Now is the Moment for the Freedom Agenda

An anti-government protester kisses a riot policeman after clashing with him in Cairo. Photo: Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

Who can know for sure the long-range historical significance of the extraordinary scene unfolding now in Egypt? Here’s what is for sure: the Obama Administration’s timid response to this crisis has been completely inadequate, even counterproductive. Secretary of State Clinton’s statement today that the US is “deeply concerned” about growing protests didn’t do the job. Nor did her call for “needed economic, political, and social reforms.” This situation is beyond the “needed reform” stage — when the ruling party’s offices are on fire, you can be confident that Egypt is likely on the verge of regime change. Currently, Robert Gibbs is giving a press conference at the White House in which he’s essentially refusing to say on which side the United States stands. He’s telling the press pool that the US will be “reviewing its assistance posture” to Egypt in the coming days.

I have been following the situation by live-streaming Al Jazeera English, a fantastic resource. One protester came up to an Al Jazeera correspondent on the street brandishing a spent tear-gas canister that had “made in the USA” inscribed on the side.

That’s going to be our lasting legacy in Egypt and throughout the Arab world for the foreseeable future unless President Obama acts decisively, and soon, to speak out on behalf of the people of Egypt and make clear that the United States stands for democracy. In so doing, he could secure for the United States some shred of popular appreciation and respect amongst ordinary Egyptians. 

After September 11, it became clear that political and economic stagnation in the Middle East posed a major threat to American security. American policy since then has been implicitly (and often under President Bush, explicitly) premised on the idea that the spread of liberty in the region will redound to America’s long-run national interest. This is the most critical moment in decades for the United States’ credibility in the Arab world: will it adhere to its professed values and self-proclaimed interests? Or will it do its best to ease the last days of a tottering autocrat?

Charles S. Dameron