In the Washington Post this morning, George Soros describes very well America's equities in Egypt's current political struggle. America is not all powerful and does not have a magic wand to turn totalitarian regimes into well-functioning democracies, but there are times when the balance in America's strategic relationships must shift toward the vital importance of popular self-determination and will.
Revolutions usually start with enthusiasm and end in tears. In the case of the Middle East, the tears could be avoided if President Obama stands firmly by the values that got him elected. Although American power and influence in the world have declined, our allies and their armies look to us for direction. These armies are strong enough to maintain law and order as long as they stay out of politics; thus the revolutions can remain peaceful. That is what the United States should insist on while encouraging corrupt and repressive rulers who are no longer tolerated by their people to step aside and allow new leaders to be elected in free and fair elections.
Soros also gets into the issue of Israel in his piece -- calling it a "stumbling block" to getting things right. One of the dirty truths of America's strategic relationship is that despite oil and energy interests, and of course the Suez Canal, the aid that the US has given Egypt and the large many decades of support to Mubarak are part of the package of what the US has carved off for Israel. America helped keep Mubarak stable because he was a vital anchor and partner with Israel in the Arab world. The problem is that ultimately peace deals must be done with people, not autocrats.
The one thing George Soros does not mention in his article is that lurking in Egypt's police and intelligence files are mountains of materials on significant human rights abuses -- disappearances, political detentions, torture, and summary executions. In some of these cases, the United States government knew what was going on or had agents in the room. This will come out, and America's historical complicity in Egypt's nightmares will become clear.
What the US government does at this historic inflection point in Egypt's evolution may be the only thing that helps in part redeem for some of the atrocities Washington participated in years ago.