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Egypt Poll Showing Strong Opposition to US Policy Stems from Confused Response to Arab Uprising

The other part of that Pew poll on Egyptian attitudes I wanted to highlight concerns their antipathy toward the United States.

39% have a negative view of the American involvement in the upheaval, the survey showed, compared with 22% who have positive views. Only 15% of those polled want Egypt to have a closer relationship with the United States in the future, while 43% want a more distant relationship, and 40% would like it to remain about where it has been.

The Obama administration, which has tried since its beginnings to defuse tensions between the United States and the Arab world, struggled to deal with the Egyptian uprising. U.S. officials initially signaled support for Mubarak but later urged him to leave […]

The poll showed 52% of Egyptians disapprove of how President Obama has dealt with this year’s political uprisings in the Middle East, with a plurality of those saying that he has showed too little support for change.

Glenn Greenwald adds that the poll shows only 20% of Egyptians have a favorable opinion of the United States, with 79% unfavorable. As Glenn notes, this undermines one of the central premises of an Obama Administration – that he would improve US standing in the Arab world. But most people touting this made that assumption simply on the virtue of him being Barack Obama. And over the past two years and especially over the past three months, Arabs are judging Obama by his actions.

And while the President and his allies have described his policy during the Arab uprising as “leading from behind,” I don’t think Arab pro-democracy activists see it in even those muted terms. While the White House wrestled over which dictator to condemn and which to offer tacit support, which anti-government rebels to provide with military support and which to ignore, it shows their preoccupation with political consensus over the correct policy. And this pragmatism, while perhaps noble in other contexts, is extremely hurtful when the issue on order is human rights, repression, literally the life and death of a people. The President talks about universal principles but doesn’t apply them.

The Arab uprising provided a moment to break out of the constraints of realpolitik foreign policy, to end the support of dictators, and to realize that a policy of supporting and encouraging democratic movements not only has a positive human rights benefit but a positive benefit for America’s national security interests. The ultimate choice that Egyptians or Yemenis or Bahrainis or Libyans make may end up hostile to the United States in general, but supporting a dictator who represses his people will practically assure that hostility to at least some section of the population, and the resulting poverty and corruption and repression will make that section very susceptible to a posture of extremism.

This is a good point from Spencer:

But that leads to another similarity. No one knows how either move fits into a larger administration approach to the broader issues that Guantanamo and Libya represent. Even if Guantanamo is vacant, where will future terrorism detainees captured outside Afghanistan reside? Does the Libya war obligate Obama to block other Mideastern counterrevolutions; and if not, does that reluctance encourage regional dictators to dig in? The administration’s insistance that it rejects setting precedents indicates it hasn’t thought this whole thing through. (You may not be interested in setting precedents, Mr. McDonough; but regional actors observing your decisions most certainly are.)

And that confusion, and hesitancy, and tilt toward the established order rather than embracing the new moment in the Arab world, is at the heart of those poll numbers, I believe. America’s actions in that part of the world do not live up to their public statements by any measure.

A lot falls to US public diplomacy to make this right. But all the public diplomacy in the world cannot make up for tangible actions, or lack thereof, that is poisoning what could be a dramatic reset of relations with the Arab world, one which would promote national security, global economic opportunity and democracy at the same time.

But this has not been the policy Obama has sought, and he is suffering with the consequences.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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