Over the years we have milked Mubarak dry, demanding that, in exchange for substantial foreign aid, he support a range of U.S. policies that were wildly unpopular at home. Arab leaders have found that their embrace of and cooperation with the U.S. can be politically costly. They have found it difficult when we insisted that regional allies, like the Egyptians and Jordanians, maintain silence as Israel had its way with Palestinians and Lebanese; not criticize our Iraq debacle; or become accomplices in our use of rendition, torture and prolonged detention. All of these demands on their friendship have only served to deligitimize their rule at home.
When the U.S.â€™s favorable rating is 12 percent in Egypt (and lower still in Jordan), cozying up to us can be quite costly. So what makes us now think that the Egyptian masses are looking for us to sprinkle holy water on their revolt or that we have a role as â€œagents of changeâ€ in their country?
This situation will continue to evolve in response to an internal Egyptian dynamic. It is being driven by the interplay of two forces: the military and the street. We will soon learn what the militaryâ€™s â€œred linesâ€ are, and whether the protesters will cross them. U.S. politicians may need to hear themselves talk, but, in fact, we have no constructive role to play. We can threaten to withhold aid and make more demands, but the wiser course might be to simply assert our principles, take a more humble backseat role and let this situation play out. The Egyptians in Tahrir Square may cheer our pulling the plug on their president, but they wonâ€™t be cheering for us. When the dust settles, our regional policies will still be the same and Arab anger at those policies and us will not have changed either.