No Holds Barred: Obama, the leader who didn’t lead

US president was afraid to push, to call for autocrat to immediately resign from his illegitimate perch. Obama reacted; the people of Egypt led.

Obama Huh? 311 (photo credit: AP)
Obama Huh? 311
(photo credit: AP)
I’m sitting and watching President Barack Obama’s speech on the resignation of Hosni Mubarak. He is eloquent as usual, supplying compelling visuals of the protesters demanding a free government in spite of great personal peril. He is quoting Gandhi and Martin Luther King. He has ‘taken charge’ of the situation.
But say what he will, for Obama it’s all too late. Throughout the riveting three weeks of Egypt’s democratic birth, the leader of the free world simply refused to lead. He watched the events unfold just as you and I did. He was afraid to push, afraid to nudge, afraid to call for the autocrat to immediately resign from his illegitimate perch. Obama reacted; the people of Egypt led.
Obama was supposed to be a transformational president. An African-American had risen to the highest office on Earth. Surely, even more than president George W. Bush, he would emerge as a champion of freedom and democracy. Surely such eloquence would be employed in the cause of human liberty. Obama would surely conduct a global freedom train.
BUT WE were all given pause when Obama, in the first months of his presidency, embraced dictator Hugo Chavez with a wide grin and bowed to the tyrant-king of Saudi Arabia. Chavez had called Bush “the devil” from the rostrum of the UN, and has single-handedly dismantled democracy in Venezuela, brutalizing his opponents and throwing them in jail. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia presides over a regime where women are imprisoned and lashed simply for being in a closed space with a strange man.
Perhaps these were just glitches. Perhaps Obama really did have a freedom agenda that he would pull magically out of his hat.
But it only got worse, with Obama’s foreign policy repudiating most of Bush’s democracy-building gestures as unrealistic ‘neocon’ ideology, and moving instead toward Kissingerian realpolitik. Under Obama, America is again doing business with almost any kind of dictator. Obama even won a Nobel Peace Prize simply for not being Bush! We thought his lauding of tyrants had reached its zenith when our leader, holding only his second state dinner last month, honored one of the most oppressive regimes on Earth. The new Chinese Nobel Peace Prize winner was rotting in jail along with his wife while the Chinese president was eating Maine lobster in the White House.
It’s one thing to do business with China, but to honor its brutal leadership so? With Egypt the circle is complete. Four hundred million Arabs live under brutal tyranny. Egypt is the Arab world’s most populous state. A gift was handed to Obama – who has done next-to-nothing for imprisoned people around the world – when the citizens of Tunisia and Egypt began agitating for liberty. That agitation received one line in his State of the Union address.
And even as the Egyptian people showed they were ready to endure almost any hardship to be free, our president simply watched to see what would happen, got it wrong repeatedly, and suddenly found his voice only when it was all over. You would think that the president would have given a speech when the demonstrations first started, declaring: “The people of Egypt, sovereign in their own land, are demanding the immediate resignation of a president who has presided unlawfully over them for three decades. The people of the United States and their president stand squarely with our brothers and sisters in Egypt, and demand Mubarak’s immediate compliance.”
Instead, we got all this confusing talk from Obama and Hillary Clinton about how the transition to democracy can be messy, and how Mubarak needed time. Time? Three decades isn’t enough?! He had to go now.
SO HERE we are. The greatest democracy on Earth, led by a man whose rhetoric and actions are in conflict. If Obama really believed it wasn’t wise for Mubarak to leave immediately, why didn’t he say it on the day of his resignation? Rather than invoking Gandhi and King, he should have invoked the French Revolution, Iran and Hamas, showing the perils of premature democracy.
The reason he didn’t is that when it comes to promoting democracy, Obama is weak, oddly bereft of strong personal convictions on human liberty, believing that while people deserve to be free, only a superstrong government can guarantee that freedom.
Obama may be our first African-American president, but he is most definitely not a product of the civil rights movement. Thank God the brave people of Egypt have rejected our president’s empty rhetoric of hope and change.
The writer was The Times of London preacher of the Year. His most recent book is Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life. Follow him on Twitter@RabbiShmuley.