In the State of the Union speech, Barack Obama did get applause for saying that the United States stands with the people of Tunisia. Now, he didn’t mention the two decades of support the US had given the dictatorship.
The president did not have anything to say about Egypt—where thousands of people, inspired by Tunisia, were taking to the streets to protest their own repressive government—another one the United States has backed for years. Secretary of State Clinton’s official word is that the Egyptian government was “stable.” Aha. She said it’s “looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests” of its people. And she urged “restraint” as they suppressed protesters.
Today there’s more tear gas and water trucks being used on people in the streets of Cairo, and Twitter’s been blocked. As has become the norm, social media helped Egyptian protesters organize and spread the word. Video was uploaded to the Web from cell-phone cameras; it showed activists blocking trucks with water cannons and fighting off police batons. As of Wednesday morning the Guardian was reporting four dead.
And now the Twitter-world’s aflame with reports that Egypt’s ruling Mubarak family’s arrived in Heathrow. Stable—in another country—I don’t think that’s what Secretary Clinton meant.
While this was playing out President Obama was holding forth on US exceptionalism, and especially its role promoting world democracy. What happens now?
Paul Ryan’s Republican response to the State of the Union noted that the GOP is watching protests abroad quite closely—he referred to Greece and England’s “day of reckoning.”
But it may not be theirs only. As massive protests ripple across the repressed world, US leaders can’t both claim leadership and show none. They certainly can’t claim a pro-democracy role and stand firm—until the very last minute—with dictators.
And the same is true for the rest of us. When it comes to what’s wrong here—we can sit back and wait for chips to fall, or get involved in righting a wrong and do something.
The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv and editor of At The Tea Party, out now from OR Books. GRITtv broadcasts weekdays on DISH Network and DIRECTv, on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter and be our friend on Facebook.