Center for World Conflict and Peace

Center for World Conflict and Peace

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Obama Administration’s Response to Egypt–Part II

Sure, the early phase of the Egyptian Revolution was a bit rocky for Team Obama. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were slow to figure out the nature and direction of change in Egypt. Both Obama and Clinton publicly expressed support for Mubarak, and the "stability" of his regime, even as the number of protesters in the streets were growing. And then there was the problem of mixed, inconsistent messages being sent from Obama's Team. The most famous example occurred when envoy Frank Wisner argued that political reform had to be led by Mubarak. This statement was made well after Team Obama had begun to remove its allegiance to Mubarak and increase its support for the demonstrators. The role of the U.S. in the Revolution finally stabilized once Obama seized control over the messaging and response to Egypt–that is, once he limited the number of American officials commenting on Egypt, and once he exercised more control over the substance and tone of American policy toward Egypt.

In some ways, the above paragraph describes Obama’s style of leadership as president. He tends to delegate domestic and foreign policy responsibilities to his Team and then step out of the policymaking process, preferring to reenter only at specific decision points. This style can work, as long as his Team functions effectively without oversight. But more often than not, by refusing to maintain more control over the entire policymaking process, screw-ups and misstatements and confusion ineluctably surfaces. Still, Obama is able to salvage his policies, but only when he reengages with the policy process, becoming more assertive and pro-active. The process of forming, deliberating about, and eventually passing the recent health care program nicely illustrates my point Obama’s leadership.

All of this said, I am not sure that there is a whole lot to complain about, particularly when we look at the final outcome. Egypt pushed out a ruthless dictator. People power, while hardly guaranteed, is closer to reality. The revolution was a mostly peaceful event. That is good in itself, but it is also good because it helps to debunk an argument repeatedly put forward by al-Qaeda: revolutions will succeed only though force. The Egyptian military still has strong ties to the U.S. Despite the early equivocation from the U.S., there is no empirical evidence indicating that Team Obama has lost any support and approval from the Egyptian people. And Obama successfully avoided the temptation to lead events in Egypt, ensuring that the Revolution would not be in any way tarnished (in the region and worldwide) by a strong American connection.

In short, as far as I am concerned, with help from the Egyptian people (who peacefully protested) and military (which refrained from attacking the protesters), Obama did a very competent job. His next task is to push and prod the military into giving up power and paving the way for democratic reform. This will be a delicate and important task in which Team Obama must work cohesively, and Obama himself must exhibit considerable leadership.

No comments:

Post a Comment