How They're Attacking Obama

by Conor Friedersdorf

Matt Yglesias takes time out for some ideological point-scoring:

If you think back to 2003, 2004, and 2005 you very commonly heard (neo-?) conservatives arguing as if the main thing liberals found objectionable about George W Bush’s foreign policy was that liberals didn’t like the idea of Arab countries being democracies. Liberals tended to say “no, no” that what we didn’t like about Bush’s foreign policy was that his foreign policy was (a) terrible, and (b) getting huge numbers of people killed while (c) accomplishing nothing or (d) aiding the geopolitical aspirations of Iranian hardliners.

And whatever else happens, I think what we’re seeing in Egypt is a definitive refutation of that conservative argumentative frame. You don’t see American progressives out in the streets leading pro-Mubarak rallies, you don’t see Mohammed ElBarradei talking about how the Middle East is no place for freedom, and you don’t see any of the other things you would predict on the hypothesis that criticism of the invasion of Iraq was primarily motivated by a desire to shield Arab autocrats from criticism.

I honestly don't have a good enough recollection of 2003 to 2005 to gauge the accuracy of Matt's characterization. But it is interesting to me that President Obama is being attacked by some prominent conservatives for being too friendly to the protestors.

For example, here's Rush Limbaugh:

Hey, look, folks, if the industry of talk radio was responsible for Tucson, how about blaming Obama's Cairo speech for this?  Yeah, have you seen, folks, the liberals, the Democrats, the media seem to be more embracing of the Muslim Brotherhood than the Tea Party movement.  Have you noticed that?  I have... "The Obama administration has aligned itself with Egypt for calls for orderly transition." Orderly transition? What if this bunch turns out to be led by Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or what have you?  It's the Muslim Brotherhood.  For crying out loud, Obama "embraces," "aligns itself with protests in Egypt"? Uhhhh.

That really caught me, because we don't know who or what is behind this movement.  We do know Obama has been focused on changing America. We do know that Obama has spent his time abroad apologizing for our past and he's been lauded for doing this by our media, the left, the likes of Colin Powell. If he were a traditional American president, Obama would have been using our authority -- our moral authority -- and experience to ensure our best interests remain intact. 

As usual, this is riddled with nonsense. Since it's a given that Limbaugh will criticize Obama whatever he does, however, it's sometimes interesting to note the particular spin he employs – in this case because its evidence of a division on the right. See unofficial neoconservative spokesman Bill Kristol:

President Obama can overcome all the counsels of timidity and passivity. He can take charge of his administration. He can help usher Mubarak outhis presence is now a source of instability, and the longer the showdown continues, the greater the odds of a bad outcome.

The way it's shaking out is that Rush Limbaugh and the crowd at Andrew Breitbart's Big Peace are upset with Obama for being overly solicitous of Egyptian protestors – the dark insinuation is that he welcomes the rise of an Islamist government – while the neo-con critique is that George W. Bush's democracy agenda was correct after all, and Obama had better admit as much before he squanders this opportunity by backing a dictator. These conflicting talking points may give Sean Hannity a nervous breakdown, but master of cognitive dissonance that he's become, Limbaugh is able to fit all conservative taking points into the same monologue, even the ones he's just implicitly criticized:

Now, right now, folks, terrorists do not have a seat at the table of power, the table of government in Egypt.  If Mubarak goes, the fact is that they're likely to have a seat.  By the way, we're being told that in exchange for Mubarak we need Mohamed ElBaradei.  Now, there's a good friend!  Here's Mohamed ElBaradei who did his best to tell the world, "The Iranians aren't up to anything. There aren't any nukes being developed in Iran." He was a little more circumspect about it than that.  

But, ladies and gentlemen, there are a number of things here to be somewhat concerned about.  Egypt is an ally.  They have been for a while.  And if this goes the wrong way, you're gonna have, if Mubarak goes down, you're gonna have terrorists (Muslim Brotherhood) likely to have a seat at the Egyptian table of government, if not own the table.  Now, if I'm wrong, then it's likely the military will essentially take over the country, but that's not democracy, either. Have you been struck by the fact that the Drive-Bys, the supporters the regime -- even some commentators on our side -- love to talk about this as a "democratic uprising."  Muslim Brotherhood equals democratic uprising! Anybody see a conflict?  But if it is a democrat uprising, then wasn't Iraq worth it?

Doesn't George W. Bush deserve some credit here?  That was the essence of George W. Bush's foreign policy, particularly in his second term.  He said, "The natural yearning of the human spirit is freedom.  One of the things we're trying to do in Iraq is allow free elections, self-determination, self-rule, self-government -- and once the Middle East sees that, it will start a chain reaction."  Okay.  Everybody pooh-poohed that. "Well, that's not what we're supposed to be about, building democratization. Freedom isn't for everybody. Who does Bush think he is?  It's not worth the loss of American lives."

You remember the drill, Cindy Sheehan and all these people running around. Now all of these people trying to pooh-pooh what Bush is doing, "Oh, yeah, we got a democratic uprising!  Muslim Brotherhood, democratic uprising! Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize Winner!"

For the record, I don't really know what Obama should do, it seems like he doesn't have any great options, and although I don't trust him on all sorts of matters relating to civil liberties, I have no reason to think he isn't doing his best here.