Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Bum rap

Thank God pundits don’t run American diplomacy. Between bouts of hyperventilation, the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait argued that the eruption of violence against the protesters “changes the calculus.” It amounts to the “Tienanmen Square massacre” in his view. In the face of this, Robert Gibbs had the temerity to take a measured stance in his morning briefing and, worse, refused to say that pro-Mubarak forces are behind the violence. For Chait, this was ironclad proof that Obama had suddenly fumbled the football just shy of First & Goal. Why, he asks, is the administration so tepid in its criticism of the regime and so slow in its reactions? “It’s unacceptable,” the well-meaning pundit ranted.

This is a bum rap.

As the sun reached its zenith over Tahrir Square today, Chait presumably wanted Obama to storm out to the White House lawn and go all Donald Trump on us: “Mubarak – you’re fired!” It might salve Chait’s understandable impatience, but the gesture would accomplish nothing. Diplomacy is asymmetric and allergic to sunlight. It does not operate in the stately, linear fashion shown on the West Wing, nor wrap up neatly by the closing credits. In the real world, diplomacy often involves saying "Nice doggie" until you can find a rock, as Will Rogers famously observed. Methinks the right Egyptian limestone is just what Mr. Obama has in mind for Mr. Mubarak.

So, some tips for folks emoting from the peanut gallery: Turn the TV volume down to counteract the influence of breathless, two-dimensional news coverage (half of which is wrong). Then remember that our president is neither dumb nor prone to drawing conclusions without the facts like some do too often in punditry.

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