Mubarak’s Defiance Makes Life Harder for Obama

Tony Karon in Time:

ScreenHunter_05 Jan. 29 11.46 Mubarak's interests don't necessarily match America's. He's largely ignored years of pressure from the Obama Administration and its predecessors to introduce reforms aimed at avoiding the sort of scenario he now faces, and in a televised address finally delivered at midnight, local time, Mubarak came out swinging, firing his government and promising to name a new one on Saturday, proclaiming himself an agent of reform and human rights, and declaring that “We will continue our political, economic and social reforms for a free and democratic Egyptian society.” In other words, he wasn't going anywhere. Indeed, Mubarak defended his crackdown, vowing that he would “protect” Egypt from the “anarchy” of the protestors.

The speech was widely derided on the streets, and analysts warned that it was likely to intensify protests. And lest anybody doubt that the White House recognized Mubarak's position as a statement of defiance toward Washington, President Obama announced an hour later that he'd spoken to his Egyptian counterpart after the speech, and had made “very clear” that Mubarak had an obligation to refrain from violence against peaceful protests, to turn the SMS and Internet platforms blocked by his regime back on, and to take “concrete steps” toward real reform. “Ultimately the future of Egypt will be determined by the Egyptian people,” Obama said. “Governments have an obligation to respond to their citizens.” Press Secretary Gibbs put a price tag on further Mubarak misbehavior, warning that the annual $1.3 billion aid package the U.S. sends to Egypt's security forces would be placed under review on the basis of Egypt's handling of the protests.

The Administration is caught in a bind, but it's more strategic than just moral: Supporting tyrants loathed by their own people but willing to do Washington's bidding in international matters is a decades-old U.S. tradition in the Middle East, as well as in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The problem with Mubarak is not simply that his methods are at odds with professed U.S. values; it's that his brittle autocracy appears to have entered a period of terminal decline, with the U.S. potentially on the wrong side of history.

More here.