Depending on your perspective, the Obama administration was either extremely skillful or extremely lucky on events in Egypt.
When the embattled Hosni Mubarak finally stepped down, you could hear the collective exhale from 1600 Pennsylvania all they way here in Texas.
It is hard to overstate what a precarious position the president was in. On the one hand, his philosophy as an internationalist 21st-century world leader, his political instincts as a savvy Chicago pol and his personal history as a community organizer all had to tug him to staunchly support the pro-democracy Egyptian masses.
On the other hand, it would have been diplomatic malpractice of the first order to summarily dump an ally who has been there for the U.S. for decades, often at great political and personal risk. In addition to drawing the ire of other Arab states (along with a few assassination attempts) for his cooperation with the U.S. and Israel, Mubarak went further than any other Arab leader in the fight against terrorism. Our allies in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other places were watching this one closely.
So to have the crisis reach a relatively peaceful climax in just over two weeks, at the end of a perilous three days when disaster appeared increasingly likely, was a godsend for the White House, for Egypt and for the long-term interests of America.
Of course, the next phase is crucial. We now have to help prod military leaders to move expeditiously to surrender power, figure out a way to help thaw a frozen Egyptian economy and soothe the understandable trepidation of the Israelis. Big rocks.
But, those challenges notwithstanding, this is without question a watershed moment. If it is an exaggeration to compare this to the collapse of the Berlin Wall, it's only slightly so.
President Obama understands the weight of this moment. Dr. Martin Luther King used to remind his followers that "The moral arc of the universe is long, but bends ever towards justice." It was no accident, then, that in his remarks, President Obama said, "It was the moral force of non-violence, not terrorism, not killing, that bent the arc of justice."
Some of the president's frustrated critics will probably say he was lucky, and they wouldn't be wrong -- not totally, any way. A host of factors outside their control helped, such as the success of the Tunisian demonstrations, the power of social media and even good weather.
And, let's be clear, the primary reason for Mubarak's exit wasn't American diplomacy, it was hundreds of thousands of Egyptians who finally got sick and tired of being sick and tired.
But anyone who thinks that the administration's maneuverings didn't play a key role is simply wrong.
The plain fact is that this White House continues to show uncanny political prowess in the face of all kinds of odds against it. In this case, he successfully walked the tricky tightrope of voicing calm, constant public calls for a quick, peaceful transition while waging a furious behind-the-scenes diplomatic effort to ramp up the pressure on Mubarak to go.
And even if it would have been luck, the Obama-haters would still miss the key point: A big part of leadership is being smart enough and disciplined enough to put yourself in the position to take full advantage of luck if it happens to come your way.
That, more than anything, explains why history will show that in the case of the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, the Obama White House was so successful minimizing the drama and maximizing the results.
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