In the End, Obama Stood Up to the Push by Israel and American Neocons to Stand with Mubarak in Egypt
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Beneath the main story -- Egyptian people defeat Mubarak -- there were plenty of subplots that got lost in the shuffle, like the reported split inside the Obama administration, with the president for once resisting the old-school “realists.” Another closely related, but largely unreported story was the rebuff Obama gave to the leaders of Israel.
The “realists” and the Israelis were pushing him to hold back the forces of change in Egypt -- the realists for fear that Egypt would descend into “instability,” the Israelis for fear that whatever replaces the Mubarak regime would be less friendly to Israeli interests. The president seems to have softly yet clearly rejected both.
The New York Times’ top foreign policy correspondents have traced the outlines of the internal administration battle. When Frank Wisner, Obama’s envoy to Cairo, told a Munich conference that Mubarak was indispensable, the president was reportedly furious. Hillary Clinton and her State Department promoted a go-slow approach that subtly supported Wisner’s view, “Seething about coverage that made it look as if the administration were protecting a dictator and ignoring the pleas of the youths of Cairo, the president ‘made it clear that this was not the message we should be delivering,’ said one official who was present.”
Often, though, throughout the Egyptian drama the administration did seem to be backing State’s “order and stability” line, giving the impression of a confused, because internally split administration. Why? Beyond the foreign policy establishment’s reflexive instinct for so-called “stability,” one big reason was pressure from the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Once the magnitude of the Egyptian uprising became apparent, U.S. officials were “on the telephone almost daily with their Israeli counterparts,” the Times reported, “urging them to ‘please chill out,’ in the words of one senior administration official.” The insightful Israeli-American commentator Daniel Levy told the Times that “the Israelis are saying, après Mubarak, le deluge. That gets to the core of what is the American interest in this. It’s Israel. … The problem for America is, you can balance being the carrier for the Israeli agenda with Arab autocrats, but with Arab democracies, you can’t do that.”
Levy may have overstated the importance Israel carries in the Oval Office. But his analysis fits well with a common view among progressives that Israel pretty much dictates White House policy on the Middle East.
There is no doubt that Israel’s right-wing supporters in the U.S. were trying their best to do just that. From the outset of the Egyptian uprising, prominent American-Jewish leaders urged the administration to do whatever it could to keep Mubarak in power. Ehud Barak spent the better part of a week in Washington lobbying for the same approach.
“It is impossible to overstate the angst, even hysteria, that Israelis are feeling about their neighborhood as they watch what is unfolding in the streets of Cairo,” wrote Aaron David Miller, a long-time adviser to the U.S. government on Mideast affairs. “The old adage that Israelis fight the Arabs during the day and win but fight the Nazis at night and lose may be dated, but it still reflects fundamental and enduring security concerns as well as the dark side of Jewish history -- both of which make Israelis worry for a living.”
Watching the crowds grow in Egypt, many Israelis worried that a new Egyptian government would no longer honor the 1979 peace treaty with Israel, forcing the Israelis to militarize their long southwestern border with Egypt. Even more, many Israelis worried that free elections would bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power, turning Egypt into a rabidly anti-Israel power.