The Campaign Spot

Anti-American Chants in Cairo; Reexamining Obama’s Speech in Egypt

Today we’re seeing the first explicitly anti-American chants, slogans, and attacks. ABC News’ Christiane Amanpour:

We just got back to the hotel after trying to film on the bridge into Tahrir Square.

An angry mob surrounded us and chased us into the car shouting that they hate America. They kicked in the car doors and broke our windshield as we drove away.

This day has brought many reports of attacks on journalists, Western and non-Western; this may be a strategy by the pro-Mubarak forces to impede coverage of the protests or an upcoming crackdown. CNN’s Anderson Cooper was attacked as well.*

Recognizing that U.S. influence over events in Egypt is limited, for the past ten days, Obama and his team have tried to split the difference. They wanted a “transition,” with few details of how, or when. They didn’t push for Mubarak to leave until it became clear that events already ensured that scenario. It’s easy to suspect that the administration’s equivocation and hedging aimed to send the “we’re really with you” message to both sides simultaneously. It appears to be backfiring.

There was a window for the administration to make clear that they believed the protesters’ grievances about the lack of economic opportunity and political expression were legitimate and that they supported a freer Egypt. That window may be now shutting; the crowds in Egypt may be tired of waiting for the orator of the great Cairo speech, who pledged “a new beginning” and that touted his “commitment to governments that reflect the will of the people” to forthrightly support them. The speech sounds like empty pablum in light of the administration’s tentative reactions:

That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people.  Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people.  America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election.  But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things:  the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose.  These are not just American ideas; they are human rights.  And that is why we will support them everywhere.  (Applause.)

Now, there is no straight line to realize this promise.  But this much is clear:  Governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure.  Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away.  America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them.  And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments — provided they govern with respect for all their people.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that Obama’s grandiose foreign policy speeches have expiration dates, as well.

* By the way, I’m usually up for a good Anderson Cooper or Christiane Amanpour joke, but right now they’re risking life and limb to try to do what every good journalist is supposed to do: go out to where news is and show us what’s happening.

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