In response to Mubarak stepping down, President Obama delivered a pitch perfect speech calling for "nothing less than genuine democracy," not just a government aligned with U.S. interests. There will be many foreign policy takeaways from Egypt, but here's an obvious one: invading a country, toppling its regime, destroying civil society, and then trying to put all the pieces back together with a ten-year occupation and a few trillion dollars turns out not to be the only way to increase the spread of democracy in the Middle East. Wired was more effective than warred. People can now connect to each other faster than any government can connect with its people. And while governments may be able to shut down the hardware, they can't shut off the social effects of digital networks. Any leader who doesn't understand this dynamic should book a room next to wherever Mubarak is heading.
With chaos still roiling Egypt, it's hard to tell if this uprising is Iran 1979, China 1989, or East Germany 1989. We'll have to wait and watch before we can know. But it's not too early to know that if America had done more to nurture a moderate opposition for the last 30 years, instead of choosing a strongman who sided with us over uncertain democracy, we might have some better choices right now. More importantly, so would the Egyptian people. Social media is once again playing an integral role in a popular uprising. Mubarak and his saber-wielding thugs have desperately tried to shut down the Internet and the press in a frantic attempt to keep the whole world from watching. But that's so much harder to do in the age of Twitter, Facebook, cell phone cameras, and YouTube uploads. These new media tools will play a key role in determining whether Tahrir Square 2011 is more Berlin Wall or more Tiananmen Square.