The Egyptian Crisis: Obama Administration Asleep at the Wheel?

Egypt faces daunting challenges in the period immediately ahead. After several years of relative stability, both economic and political trends have turned ominous, as this largest and most important of Arab states presses against the outer limits of its resources. Negative developments in recent months affecting tourism, oil revenues and remittances from millions of expatriate workers in oil-rich Arab states have aggravated the tenuous situation. For President Hosni Mubarak’s government an economic crisis is almost inevitable in the near term, and a major political explosion only slightly less likely.

from the article Egypt’s Crisis, America’s Dilemma by Paul Jabber

If you read the above paragraph you might be excused for thinking that it applies to the present day drama that is unfolding in Egypt.  However, this is actually an excerpt from an article by Paul Jabber from the summer of 1986 which appeared in the Council on Foreign Relations website under the headline Egypt’s Crisis, America’s Dilemma.

What is particularly disconcerting about the Egypt 2011 crisis which, fueled by demands for social change and greater freedoms is the assertion by some as reported in a January 29th, 2011 Canada.com article, that “the U.S. administration was caught off guard by the political upheaval that has rocked the Middle East in recent days, from Egypt to Tunisia to Lebanon to Yemen.”  Caught off guard?

To be caught off guard in such a critical area seems incomprehensible and is perhaps attributable to a growing attitude of complacency, or perhaps even inexperience – after all, and with all due respect, Barak Obama is hardly a seasoned politician in areas such as foreign affairs.

Another contributing factor may also be linked to the fact that America has over the past few years become increasingly solipsistic, distracted by self-inflicted wounds such as the 2008 economic crisis (and the resulting need to bail out the automotive industry), and the oil spill in the Gulf.  Also, let’s not underestimate the precarious positions most states and municipalities find themselves in as a result of significant budgetary shortfalls as yet another reason for the Administration being distracted to the point of neglect.

For those who may be wondering as to why the goings on in Egypt are important, there are a myriad of complex reasons we should care that extends beyond the calls for a true democracy.  However, the one that is most likely to grab the biggest headlines is the growing threat that Iran poses to peace in the Middle East.  Specifically, a fear that the current situation will give rise to an Islamist government potentially aligned with Iran.

At this point there is no direct indication that extremists are behind the civil unrest in a country that is a key stake in terms of stability in the region.  That said the reality of Middle East unrest has always been a proverbial can of worms marked by shifting alliances that can suddenly turn a working relationship into a  bad one (does anyone remember the US support of the Hussein regime in Iraq during its war with Iran?).

In the end, and unlike the economic crisis, controversial health bill and the poor showing in this past fall’s elections, Egypt could potentially become the Waterloo for Obama as the Iran hostage situation did for Jimmy Carter during his Presidency.

All in all, I think it is safe to say that Egypt now has the American’s full and almost undivided attention.

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