to see what Pres. Obama does next, which is being directed by the Egyptian protesters and their President who has made a move directly opposed to what Pres. Obama said was needed.

Obama’s made a tough situation worse through his own Middle East foreign policy. Tactical and reactive responses aren’t a substitute for a regional strategy grounded in what America stands for in the Middle East. Now everything depends on playing it by ear as the situation develops. It’s a risky way to run the world.

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