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It appears the people of Egypt – or at least a very vocal minority – have run Hosni Mubarak out of office after 18 days of protest. In the end I’m sure it was the Egyptian military that forced Mubarak to resign, probably by simply refusing to support him. For now the military is in control and promising elections in six months. That sounds good and we must hope they will carry that promise through.

Here in the United States the Egyptian situation seems to have come as a surprise to our government. It seems that our intelligence community was once again caught-out by events, and in consequence the Obama administration had to stumble around for a few days while it got its response sorted out.

It is of course an embarrassment to the U.S. that we allied ourselves with the Mubarak dictatorship for the past three decades to ensure Israel’s security. Egypt is the only arab nation with the military resources to actually challenge Israel – ironically because of our aid to the Mubarak regime.

Obama was caught in the quandary of alienating Mubarak should he once again survive the unrest in the streets of Cairo, or of alienating the people of Egypt should they succeed in ousting the dictator. Ultimately the attitude of the Egyptian military seems to have lead Obama to support the protesters, because ultimately it is the military that has power in Egypt. The Egyptian military depends on the U.S. for logistical support – without our money and materiel they wouldn’t exist as a force to be reckoned with.

It is interesting that at the end, when Mubarak had lost the support of the U.S. and his own military, Dick Cheney pronounced Mubarak a good friend and ally of the U.S. in an attempt to score points off of Obama. Apparently he had no more idea which way the wind blew than Mubarak did. Hopefully that incident points to a fundamental ethical change in U.S. foreign policy: that we really are willing to cast-off the shady characters we’ve been doing business with in favor of the world-wide popular movement toward democracy. The days of cuddling-up to whoever we can control are over.

If it can happen in Egypt it can happen in Iran, perhaps in Saudi Arabia, and maybe some day in China. It would be best if the United States was there in support of popular democratic movements even if they might jeopardize our direct influence. Ultimately our best means of influencing other nations is our example of what a democratic society can be.