Martin Indyk: How to bend history’s arc for the better

Roundup: Media's Take

[The writer is vice-president and director of the foreign policy programme at Brookings Institution.]

Hosni Mubarak had a rendezvous with history last week. So did Barack Obama. For Mr Mubarak it was an ignominious end to three decades of Pharaonic rule. For Mr Obama it was the opening of a new page in his presidency in which the promotion of democracy in the Middle East is bound to become a hallmark.

For two years, Mr Obama has sought to bend the “arc of history” – his words upon Mr Mubarak’s departure on Friday – in favour of Middle East peace without much success. Elsewhere, he has improved America’s standing in the world and managed relations with other major powers quite well. But on his big ideas – engaging Iran, resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and rebuilding relations with the Muslim world – he has gained little traction.

Notably absent from his Middle East lexicon in the first year of his presidency was the “D” word – democracy. That had been George W. Bush’s folly, begetting a Hamas government in Palestine and the subsequent Israeli-Hamas war in Gaza on the eve of Mr Obama’s inauguration. The new president was determined to avoid democracy promotion in favour of a more gradual approach focused on strengthening civil society.

Egypt’s people have now forced a dramatic change in Mr Obama’s approach...

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