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Mubarak steps down. Will Obama step up?

Regarding the revolt in Egypt, Washington has so far taken an ineffective, middle-of-the road approach. Even as President Obama called for a credible path toward democracy, he must back the opposition protesters much more decisively.

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H.L. Mencken wrote that for every complex problem there is one solution “that is simple, neat, and wrong.” When it comes to the American response to the crisis in Egypt, it appears we have two of them.

One relies on the idea that the US can determine the outcome of this new transition period. The other depends on the notion that there will be dire consequences if we back the opposition and a supporter of (former) President Hosni Mubarak retains power. Both assumptions, while seductive, are false.

Consequently, Washington has taken an ineffective, middle-of-the road approach.

As Egyptian history continues to sprint forward following Mr. Mubarak's resignation, the Obama administration should back the opposition much more decisively, however disparate and uncertain its makeup and aims. For if one of Mubarak’s comrades in the military or his National Democratic Party emerges stably in power, we lose very little. They will not change the policies we care about. If the opposition ends up gaining power, however, our position is dramatically stronger than it would be otherwise.

President Obama cheered on the spirit of the Egyptian people today and called on the military to ensure a speedy path toward free and fair elections. Though he did not commit himself to anything, let's hope it was the first step toward a new policy.

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