President Hosni Mubarak did not even wait for President Obama’s words to be translated before he shot back.
“You don’t understand this part of the world,” the Egyptian leader broke in. “You’re young.”
Mr. Obama, during a tense telephone call the evening of Feb. 1, 2011, had just told Mr. Mubarak that his speech, broadcast to hundreds of thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square in Cairo, had not gone far enough. Mr. Mubarak had to step down, the president said.
Minutes later, a grim Mr. Obama appeared before hastily summoned cameras in the Grand Foyer of the White House. The end of Mr. Mubarak’s 30-year rule, Mr. Obama said, “must begin now.”…
It was a risky move by the American president, flying in the face of advice from elders on his staff at the State Department and at the Pentagon, who had spent decades nursing the autocratic — but staunchly pro-American — Egyptian government.
Nineteen months later, Mr. Obama was at the State Department consoling some of the very officials he had overruled. Anti-American protests broke out in Egypt and Libya. In Libya, they led to the deaths of four Americans, including the United States ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens. A new Egyptian government run by the Muslim Brotherhood was dragging its feet about condemning attacks on the American Embassy in Cairo.
We can’t be too damning. The US had little hope of saving Mubarak, and it’s safer to side with the winner. Yet Obama seems to genuinely not see the threat of the Islamist rise he’s helped to unleash:
Even as the uprisings spread to Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria, the president’s sympathy for the protesters infuriated America’s allies in the conservative and oil-rich Gulf states.
It seems from the profile that what conservatives have long alleged may well be true – Obama suffers from a vast self regard that seems to have led him to greatly overestimate his power to influence with words and moral example:
…his handling of the uprisings also demonstrates the gap between the two poles of his political persona: his sense of himself as a historic bridge-builder who could redeem America’s image abroad, and his more cautious adherence to long-term American interests in security and cheap oil…
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.
But the mobs from Sydney to Cairo have now told Obama that to them he’s just another American president. Get over yourself.
Barack Obama gives a sonorous speech to the United Nations appealing for a rejection of the us-and-them politics driving the mobs he’s helped to unleash:
It has been less than two years since a vendor in Tunisia set himself on fire to protest the oppressive corruption in his country, and sparked what became known as the Arab Spring. And since then, the world has been captivated by the transformation that’s taken place, and the United States has supported the forces of change…
We insisted on change in Egypt, because our support for democracy ultimately put us on the side of the people..
And yet the turmoil of recent weeks reminds us that the path to democracy does not end with the casting of a ballot. .. Those in power have to resist the temptation to crack down on dissidents. In hard economic times, countries must be tempted—may be tempted to rally the people around perceived enemies, at home and abroad, rather than focusing on the painstaking work of reform… In every country, there are those who find different religious beliefs threatening…
That is what we saw play out in the last two weeks, as a crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world…
More broadly, the events of the last two weeks also speak to the need for all of us to honestly address the tensions between the West and the Arab world that is moving towards democracy…
It is time to marginalize those who—even when not directly resorting to violence—use hatred of America, or the West, or Israel, as the central organizing principle of politics. For that only gives cover, and sometimes makes an excuse, for those who do resort to violence…
The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. But to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see in the images of Jesus Christ that are desecrated, or churches that are destroyed, or the Holocaust that is denied.
Obama’s defence of free speech in his address is strong and welcome. His sentiments on the politics of division are worthy. But fine speeches at the UN count for next to nothing on the ground. What Obama fails to say, or dares not, is that Islam is a faith that insists on division. And by his actions, he has helped that force of division to grow stronger.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a president whose foreign policy rests primarily on adherence to long-term American security and economic interests, and not at all on his absurdly inflated self-image?
Andrew Bolt’s columns appear in Melbourne’s Herald Sun, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph and Adelaide’s Advertiser. He runs the most-read political blog in Australia and hosts Channel 10’s The Bolt Report each Sunday at 10am, and his book Still Not Sorry remains very widely read.