Thursday, February 3, 2011

From the Other Journalist Cohen: Sensible and Stirring Words

In contrast to Richard Cohen's insistence that the Israeli sky-is-falling if Obama doesn't clam up, some stirring, sensible, and much more forward-looking suggestions from the NYT's Roger Cohen:

This is the first major foreign policy crisis of the Obama presidency in which he has real leverage (not the case in Iran). If Egypt, the Arab hub, manages a transition to some more representative order, that victory will resonate in 2012. If the Egyptian mockery of democracy persists, Obama’s failure will be stark.

Already we hear the predictable warnings from Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu: This could be Iran 1979, a revolution for freedom that installs the Islamists. But this is not 1979; and Egypt’s Facebook-adept youth are not lining up behind the Muslim Brotherhood, itself scarcely a band of fanatics.

There is more hope for the Middle East — and ultimately Israel — in Egyptian reform that would establish the first peace between a Jewish and an Arab democracy.

The U.S. can no longer advance its regional interests through double standards long apparent to every thinking Arab. Ambivalent U.S. prodding for political opening has produced “nothing, nothing, nothing,” in the words of one frustrated observer. It’s time to be very clear that Mubarak’s time is up.

In the swirling crowd, I spoke to two Egyptian lawyers, in their robes, from the northern town of Tanta. Ahmed el-Biery, 34, and Ahmed Romeh, 24, had traveled to Cairo, to protest, to end “the only regime we have known.” Why their anger? “First, corruption. A bunch of them control the whole economy” said el-Biery. “Second, no laws. There are thousands imprisoned without trial. Everyone has the right to a trial.”

El-Biery looked at me with his intense green eyes. “I’m here for my children, so they live better.” That’s a very American idea: a better life for one’s kids. Another is this: that a nation of laws is fundamental. Mubarak has been a firm ally, kept a cold peace with Israel and Egypt at peace for three decades. I don’t want to see him humiliated. But Obama must stand now with el-Biery against a corrupted order.

Mubarak may not be listening.  Omar Suleiman and others of Mubarak's hand-picked old/new entourage may dismiss words from Obama-Clinton as unwanted and unneeded advice from an outsider.  Some of the protesters may sneer that Obama-Clinton's newly noble rhetoric doesn't jive with the US's actions only weeks ago.  But if Obama wants to retain any shred of credibility for himself - and his country - as a beacon of democracy and human rights, now's the time to speak - loudly, and often, and forthrightly.

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