Center for World Conflict and Peace

Center for World Conflict and Peace

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Obama Administration’s Response to Egypt–Part I

President Barack Obama seems to want to achieve what I call as the "Goldilocks's point," where the U.S. would not be seen as overtly supportive toward the protesters (thus antagonizing Mubarak had he had managed to stay) and at the same time, nor especially supportive of propping up the authoritarian regime in Cairo. In the perfect world, this can happen. Unfortunately, this is not. And the end result of this is a credibility problem, where the US is no longer seen as a credible partner by both the government and the people. The people believed the U.S. did not have their backs. And by telling Mubarak that he had to leave office "now," Obama left him with no face-saving exit strategy, which mightily concerned other leaders in the region, particularly the King in Saudi Arabia, who fear that U.S. will turn on them in the future. Obama would have been better off had he picked one side in the Egyptian Revolution.

Arguably, the conflicting signals, sent by the White House and Hillary Clinton, did nothing but perpetuate the image that Obama administration was losing it, that when push came to shove, when the 3 AM call came, Obama acted like an amateur.

This credibility problem has repercussions for other revolts in the region. For instance, at this point, The King of Bahrain has no incentive at all to listen to advice from the Obama administration. What could they say?" Hey, it worked for Mubarak, right?" The King will likely think that attending to human rights issues only leads to an early retirement. And there is no way the King will opt for that.

So what Bahrain does now is follow the Iran model. By suppressing the protesters enough, the state will be able to silence them, allowing the internal status quo to hold. Plus, unlike Egypt, there are regional sectarian concerns here. Bahrain has a sizable Shiite population that is fueling the revolt, leading other states, notably Saudi Arabia, to worry that Iran is behind the unrest. Sunni states already see Iran as trying to extend its footprint in the Middle East. The more areas/issues Iran sticks its nose into, the more destabilizing it will be to the region. And this time, unlike Mubarak, the King of Bahrain will get all the help he needs from other Sunni states to hold the regional status quo in place.

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