Obama’s Options

Kai Bird, at Slate, on Obama shadowing Carter’s decisions about Iran:

President Barack Obama has a “Shah problem” in Egypt. Recent events in Egypt recall the street protests of 1978 in Tehran when President Jimmy Carter had to decide whether to remain loyal to the Pahlavi regime, a long-standing American-backed dictatorship—or whether the time had come to abandon the Shah and support a popular uprising demanding human rights and democracy. Carter tried to have it both ways, modulating his support for the Shah, calling for political liberalization, and warning the Shah against the use of state violence against unarmed protesters. Obama seems to be following the same script, and the results may well turn out to be equally fraught with unintended consequences.


The [Muslim] Brotherhood is actually a much more moderate political force than Tehran’s Shi’ite clerics. But if and when it comes to power, it will not fail to remind the Egyptian people that it was billions of American military aid dollars that kept a bland, uncharismatic Mubarak in power for three decades.

… Washington should clearly say it will support any regime that comes to power through legitimate elections—even if it is the Brotherhood.

… Change is coming to the Arab world. It can no longer be held back. So the pragmatist and not just the idealist in Obama would be wise to make it clear that he really is on the side of the protesters in the streets of Cairo. It is time to stop hedging our bets.

But this is what may create the hesitancy:

The end of the Mubarak era will also spell an end to Egypt’s cold peace with Israel. No post-Mubarak government, and certainly not one populated with Muslim Brotherhood members, will tolerate the continued blockade of their Hamas cousins in Gaza. Israel will thus be faced with additional strategic incentives to end its occupation of the West Bank, dismantle its settlements and quickly recognize a Palestinian state based largely on its 1967 borders. But as the recent leak of Palestinian-Israeli negotiating transcripts demonstrates, the detailed contours of a final settlement are all in place.

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  • Jorge L

    I see. Sorta like how he deliberately stood aside and let the Iranian autocrats crush and brutalize the people’s freedom movement a year ago? Yeah, he’s on the side of the people, alright.

    It just so happens that the Iranians are big-time involved in the “people’s” uprising in Egypt.

    The parallels with Carter may end up being horrifically closer than the NYTimes rose-colored spectacles would indicate.

  • Jorge L

    Or have nearly two years already passed since the Iranian people were crushed? I’ve lost track.

  • Mubarak has been in power, as a virtual dictator, since 1981. And he has been cemented in power by billions of dollars in direct aid from the United States. The US gives the Mubarak dictatorship about $1.5 billion per year, most of that in military aid. This is precisely how US foreign policy encourages the Islamist fundamentalists. Our government, in our name, props up vicious, vile dictators who suppress their people. The only organized force of opposition is found within the mosques because all other forms of civil society are tightly controlled. Within the mosques the Islamists come to dominate as the strongest opponents of the dictatorship. And this forces moderates into an alliance with Islamists to overthrow the government.

  • Mubarak has earned the good will of American governments since 1981 but claiming he is the alternative to Islamist movements. We have supported him, because he is a “friend to Israel.”

    The reality is that the people of Egypt aren’t happy with the Egyptian peace with Israel, because they believe it sustains the occupation of the Palestinian territories. The fall of Mubarak changes the Palestinian-Israeli dynamics considerably.

    The Administration seems to be sending signals to Mubarak — get out soon. I expect he will. I also expect that the Muslim Brotherhood will take a lead role, but this isn’t a religious uprising and they are not the only players.

    As for comments on last year’s Iranian protest movements — I think it’s time to realize that America can’t control these things. We can prop up a “friendly” government, but we can’t change dynamics in one that is unfriendly — Iran.

  • Steve Billingsley

    The Muslim Brotherhood and “moderate” are two terms that do not belong in the same sentence.

  • Why is that when foreign policy issues are discussed, this anabaptist-styled blog suddenly switches to being imperialist.

    Is the American meta-narrative showing.