- By Uri Friedman
Uri Friedman is deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy. Before joining FP, he reported for the Christian Science Monitor, worked on corporate strategy for Atlantic Media, helped launch the Atlantic Wire, and covered international affairs for the site. A proud native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he studied European history at the University of Pennsylvania and has lived in Barcelona, Spain and Geneva, Switzerland.
It might be time for Romney staffers to get on a conference call and coordinate the campaign’s position on the Arab Spring.
When moderator Martha Raddatz asked Paul Ryan during the vice-presidential debate on Thursday night if it was ever appropriate for the United States to apologize to other countries, the Republican congressman criticized the Obama administration for its delay in calling for then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down:
What we should not be apologizing for are standing up for our values. What we should not be doing is saying to the Egyptian people, while Mubarak is cracking down on them, that he’s a good guy and, in the next week, say he ought to go.
The problem with that response is that it seems to contradict statements running mate Mitt Romney made ahead of a visit to Israel this summer. In an interview with Israel Hayom, the GOP presidential candidate declared that the Arab Spring "is not appropriately named" because of Islamist victories in the region and suggested that Mubarak could have been persuaded to reform, had President Obama not bungled the effort:
President [George W.] Bush urged [deposed Egyptian President] Hosni Mubarak to move toward a more democratic posture, but President Obama abandoned the freedom agenda and we are seeing today a whirlwind of tumult in the Middle East in part because these nations did not embrace the reforms that could have changed the course of their history, in a more peaceful manner.
Romney surrogate John Bolton made Romney’s point more explicitly during a Fox News interview with Greta Van Susteren shortly after the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya last month:
VAN SUSTEREN: But why is that the catalyst? I mean, like, the Arab spring that everyone started in Tunisia — I mean, what — was there anything that we could have done to sort of change the course of history?
BOLTON: Well, I think what we saw there was the risk to Mubarak. And instead of supporting a loyal ally who had upheld the Camp David accord, after vacillating three or four times in the course of a month, we threw Mubarak over the edge. And he had said for years, If I go, the Muslim Brotherhood’s taking over.
Oh, no, said the Obama administration. Oh no, said many people in America. The Google guy is going to emerge in Egypt. He’s going to be the new leader. People who tweet will be the new leaders. Do you see them anywhere today? They are off the stage.
Romney, who has also implied that the Obama administration is to blame for the Muslim Brotherhood coming to power in Egypt, didn’t always hold these views about the Arab Spring. In early February 2011, only days before the White House called for Mubarak’s resignation, the former Massachusetts governor sounded a bit more like Paul Ryan on Thursday night. It was time, he explained, for Mubarak to "step out of the way or lead the transition," and for the United States to "make it very clear to the people of Egypt that we stand with the voices of democracy and freedom." While Mubarak needed to "move on," he added, Obama should not explicitly call for the Egyptian leader’s resignation because of the friendship Mubarak had long shown to the United States (during the same period, Ryan stoked controversy by comparing public workers protests in Wisconsin to the demonstrations in Cairo).
More than a year-and-a-half later, the candidates appear to still be ironing out their positions.