…I’m skeptical too. But I found it unsatisfying to settle for such skepticism as I watched the massive demonstrations unfold in Egypt on my Twitter feed while moderating a panel discussion on Tunisia yesterday (I plead guilty). As I’ve been arguing for the last month, something does seem to be happening at a regional level, exposing the crumbling foundations of Arab authoritarianism and empowering young populations who suddenly believe that change is possible. There are strong reasons to expect most of these regimes to survive, which we shouldn’t ignore in a moment of enthusiasm. But we also shouldn’t ignore this unmistakable new energy, the revelation of the crumbling foundations of Arab authoritarian regimes, or the continuing surprises which should keep all analysts humble about what might follow. – Marc Lynch
World events happen when presidents are busy planning other things.
This audio from Jack Shenker, the Guardian’s reporter in Cairo, tells his story.
Tunisia… Lebanon… the Palestine Papers… now Egypt. The status quo George W. Bush held on to for so long after 9/11 is unraveling and Barack Obama ignoring it in his State of the Union is nothing new. He released a statement just moments after the speech was in the can that no one noticed, which was the point.
Last night’s State of the Union seemed to be unfolding in an alternate universe. As often happens to presidencies, while domestic issues dominate, somewhere in the world something happens to bring the president of the moment into collision with the events he can’t ignore.
This raises a thorny question for the U.S.: If tens of thousands take to the streets – and stay on the streets – what will it do? The U.S. is the primary benefactor of the Egyptian regime, which, in turn, has reliably supported American regional priorities. After Iraq, Afghanistan, and Israel, Egypt is the largest recipient of U.S. assistance, including $1.3 billion in annual military aid. In other words, if the army ever decides to shoot into a crowd of unarmed protestors, it will be shooting with hardware provided by the United States. As Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations points out, the Egyptian military is “not there to project power, but to protect the regime.” – After Tunisia: Obama’s Impossible Dilemma in Egypt
American navel gazing is our country’s permanent pastime. But as the Dow hits 12,000 up from around 7,000, where it was when Obama took over, it solidifies the richest among us don’t have much to worry about, while economists warn that the austerity the Republicans are talking about might risk another recession. So why is Obama even catering to them, while not uttering one of the most important words in our financial insolvency: foreclosures?
Our politicians want a quick fix, which always has to happen right now, while offering prescriptions that won’t work, because we didn’t get here overnight and we won’t get out fast either. That’s mainly because Pres. Obama’s determined to keep spending in Afghanistan and no one has the spine to carve out what’s needed at the Pentagon now. The President even had the unmitigated gall to say last night that the top 2% tax cuts for the wealthiest had to go after he just caved on them in December and hailed that move in his SOTU speech as “working together.” Obama, Ryan, Bachmann, you name it, our politicians are clueless.
“Government spending restraint is vital to addressing our long-term fiscal problems. It just shouldn’t start in 2011,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, who has advised both Republicans and Democrats on economic issues. Zandi said cuts of the magnitude Republicans are discussing probably would not invite a new recession. But they could push unemployment back into double digits, he said, “taking a very significant risk with this fragile economy.” – Analysis: President, GOP lawmakers agree on austerity, but will it create jobs?
Meanwhile, governments backed by the U.S. are being challenged by the people they hold in bondage. Blake Hounshell, managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine, wrote a post today defending Hillary and Obama, You’re so vain, you probably think these protests are about you. Then he rebuts his own headline in the post, which I responded to in a tweet. But Egyptians tweeted their displeasure at Sect. Clinton’s first statement: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says Egypt’s government is stable despite the largest anti-government demonstration in the country in years.
The Obama administration needs to be a lot more forward leaning, because their current head in the sand policy is preposterous and unsustainable.
Something’s happening on the Arab streets and it could come to matter more to Obama’s presidency and our country than all the word salads and austerity jump balls in the world.
January 25, 2011 (AFTER STATE OF THE UNION)
Statement by the Press Secretary on Egypt
As we monitor the situation in Egypt, we urge all parties to refrain from using violence, and expect the Egyptian authorities to respond to any protests peacefully. We support the universal rights of the Egyptian people, including the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. The Egyptian government has an important opportunity to be responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people, and pursue political, economic and social reforms that can improve their lives and help Egypt prosper. The United States is committed to working with Egypt and the Egyptian people to advance these goals.
More broadly, what is happening in the region reminds us that, as the President said in Cairo, we have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and free of corruption; and the freedom to live as you choose – these are human rights and we support them everywhere.