Barack Obama wasn't pleased with Hosni Mubarak's announcement today that he's not going to step down until next September. That sent POTUS to the airwaves to insist the Egyptian government, "put forward a credible, concrete and unequivocal path toward genuine democracy." Missing from Obama's rebuke was the "or else" part.
Or else what exactly? America doesn't seem to be holding a strong hand. It may be used to getting its way but this is the Middle East and Egypt borders Israel where the pols have been defying Washington at every turn for years. If the White House tries to punish Mubarak by suspending aid to Egypt the King of Saud has promised to cover whatever is withheld. Hosni already has two thugs in his pocket, King Abdullah and Benjamin Netanyahu, so he's pretty much away at the races.
The great mystery to these developments is why anyone in his right mind would expect Mubarak to go gently into the night. If you were Hosni Mubarak, would you?
You're 82 years old, not in the best of health, you're immensely wealthy, still very powerful, your friends are considerably outnumbered by your enemies, you have a lot of skeletons in your closet for which you would rather not be held to account and, within just a few weeks, you've been overtaken by events that could just have you on the run or behind bars for the rest of your life.
So, do you step down graciously and place your own head in a noose or do you play for time, rely on your unindicted co-conspirators and tough it out? I'm guessing most of us would play for time. Time to weigh how much of the mob can be neutralized, what groups can be divided from others. Time in which to see what deals are on the table, at home and abroad. Time in which to review your assets, figure out what's safe, what needs to be moved or converted in form. You'll need protection and immunities from people who can be relied upon to keep their promises.
While he clings to the presidency Mubarak continues to have time to work on his housekeeping. And with up to $70-billion in family assets at stake, that's a lot of housekeeping. Once he steps down it's time to run.
I'm not surprised that he's not leaving - yet. But I will be surprised if he's not gone, along with his NDP, within a month. In the meantime, unless Washington can figure out a way to get at Mubarak with surgical precision, some option that doesn't risk greater blowback later, America will remain the least of Hosni's problems.