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Obama the Sphinx

"Why is the most civil rights-sensitive of recent US presidents so disturbingly tone-deaf to Egypt's latest cry for freedom?

Whether it likes it or not, the US - assisted by its Western allies - is making strategic choices in the Arab world. Even as it dithers and totters, its spokesmen initially uttering vague condemnations and half-hearted calls for change, Washington is taking sides. Even as Barack Obama called on Hosni Mubarak "to do the right thing", his special envoy to Cairo, Frank Wisner, declared that "Mubarak should remain in power to oversee transition".

An op-ed piece in The Age addresses Obama's failure to deal with the present situation in Egypt - and the Middle East as a whole.

"Judging by the unfolding events, what the US administration means appears to be the reverse: it is not up to the Egyptian people to say who will lead Egypt. The tragedy is that prolonging the agony and delaying the inevitable is costing blood in Tahrir Square, as we have seen over the past few days. By not acting decisively on the side of the Cairo protesters - now that the will of the people is being confronted head on by Mubarak's organised supporters - Washington has missed yet another opportunity to build a healthier relationship with the Arab world.

It is the saddest and most dangerous of strategic choices by Washington, one that is made under pressure of events, dominated by the same jaded view of the Middle East that has governed US policy for decades.

This is a short-sighted and morally reckless view that sees the entire Arab world with its 340 million people as, at best, a source of crude oil and an inconvenience to 7 million Israelis, or at worst, a constant source of threat to Israel's security.

This attitude is partly responsible for some of the dictatorships that have sprung up in the Arab world, with their Faustian offer of "stability" and "security", an offer which, judging by modern Middle Eastern history, has given neither Arabs nor Jews any lasting security."

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