BEN ALI MUBARAK

Bruce Riedel says the "joke in Cairo this weekend was whether Ben Ali's plane would stop in Cairo to pick up Mubarak":

The stakes are enormous for America in Egypt. Transit through the Suez Canal is vital to our navy and our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The peace Sadat made with Israel is vital to Jerusalem, which every Israeli leader knows. A stable pro-Western Egypt has been the bed rock of our Middle East policy since Henry Kissinger. U.S. assistanceboth economic and militaryhas averaged about $2 billion a year since 1979.

Barack Obama's challenge in Egypt will be to avoid tying America to Mubarak and trying to hold back the winds of change that are coming while not destabilizing a critical ally. The United States has a poor track record of pulling off that difficult balance. In Pakistan, George Bush hung by his man Pervez Musharraf far too long. The result is that Pakistanis hate America.

Eric Trager reports on the scene in Cairo. Scott Lucas translates the above image, "which is making the rounds by e-mail":

Former President Ben Ali of Tunisia on left: "Don't be late, it gets lonely." President Hosni Mubarak on right: "You're first, we're next." (h/t Sultan Al Qassemi)

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