The Embarrassments of Empire

From Egypt to Pakistan, February 2011 will be remembered as a month
unusually full of the embarrassments of empire. Americans were
enthralled by a spectacle of liberty in which we felt we should somehow
be playing a part. Here were popular movements toward self-government,
which might once have looked to the United States as an exemplar,
springing up all across North Africa and the Middle East. Why did they
not look up to us now?

The answer became clearer with every equivocal word of the Obama
administration, and every false step it took in trying to manage the
crisis. A person suffers embarrassment when something true about himself
emerges in spite of reasonable efforts to conceal it. It is the same
with nations. Sovereign nations are abstract entities, of course — they
cannot have feelings as people do — but there are times when they would
blush if they could.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was weakened and finally brought
down by nonviolent popular actions that started in Cairo and spread to
Alexandria, Suez, and many other cities. At first, Mubarak took a
dictator’s prerogative and named his successor. Soon after, he changed
his mind and declined to step down. At last, he gave in to the
unrelenting demands of the people and pressure from the army.

Throughout the 18 days of upheaval, Washington spoke of the need for
an “orderly … >>>

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