The first option was to say nothing. Silence is golden. Obama and Secretary of State Clinton rejected this possibility out of hand. They drew their lessons from the Administration’s silence in the face of the freedom protests in Tehran in 2009. Back then, President Obama only ended his silence after many days of bloody repression, uttering hesitant words of support for the Iranian protestors.
By conducting himself this way, Obama gave Ahmadinejad and his security services a free hand in brutally chocking the buds of a democratic rebellion in Iran. Later on, the president admitted that he erred and swore not to repeat it. Silence is forbidden.
The second option was to support Mubarak to the bitter end. Many Israelis and not too many Americans are still certain that Obama and Clinton erred gravely when they failed to choose this alternative. The Administration in Washington, proponents of this option say, was exposed in the Arab world as an unreliable ally. A treacherous administration that abandoned wounded comrades on the battlefield and cannot be counted on.
According to these critics, Obama should have made every possible effort, or at least should have appeared to make every possible effort, to keep Mubarak in power – despite the unequivocal intelligence assessment that there was no chance to keep him in power.
After relatively brief deliberations, Obama rejected this alternative as well. He justified his decision on the basis of ideology and strategy. America the way I’m leading it will not support a head of state who clings to his post against popular will, after this will is expressed so prominently, he told his advisors. My America will not be endorsing a head of state who forges election results and plans to hand down power to his son. It is my responsibility to tell him: My friend, you reached the end of the road. Walk away.
Beyond the ideological and moral argument came the strategic argument, Obama explained. Egypt serves as the basis of America’s Mideast strategy, and America must not lose it to Muslim radicals, as it lost Egypt to the Soviets in the 1950s.
The third option
Hence, only the third alternative remained on the table: Active US involvement in the Cairo regime change. This involvement is much deeper than it appears and sips into the domestic discussions held by Egypt’s civil and military elite, and also into the streets and protests.
Obama knows that a democratic revolution in the Arab world will have trouble being pro-American. He wants to make sure it won’t be anti-American. The president believes that the more America is portrayed as the force stimulating the change rather being dragged there involuntarily, the greater America’s influence will be on forging the new regime in Egypt, and not only there.
President Obama estimates that this is a historic opportunity. If he is indeed able to assist in establishing and stabilizing a genuine and viable democratic regime in Egypt - a regime that is trusted by the citizens and is perceived to express their desires - nothing will stop democratic revolutions in other parts of the Arab and Muslim world.
The democratic Egypt will serve as a lighthouse, a model for emulation and a source of appeal for the forces of freedom in Damascus, Tehran and Mogadishu. America’s strategic interest will be rewarded, and Israel’s strategic interest will be rewarded to a no lesser extent.
Obama explains that a democratic Middle East that will provide fair parliamentary expression to Islamist parties (with the exception of those that support terrorism) will safeguard the peace treaty with Israel and sign new agreements with it. At this time, Arab rulers are scared to recognize Israel because they are scared of their own people, yet nobody asked the people what they think.
Barack Obama is convinced that in a democratic environment, an Arab majority will endorse peace. If he is wrong, America is in trouble – and Israel is in big trouble.
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