Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Obama's Tightrope Walk

"Rip van Winkle meets Facebook." In a phrase, the New York Times' Thomas Friedman nails the drama unfolding in Egypt as the White House struggles with the dilemma of how hard to shake Mubarak awake after his soporific speech "from the father to his sons and daughters."

“The administration has to put everything on the line now,” says an official of Human Rights Watch, who has been advising the White House. “Whatever cards they have, this is the time to play them.”

The pressure grows as an Egyptian Nobel Peace Prize winner, mapping out "a peaceful and orderly transition of power," writes that we and our allies have been "at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars and countless lives, fighting wars to establish democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Now that the youth of Cairo, armed with nothing but Facebook and the power of their convictions, have drawn millions into the street to demand a true Egyptian democracy, it would be absurd to continue to tacitly endorse the rule of a regime that has lost its own people’s trust."

Yes, but we are back to the old fable of the mice trying to decide who will put the bell on the dangerous cat and how.

Yesterday's performance by CIA Director Leon Panetta is not reassuring as he tells Congress of a "strong likelihood" that Mubarak will step down by the end of the day, intelligence, as it turns out, gathered from cable TV. The Egyptian dictator is not the only drowsy one in this situation.

No matter what the Obama White House does, it risks the appearance of doing too little and appearing weak or too much and being criticized for overthrowing a sovereign government.

The coming days will be a test of Barack Obama's skills at walking a tightrope, good preparation for what he faces in confronting the GOP on budget cuts.

Update: If reports are right, Mubarak has left his palace outside Cairo and ceded control to a military council, putting his speech yesterday into a Nixon-like perspective. Our Unindicted Coconspirator spent time talking incoherently to the pictures in the White House before stepping down. His current counterpart chose to do it on state TV.

No matter. His people--and many around the world--will be as relieved to have Mubarak go as Americans were to see the last of Nixon almost four decades ago.

And perhaps most heartening of all, our current White House occupant has passed his tightrope test in fine style.

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