This has not been a good week for the Obama administration, at least when it comes to responses to the popular revolt that has swept Egypt.
First, President Obama failed to make mention the mass street demonstrations in Cairo and other Egyptian Tuesday in his State of the Union Address. No one expected the president to declare his solidarity with the Egyptian people.
Despite the fact that Obama delivered his great statement on Islam and democracy in Cairo—with the June, 2009, “A New Beginning” speech, in which he urged citizens “to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed”—there’s an awareness in Washington and the world that the web of connections between U.S foreign policy and the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak tends to have a paralyzing effect on the ideals of American presidents. But Obama could, at least, have mentioned that he was paying attention to a revolt that was the lead story that night in every other country on the planet.
At least Obama’s silence allowed him to avoid saying something he would soon regret.
That’s not the case with Vice President Joe Biden.
Asked about developments in Egypt during a PBS NewsHour interview this week, Biden said Mubarak should retain his grip on power.
The vice president also rejected the use of the term “dictator” to describe the Egyptian strongman who has held power for three decades, banned political parties, jailed opponents, censored the press, groomed his son for dynastic succession and unilaterally dissolved and appointed governments.
The remarkable interview of Biden began with Jim Lehrer asking: “Has the time come for President Mubarak of Egypt to go, to stand aside?”
“No,” replied Biden, who would only go so far as to say that he hoped Mubarak would “be more responsive to some of the needs of the people out there.”
Asked if the popular uprisings sweeping across Arab states of the Middle East should be compared with the revolts against communist dictators of eastern European countries in the late 1980s, Biden replied, “No, I don’t.”
Then came the critical question:
Lehrer asked: “The word—the word to describe the leadership of Mubarak and Egypt… was dictator. Should Mubarak be seen as a dictator?”