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Friday, February 18, 2011

Decisiveness needed at the top

The Middle East is aflame. That's nothing unusual in and of itself, something — bad — is normally going on somewhere in that most unstable part of the world.
What's interesting is what's setting things on fire just now.
I can't decide if what's going on is a good or bad thing. Long time Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak was run out of office by a crowd of protesters in the streets. The same thing happened in Tunisia, Algeria is facing some of the same sort of trouble and now there are more protests in Iran and in Libya Muammar Gaddafi is finding himself in a bit of trouble.
Dictators all over the Middle East are finding out what a wise man once said, "ruling is not so much a matter of an iron fist as a firm seat!"
Should these velvet revolutions result in true secular democracy then I'm all for them. If they are a repeat of Iran in 1979, then they are worrisome at best.
In Egypt for instance, much of the impetus for the ouster of Mubarak was from the Muslim Brotherhood. This "movement" which continues to defend the use of violence against civilians and call for the destruction of Israel tries very hard to present itself as a moderate alternative to Al Qaeda. Never mind that nearly every Western intelligence agency believes they were responsible for the assassinations of both the Egyptian prime minister in 1948 and President Anwar Sadat in 1981.
Just as troubling is the confusion on the part of the Obama administration on what stance to take. That Mubarak was a tyrant is undeniable. He was also a staunch U.S. ally. The administration flip-flopped several times during the 18 days of the Egyptian crisis. First supporting Mubarak, then suggesting he should step down, supporting him again — back and forth.
Our foreign policy might be wrong from time to time, but it should never be confusing. Vacillating from one position to another sends a message of weakness to our enemies and that is never a good thing. Worse it sends conflicting messages to our allies who have to then wonder if we will be there for them when we are needed.
If our few allies in the Mideast come to believe we will abandon them the minute things get tough they will start to look for allies elsewhere — likely from people we'd rather they didn't.
A leader can be seen to be wrong, they can even be seen to be overbearing and retain leadership. They cannot ever be seen to be uncertain or weak.
Part of the problem, of course, is the 24 hour news cycle, and an administration which believes itself to be media-savvy.
Former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs is perhaps a good political strategist, but as a press secretary he left much to be desired. Gibbs, and by extension the president, had a tendency to feel the need to respond immediately to any perceived crisis, often before the facts on the ground were known. This has led to a series of foreign and domestic policy gaffes when the administration has had to backtrack quickly after it became apparent their statements were wrong.
It is far better to be seen as perhaps reacting slowly, but with careful thought and deliberation, than it is to spout off with only half the facts and be seen as waffling or disingenuous.
What will come of the current turmoil in the Middle East is currently anyone's guess. What cannot happen is misstatements by the U.S. to make said turmoil worse or to lead our allies to question our commitment to them.
All IMHO, of course.

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