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It's been thrilling to watch millions of people rise up and call for free expression and democracy in Egypt. The collective courage of the demonstrators has been inspiring; the apparent spontaneity encouraging. And we could view it live on our computer screens and smartphones. At this point, there's no telling what the as-of-yet nonviolent protests will yield. Political reforms that lead to a diverse democracy? An opening that is exploited by Islamic fundamentalists? Chaos?
Rebellions can produce horrible outcomes. But the Egyptian uprising holds plenty of promise -- and is boosting the desire for democracy elsewhere in the region and the world. (China's leaders have tried to block news of the Egyptian unrest for Chinese Internet users.) But on Planet Beck and in other conservative quarters, the Egyptian revolution, sadly, has become just another vehicle for Obama-bashing.
Since the start of this uprising, President Obama has handled the matter well, demonstrating prudence while still adhering to principles. He has walked a fine line. The president inherited a three-decade-long relationship with Hosni Mubarak, which on several fronts worked to the United States' advantage. Mubarak was a tyrannical thug, but he abided by the Camp David peace accords (and received billions of dollars in U.S. aid for doing so). He has been an ally in the fight against al-Qaeda and its partners (while providing torture services in this so-called war). And the need for stability in Egypt is not just a geostrategic cliché.
The possible consequences of Obama throwing Mubarak under the bus at the get-go were stark. Such a move could have caused Mubarak to mount a bloody crackdown that could have led . . . well, who knows where. And other U.S. allies in the region who are not champions of democracy would have hardly appreciated such a precipitous move. Yet Obama could not risk being on the wrong side of this popular rebellion -- especially if it forced Mubarak's ouster. Nor did he want to be. So he praised the protesters and acknowledged that their gripes were important and fully legitimate -- and he warned Mubarak and the military not to harm them. At the same time he nudged Mubarak toward fundamental change.
In public, Obama and his aides were firm without being fiery. They responsibly concocted careful phrases. At a White House briefing on Monday, press secretary Robert Gibbs said that the administration was not calling for a change in the government but "a change in the way the country works." The administration's words did not jibe with the Mubarak-must-go-right-now rhetoric of the protesters. But behind the scenes, Obama officials were leaning on Mubarak to develop an exit strategy. Shortly after Mubarak announced on Tuesday night that he would not run for "reelection" in the September election (and that he intended to remain in his homeland and "die on Egyptian soil"), Obama declared that "an orderly transition" in Egypt "must begin now." In other words, Mubarak's statement was not good enough.
The Egyptian crisis is far from over; Obama and his team can hardly be fully judged. But to date, they have represented the United States well. In fact, Republican leaders in Congress have not been complaining. Yet the Obama Hate Machine has seized on the Egyptian uprising as another opportunity to slam the president. Conservative columnist Dick Morris, who once upon a time was a consultant to President Bill Clinton, hammered Obama for failing to stand with Mubarak against Islamic "extremists" trying "to take over the country." Fox News contributor Ralph Peters blasted Obama for not sufficiently supporting the Egyptian protesters. The right-wing Washington Times editorial page slammed Obama for having "abrogated any leadership role in resolving the turmoil in Egypt," noting, "When the time calls for action, Mr. Obama sits on his hands." The newspaper suggested that Obama's moves would lead to al-Qaeda taking over Egypt. Andrew Breitbart's BigGovernment.com published a posting by Wayne Allyn Root, a leading libertarian, that predicted that the United States would soon be hit by Egyptian-style "riots, revolt in the streets, and economic paralysis" and that Obama "might turn out to be just as intolerant to dissent as Mubarak."
Then there's Glenn Beck. In his own bizarro fashion, Beck tied the rebellion in Egypt to radical forces in the United States and elsewhere that are scheming the demise of the United States:
"We have evidence of the uber-left, the anarchists and the communists and the socialists, the radicals, sowing the seeds and helping those in Egypt. All they want is more pressure on the United States. This isn't about the people there. This is about changing the globe. . . . The storm that I've talked about for so many years is here. The coming insurrection is here."
Oh, this is far beyond Barack Obama, he added. The uber-left and the Islamicists, he asserted, "are plotting together." Presumably to destroy the United States and take over the world -- and Obama's not doing anything to stop them. (He might be rooting for them!) Beck called on his followers to prepare for food riots in the United States. This is, of course, crazy talk. But it's the filter through which millions of Americans are viewing the historic events in Egypt.
The Obama Hate Machine never takes a vacation. But its eager exploitation of the uprising in Egypt cheapens the stirring images of those brave Egyptian citizens seeking democracy and the right of free expression. This is no surprise. There's always demagoguery to wage and paranoia to fuel.
You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances vis Twitter.
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