Now Obama backs “gradual” transition in Egypt
Obama is not just egregious; he is embarrassing. Three days ago, the president declared in his usual peremptory manner of world dictator (a style originated by President Bush, a fact never acknowledged by Obama’s conservative critics) that President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt “must” resign now, and White House spokesman Gibbs underscored that “now means now.”
Yet one day ago, after it became clear that Mubarak wasn’t obeying Obama’s Napoleonic command that he leave “now,” the administration switched and said it supported a “gradual” transition. Today’s New York Times reports:
West Backs Gradual Egyptian TransitionSo, what happened to the unqualified U.S. position that “Mubarak must leave now”? It lasted two days. It turned out not to mean anything. If Obama wants to influence events on the world stage, which he evidently does, why does he take such strong positions and then abandon them, which makes his words meaningless and thus lessens his influence? Why does he combine the tone of a world dictator with an unsteadiness that makes him instantly dismissible, even risible?
I think the answer is found in the deeply ambivalent relationship that liberals have with power. Obama, as a U.S. president, wants to exercise power. But Obama, as a liberal, is against power. In particular, as he himself said not long ago, he thinks that the U.S. has too much power in the world and that things would be better for everyone if America’s power were lessened relative to that of other countries. By scattering his statements left and right, by issuing peremptory commands which turn out not to mean anything, Obama is weakening his own, and thus America’s power. Which is one of his goals as a liberal, whether or not he is cognizant of how he is pursuing it in the present instance.