Getting a foreign crisis right

GETTING A FOREIGN CRISIS RIGHT…. The temptation in some U.S. political circles to make every development, everywhere, about us is as common as it is misguided. We’re an influential superpower, but we’re not responsible for guiding all international affairs.

That said, in the wake of the successful uprising in Egypt, it’s not unreasonable to consider whether the Obama administration handled developments correctly. Egypt is a close U.S. ally, and U.S. officials were in frequent communication with Mubarak, his cabinet, and the Egyptian Army over the 18-day revolution. We don’t yet know the extent to which we influenced events, but it’s fair to say we weren’t passive observers.

The question, then, is whether President Obama and his team got this right. Michael Cohen makes a compelling case that they did.

At times I’ve been fairly critical of this president’s handling of foreign policy, but credit must be given — this Administration handled this situation about as deftly as possible. This was truly an American diplomatic tour de force.

From the beginning the White House was caught betwixt and between — not wanting to be seen supporting the status quo, particularly when the winds of change seemed to be blowing in the direction of reform and yet at the same time not be seen as throwing a key ally under the bus.

And while obviously critics can point to individual mistakes (Wisner’s wandering off the reservation, Panetta’s bizarre comment yesterday in congressional testimony that Mubarak was out the door) on the whole this Administration did a really excellent job — sending public signs that a crackdown would not be acceptable, working the military behind closed doors, trying to ensure a soft landing that wouldn’t lead to violence, but still never backing down from the public position that an immediate transition to democracy (and not one in September) was the only acceptable course. (I’ll be curious to see the impact of Obama’s statement last night on Mubarak and the Egyptian military, but it was absolutely spot-on).

In a sense we helped throw Mubarak under the bus without directly delivering the push.

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on U.S. policy towards Egypt. I can say as a matter of domestic politics, however, that the White House seemed to make a priority of Egyptians having ownership of their own democratic revolution, while taking steps to ensure its success. Obama and his team walked this narrow line extremely well.

The New York Daily News’ Tom DeFrank had a similar assessment.

After a shaky beginning, Obama and his foreign policy handlers seem to have gotten this crisis right. Hosni Mubarak and his repressive baggage are gone, but America’s relationship with a critical Mideast ally and partner in the war on global terror remains intact.

Moreover, Obama has positioned himself as a soulmate for the hundreds of thousands of ordinary Egyptians who stormed the Arab country’s streets in peaceful protest instead of another American leader playing ball with an aging autocrat. […]

Obama aides point out that the hopeful outcome wasn’t mere luck. Vice President Biden dug deep into his Rolodex to nudge longtime friends and counterparts. U.S. diplomats worked other Arab leaders to persuade Mubarak he was done. Senior military commanders tapped longstanding ties with Egyptian generals to counsel caution with demonstrators.

Politically, Obama was showcased as dealing with an authentic world crisis instead of worrying about his intense but below-the-radar campaign for a second term.

One Republican told DeFrank about the administration’s handling of developments in Egypt, “How can you complain about him over this? It’s no contest.”

There’s something to be said for grown-ups running the White House.