If you were sitting around my office on Tuesday morning, sipping your third cup, this is what you would have heard. My officemate, Robert Kaplan, and I were chatting about my blog item on Monday about me concluding that President Obama did pretty well in Egypt. I said to Bob, yeah, in sum I'd give the president a B+. Bob said no, really more an A-. His reasoned thusly:
President Obama has thus far handled the crisis in Egypt rather well. He has been attacked in some quarters for a muddled response. But what is forgotten is that he had to accomplish two contradictory things, which automatically necessitate a degree of muddle. For one thing, he had to be on the right side of history, with the democracy demonstrators in Tahrir Square. But he also had to signal to pro-American monarchs and autocrats in other Arab countries that he was not about to desert them. And that meant not throwing Mubarak overboard too soon. Rulers like King Abdullah in Jordan and Sultan Qabus in Oman are, in fact, enlightened and moderate autocrats who deserve America's support, even as they are critical regional allies. The Saudi royals are less enlightened, but protect the Western world's oil supply. We do not want to be party to any of these regimes crumbling because of the combination of street protests and perceived lack of U. S. support. Obama's cerebral, cautious response was exactly what was called for.
And then off we went to a meeting. I used to hate meetings -- it was one reason I stopped editing in newspapers and went back to reporting. But they tend to be kind of fun at CNAS. As long as I keep them to one or two a week.