January 30th, 2011
09:00 AM ET

Letters to the President #741 'The danger of choosing sides'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Reporter's Note: The president is paying a lot of attention to the events in Egypt. So am I in today’s letter to the White House.

Dear Mr. President,

I keep thinking about Egypt this weekend, and I can’t help but be reminded of what I’ve always considered the central puzzle of diplomacy. We make deals with whomever is in charge in a given country; we build relationships; and as time passes…things change. Then one day we look across the waves to see fires burning and tanks rolling and we have to wonder: On which side of this conflict do we want to stand?

That’s was really the question in Egypt from the moment the trouble started. Should we stand with the ruling government so that, when and if the troubled subsided, they would feel reassured that we were always in their corner? Or should we lend support to the usurpers, so they would feel as if we had befriended them and encouraged their movement when the future was in doubt?

It’s a tough call, and I don’t envy you the task. Oh sure, it is easy for us normal citizens to say, “Just do the right thing,” or “We should support our long time ally,” or “Let’s help the protesters bring about change.” But those statements, amid the turmoil we are seeing, seem overly simplistic.

Think about Iran not so long ago. There too, protesters filled the streets, violence followed and it appeared that the government might be toppled. Iran’s bosses ultimately held on, but even if they had been driven out, a central question remained unanswered. We knew what the protesters were against; but what precisely were they for? That is something we’re not sure of in Egypt either. Heck, we’re not even certain who they are, or who is the prime organizing force, or even if there is one.

You no doubt will hear a lot of pressure to speak up more forcefully; to more clearly state a position. There may even come a time when you feel as if that is the right course. But be ever mindful that this is tricky territory. We most assuredly should do the right thing; but figuring out what is right…holds a million ways in which we can go wrong.

Best of luck.