Does Obama Need To Persuade Voters Egypt Is Partly About U.S. Economy?

February 1, 2011

Frank James

Conventional wisdom says that whenever U.S. presidents get their wings clipped by the opposition party gaining greater power in Washington, the Oval Office's occupant retreats to foreign policy where he has a greater range of motion.

But that luxury may not be available to President Obama even though a major U.S. ally in the Middle East appears to be experiencing epochal change.

Obama will become the first president in three decades to have to deal with an Egyptian leader who is someone other than President Hosni Mubarak.

The long-time Egyptian strongman, after strong urging by the Obama Administration, announced Tuesday he wouldn't again stand for election. Not that he really had a choice.

The change would seem to dictate that Obama turn sharply towards foreign policy since, one, he's less constrained there by the GOP House and, two, if Egypt turns out badly, that could have a long and nasty effect on U.S. security interests.

Obama's re-election, however, will likely hinge squarely on domestic not international matters, namely improving the U.S. economy and creating jobs.

A survey by the Pew Research Center seems to confirm that. The Pew survey found that, despite the U.S. news media covering the current crisis as though Egypt were the 51st state, Americans aren't nearly as interested in the story as the media is.

Pew reported:

Only about one-in-ten (11%) cite news about protests in Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries as the story they followed most closely last week. By contrast, more than three times that number (38%) followed news about the aftermath of the Jan. 8 Arizona shooting rampage most closely last week, according to the latest News Interest Index survey conducted Jan. 27-30 among 1,007 adults.

Despite Americans' relative lack of interest in what's happening in Egypt, the president obviously has to deal with the crisis there.

Not only does it have implications for U.S. national security but the security of the U.S.'s main ally in the region, Israel.

And because Israel's security is implicated, there will be concerns among many friends of Israel, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, about how the Egypt story plays out and Obama's management of it.

For instance, if Mubarak's government winds up being replaced by one much less tolerant of Israel, Obama would likely wind up getting blamed for "losing Egypt." Some have already begun that line of criticism.

But, again, for U.S. voters, Obama may not get much credit for handling Egypt well since it's doesn't appear to be at the center of their concerns for economy and jobs.

Actually, there's a persuasive argument Obama could make that whatever he can do to stabilize Egypt is actually vital for the U.S. economy.

In recent days, the crisis there has caused global oil prices to surge, threatening the economic recovery.

So by doing what he can to keep Egypt from trashing the world economy, Obama could, for domestic consumption, actually still stay on message that it's the economy, stupid. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.