In a pretty good history of the Obama administration's response to the so-called Arab Spring in 2011, Helene Cooper and Robert F. Worth of The New York Times get a choice quote about the miraculously transformative powers of President Obama's powerfully transformative miraculousness:
Mr. Obama felt keenly, one aide said, the need for the United States, and for he himself, to stand as a moral example. "He knows that the protesters want to hear from the American president, but not just any American president," a senior aide to Mr. Obama said. "They want to hear from this American president." In other words, they wanted to hear from the first black president of the United States, a symbol of the possibility of change.
It comes as no surprise that Obama felt the need for his magical presence "keenly," but what's kind of disappointing is that Cooper and Worth seem equally convinced that, when he's not causing the sun to rise in the morning, This American President can engineer outcomes in faraway lands. The Times describes how Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey D. Feltman and others cautioned against publicly urging then-president of Egypt Hosni Mubarak to resign:
Mr. Mubarak had steadfastly stood by the United States in the face of opposition from his own public, they said. The president, officials said, countered swiftly: "If 'now' is not in my remarks, there's no point in me going out there and talking."…
So "now" stayed in Mr. Obama's statement. Ten days later, Mr. Mubarak was out.
Undoubtedly protesters and leaders in other countries pay some attention to what the President of the United States says. They hardly have a choice on that matter. Unlike the spectacularly uninformed Obama voters interviewed in New York for the Howard Stern show, they actually have to worry about U.S. policy.
But this is the flipside of the Krauthammerian argument that Obama's policy of weakness and appeasement is responsible for the current unrest in the Islamic world (where, confusingly, the U.S. ambassador was killed in the one country whose leader Obama used armed force to overthrow). It's absurd to believe that Mubarak, or for that matter Zine El Abidine Ben Ali or even Ferdinand Marcos, would have stayed in power without an American shift. If the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq haven't taught you that even American power has limits, you're unteachable.
"In the end, many of the advisers who initially opposed Mr. Obama's stance now give him credit for prescience," Cooper and Worth write. "But there were consequences, and they were soon making themselves felt."
There may have been consequences, but they're more in the nature of making American allies realize that they don't have a very reliable friend – something close watchers of U.S. foreign policy should have realized long before Obama came into office. Whatever you want to say about Benjamin Netanyahu (and who wouldn't rather party with Jay Z than meet the dour Israeli PM?), he stuck by Mubarak after the whole world had turned against him. Obama's shift may not show much steadfastness, but it was part of a long pattern of U.S. patronage, and it had about as much effect as his sniveling denunciation of religious slander at the United Nations this morning will have the next time some mob burns down a Coptic church.
Courtesy of JPod's Twitter feed.