When protests broke out against Mubarak in January 2011, Obama originally said Mubarak's time had not passed, then a month later said he must leave. When he did, Obama urged Egyptian military leaders, with whom the U.S. military has close ties, to push toward elections.
Those resulted in a narrow victory in June 2012 for the one organized political force in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood. President Mohammed Morsi then put in a new constitution and put the military on a short leash.
When vast numbers started protesting against Morsi last month, U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson supported him. But Obama acquiesced in his ouster and called for elections soon.
The result is that Obama, as Kori Schake wrote in foreignpolicy.com, "has achieved the hat trick of alienating all the factions in Egypt."
He has probably done so in Syria as well. There, he predicted that Bashir Assad would be quickly ousted, and when he wasn't, said he must go. But he denied the Syrian rebels military aid until last month.
Unfortunately, the rebels seem weaker and more dominated by jihadists than they were two years ago.
Now it must be said that it is hard to anticipate how these protests and rebellions would turn out. Most outside observers probably expected Assad to be ousted quickly, as other leaders believed.
But it can also be said that Obama entered office with misperceptions that proved damaging. His assumption that he would be hailed in Cairo in 2009 as he had been in Berlin in 2008 was always unrealistic.
As is his apparent assumption that everything will be fine if the United States just withdrew, as our military did in Iraq when Obama failed to negotiate a status of forces agreement in Iraq.
Things have not turned out fine there, or in Libya, Egypt, and Syria. And Iran gets closer to having nuclear weapons every day.
Military intervention can be costly. But so can withdrawing and leading, hesitantly, from behind.
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