For the first time in 11 days, Obama took (2) questions from the press pool during a press conference.
For a man who gained popular support for saying that 'words matter', the 'words' fell short. Firstly, it is unacceptable for Obama to make himself unavailable to media and the American public. Secondly, we listened again to a man speak so timidly of a dictator, that it becomes a strong message in itself. Who cares about "Mubarak's psyche"?
One thing is clear: the bland script being written at the White House bears no resemblance to the heat of the Arab Street. It has not had real effect on the actions of Mubarak, and only inflamed those who we need to convince of our change of heart.
The WH message so far has been thus: We've given Mubarak the car keys (actually tank keys), and we will accept the promise of a man drunk on dictatorial powers to 'drive soberly' towards reform - sometime down the road. And for good measure, American foreign policy will once again 'ride shotgun' - but surely we won't be too critical of 'burning the tires'.
For a man who has spoke strongly of "the fierce urgency of now", how can Obama now counsel patience for a dictator?
Does Obama think it's credible to say 'reform will happen if we just let Mubarak work on it?'
If 'Mubarak-led reform' sounds questionable on a blog, consider how incredible the American position sounds in Egypt if you've watched Mubarak's secret police work for 30 years.
Having not anticipated the uprising in the first place, how can these people not anticipate the risk of a multi-car pile-up in Egyptian 'reform'. Watching the actions of police vans driving over demonstrators, one can see that 'driving amok' is literally a favored tactic for dealing with 'reform'.
Certainly America has lost immense credibility under Obama's watch due to the events of the last few days. The Arab Street is well-informed (they watch Al-Jazeera not CNN) and they have a basic question: What has Obama done to 'change' our approach to Egypt and others?
The White House has focused on the term "concrete steps" and "real reform" in Egypt. But how about Washington DC? It is there that Obama has lost the benefit of the doubt.
By giving $60 billion to Mubarak over the last 30 years, it is evident that we are involved with him until we say we aren't. When Obama doesn't say 'no' to Mubarak, and Wisner says 'Mubarak must stay', then the conclusion is that America is not 'cutting off' Mubarak.
When Egypt says they don't want America involved, they're referring to our past and current support - not warning Obama to stay silent.
I believe the Arab Street knows that Obama has limited influence over Mubarak, but they do know that Obama has tremendous influence over US foreign policy. After the statements of Crowley ("aid is not dependent on either/or"), Biden ("Mubarak is not a dictator") and Clinton ("Mubarak is a family friend"); the White House has not walked back but rather attempted to walk alongside Mubarak...just as we always have.
The question remains: has the Obama administration done anything to "reform" American foreign policy? Has he taken the "concrete step" of announcing that America will not financially support authoritarian regimes and give them the best of our weaponry?
How can we sell the world on democracy if we don't sell the same message with our own words and actions?
Obama can't have it both ways: he can't be for Mubarak staying, and also be for the protesters (who say Mubarak must go now).
Words do matter, actions matter more. We're waiting.