He and his predecessors could have placed less reliance and trust in authoritarian and dictatorial leaders in the Middle East, as George W. Bush forthrightly stated in his first term as president and in his second inaugural speech. And Bush himself could have stayed truer to that vision in his last years in office.
If you want to go back far enough, you could criticize Dwight Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles for canceling U.S. aid for the high dam in Aswan, which led Mubarak's predecessor-but-one Nasser to turn to the Soviet Union for aid and an alliance.
But when you go through this exercise, you come to the conclusion that American leaders not only face difficult decisions, they often must make tragic choices. The decision to back Hosni Mubarak ensured that Egypt, the only Arab country with the demographic heft to pose an existential threat to Israel in conventional war, would remain at peace instead.
It provided us with an ally in at least some important policies for a period of 30 years -- a very long time, just about as long as the time between the outbreak of World War I and the end of World War II.
American leaders have never had the luxury of allying our country only with pristine partners. We entered World War I allied with the odious regime of czarist Russia. We won World War II only with the aid of the even more horrifying communist regime of Josef Stalin.
The time we bought with our support of Mubarak is now obviously coming to an end. Let's hope that the outcome is one we can live with at least as well.