Obama Administration's Evolving Language on Egypt

Since Friday, it's been very encouraging to listen to the evolution of how the State Department and White House have talked about Egypt. What began as cautious encouragement of their close ally Mubarak to listen to the demands of protesters has become full-throated support for a democratic transition.

On Friday night, President Obama defended the basic freedoms of the Egyptian people, and called upon the Egyptian government to reconnect internet and mobile service. He also made this encouraging but very cautious statement

What's needed right now are concrete steps that advance the rights of the Egyptian people:  a meaningful dialogue between the government and its citizens, and a path of political change that leads to a future of greater freedom and greater opportunity and justice for the Egyptian people... The United States always will be a partner in pursuit of that future.  And we are committed to working with the Egyptian government and the Egyptian people -- all quarters -- to achieve it.

Yesterday, Secretary Clinton's urged an "orderly transition" to democracy in Egypt, in a series of interviews on Meet the Press and elsewhere: 

I want the Egyptian people to have the chance to chart a new future. It needs to be an orderly, peaceful transition to real democracy, not faux democracy like the elections we saw in Iran two years ago, where you have one election 30 years ago and then the people just keep staying in power and become less and less responsive to their people. We want to see a real democracy that reflects the vibrancy of Egyptian society. And we believe that President Mubarak, his government, civil society, political activists, need to be part of a national dialogue to bring that about.

While expressions of concern for peace and the protection of human rights have been in the Administration's pronouncements on Egypt since the beginning of the protests, the emergence of their support for a "transition" came only gradually, as it has become more and more clear that Mubarak is unlikely to stay in power without a brutal, bloody crackdown (which the army may be unwilling to implement, anyway).

A fourth element of the Obama Administration's approach (in addition to peace, human rights and democratic transition) which we have not heard clearly enunciated in public, but which was reported by Mike Allen in Politico

This is about more than just Egypt. The people of the Middle East, like people everywhere, are seeking a chance to contribute and to have a role in the decisions that will shape their lives.

There's a lot about the idea of cascading democratic revolutions in the Middle East that's scary for U.S. security strategy: What will it mean for Israel? For the price of oil? For our military posture in the region? But what we've seen in Egypt this past week can hardly be considered "stability." If these protests continue to spread across the Middle East, we ought to support them not just for the sake of the people of these countries-- who have suffered repression for too long-- but for the sake of a democratic future in a Middle East that is more stable and more a part of the global community.