The American Dilemma

by Matthew Shaffer

Over at Politico, Ben Smith does a fine job capturing the dilemma faced by the Obama administration. With Mubarak looking increasingly secure and increasingly unlikely to step down before the September election, the U.S. may need to improve relations after perhaps alienating him in the past weeks, in order to enjoy a productive relationship with the Egyptian regime until the elections come. Ironically, however, the U.S. needs to do so without also alienating the protesters who will — at least if the U.S. and other world powers can effectively guarantee that Mubarak will go through with allowing elections in September — choose the new regime next September. We’re in, to put it mildly, a tight spot. 

A few highlights from Smith’s analysis: 

The White House has sought to walk a tightrope, projecting general support for protesters without humiliating Mubarak, alienating Egypt’s powerful military leaders or unduly alarming other Arab autocrats. But the administration has slipped several times over the past two weeks, and the missteps have pretty uniformly betrayed a bias for Mubarak and the regional stability he brings. The most striking example came when diplomatic envoy Frank Wisner — sent to push Mubarak aside — declared several days later that he felt the Egyptian president should stay…

The U.S., he said, has displayed a caution that will endear it more to the regime than to the protesters. The administration “bet on the house – and it was a safe bet,” Stachers said.Other observers said the administration’s hedging had preserved, at least, a remnant of the once-warm Mubarak alliance.“They haven’t burnt the bridge to Mubarak,” said David Rothkopf, a National Security Council official during the Clinton administration foreign policy aide. “But if the Egyptian regime remains fairly intact, the relationship with the United States is not going to be what it was. They are always going to wonder who in the administration was seeking to replace them, and if they can trust the U.S.”

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