Guest Post: The Difficult Choices Facing Obama

By Eli Lake

So President Obama is pretty cold. The most important takeaway for me is that the U.S. president does not want to be seen with Hosni Mubarak, the second leading recipient of U.S. foreign aid for the last 30 years. He sends Robert Gibbs out to say that he doesn't know if President Obama has even tried to call him. Ouch. This may well have been the right call. If Mubarak was really going down, Obama has started what could be a long process of trying to build a relationship with the government that comes next. But this approach, which looks haphazard following Biden's interview on Jim Lehrer, also has its consequences. General Kayani in Pakistan and King Abdullah in Jordan, not to mention America's friends throughout the Gulf, will be studying that press conference, if freedom fever spreads to their streets. The GWOT since 9-11 relies more and more on these clients. So how Obama handles a crisis in Cairo will also effect the counter-terrorism partnerships in the regimes that survive the current wave.

That said, it's pretty clear that what everyone believed was stability, wasn't stability. I lived in Cairo in 2005 and 2006. The 2005 parliamentary elections began by allowing more opposition parties to run. And the Muslim Brotherhood did very well after the first round of that voting. Mubarak's NDP then proceeded to steal the next two rounds of the election. That cheating prompted calls from some independent jurists to review and audit the allegations of voter fraud in the parliamentary elections. Those judges were eventually disbarred. The year 2005 began with President Bush's second inaugural, which promised no longer would America "tolerate oppression for the sake of stability." Nine days after Bush delivered that speech, Mubarak had his goons arrest Ayman Nour, a former member of parliament who came in second in the sham presidential elections that year. By the end of 2005, the United States had allowed Mubarak to steal an election and the ambassador Frank Ricciardone had nothing to say about the judges, the election or Ayman Nour.

One more point. One of the services Mubarak provided as an American client was to train and supply the Palestinian preventive security services. I don't think a new Egyptian government would withdraw from the peace treaty with Israel. It's hard to govern Egypt, provoking a war with Israel would be suicidal. The Muslim Brotherhood leadership would always talk about the peace treaty in terms of a referendum for the Palestinian people. But I don't think it would want the Egyptian security services enmeshed with Hamas' enemies in the West Bank. What's more I doubt the next Egyptian government would enforce a blockade of Gaza.