America’s two closest friends in the region—Israel and Saudi Arabia—are both disgusted. The Saudis, who dread all manifestations of revolution, are appalled at Washington’s failure to resolutely prop up Mubarak. The Israelis, meanwhile, are dismayed by the administration’s apparent cluelessness.The question arises, however, whether Washington was really in a position to save Mubarak, even if it wished to do so. Can you save a discredited regime by heaping further cruelties on the people, when it is precisely that against which they are protesting? Would that have stilled the demonstrators? The U.S. position in the region is undoubtedly grim, but it seems absurd to believe that it can truly be salvaged by urging the dictators to be resolute in their application of force. Critics want to say that it is utopian to think that the uprising in Egypt will lead to a better outcome. There are, of course, no guarantees on that score, but it is really other-worldly to think that repression could have succeeded in making the demonstrators go home. With what? The Egyptian army? At the moment of truth, its officers had no incentive to risk the sacrifice of themselves in order to save Mubarak.
In any case, Ferguson's fulminations about the absence of a clear strategy and the need to prioritize, etc., is not his real complaint, which seems to be that Obama should have taken a hard and repressive line so as to save Egypt from the Muslim Brotherhood. His inability to say that directly makes his own position vulnerable to the very swipes he takes against Obama.