By Jim Hoagland
Friday, February 11, 2011;
Not nearly enough, Mr. President. Not within a million miles of enough.
An open letter in response to your truculent, deeply misguided speech last night may seem presumptuous. But your good humor during meetings we had over the years encourages me to appeal to you urgently. You have pushed the Egyptian crisis to critical mass. The impending explosion could be devastating to your place in history, your country and mine, and to the entire Arab world - unless you pull back immediately.
When you scheduled your national address, I thought you understood that Egypt's uprising had reached a turning point similar to ones I have witnessed in Poland, East Germany, the Philippines and, most particularly, China. That point arrives when workers strike to support youthful reformers.
The choices for an authoritarian regime then narrow to ceding significant ground or striking back with brute force. You have not moved the real choices beyond those. But you must do so now, even though it means surrendering control to a national unity cabinet and becoming the symbol of all that has gone wrong in Egypt the past 30 years. The Hosni Mubarak I knew could live with that. And you may not be able to live without it.
You were once a man capable of laughing at yourself. Remember when people called you "the Laughing Cow" after you became president because your broad bovine smile resembled the wrapper of a popular French cheese? You accepted being seen by a succession of American presidents as a stolid, unimaginative but useful ally who planted his feet firmly in favor of continuing peace with Israel.
You once stopped mid-interview to ask me the name of "that politician who went out with Donna Rice." I saw a faint smile play across your face. You, too, understood that you had demonstrated a grasp of the human dimension of politics stronger than your understanding of Gary Hart's (or anyone else's) arms control policies.
Such self-awareness is vital in resolving this confrontation. The Egyptian army has cleverly positioned itself between you and the protesters. It is poised to crush either - or both - if its interests are gravely threatened - and you are a liability to the army.
Senior officers have enriched themselves with your connivance, but those under 40 struggle to make ends meet. A split in their ranks is the gravest threat to your nation's stability. The army will not risk it.
You should also recognize the remarkable, promising nature of the mass uprising in Tahrir Square. These protests have not drawn their energy from hatred and prejudice toward the United States and/or Israel. They may in fact reflect a new and authentic Egyptian nationalism that must be nurtured, not crushed. That nationalism can become the regional counterweight to the fanaticism of the Iranian revolution that you and fellow Arab leaders have sought but been unable to create.
And you have a responsibility to Arab and American leaders who have supported you. The longer people occupy the streets of Cairo, the more radical the outcome will be. Egypt cannot afford - as China could after Tiananmen - bloody repression that isolates it internationally. The rise of military leaders through a brutal coup or a government of civilians who reach power through bloody revolt will shake all Arab regimes and spur extremism through the region.
Your jabs at the Obama administration's "intervention" do not help anybody. The United States has bobbed and weaved with each day's developments; this White House is all about tactics, politics and immediacy. Each response to Egypt's crisis has been calibrated more for its effect on the American electorate than on global stability.
But Arab leaders see that kind of maneuvering as weakness. "When America is weak, the rats come out," says one Arab official, referring to turmoil in Lebanon and Yemen. Your stubbornness can only worsen U.S.-Arab relations and ultimately endanger your Arab allies.
A road map for stability can still be traced. Announce immediately a credible truth and reconciliation commission to provide a bridge from past abuses to a better future. Ask the United Nations to help establish an electoral commission and supervise presidential and parliamentary balloting in mid-September. Appoint a provisional national unity cabinet led by reformers. It could include establishment figures such as Vice President Omar Suleiman, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa and newly minted reformer Mohamed ElBaradei, on the condition that they retire from politics in September. Such action could buy you time as a figurehead president and let you live out your days in Egypt.
"This not about myself," you said Thursday. "It is about Egypt." Precisely, Mr. President. Cede power now. Save your country.
The writer is a contributing editor to The Post.