At this point, the direction in which Egypt is going is pretty clear. The only questions remaining involve whether Hosni Mubarak will leave sooner rather than later, and whether the government that replaces his will be merely worse or will be much worse.
President Obama seems to have received remarkably little criticism for the turn of events in Egypt. The general consensus seems to be that, once this crisis hit, there was very little the United States could do about it, and that the administration has had very little choice but to make the sort of statements it has been making.
That may be true if one starts from the time the crisis hit. Starting from there, however, misses the point. The situation in Egypt may have appeared in the news media overnight, but it did not develop overnight, nor did it develop in a vacuum. The point of having a well-functioning intelligence apparatus is to see developments like this happening before they become crises. It is also to be able to influence such developments while they are still developing. Failing that, it is at least to be prepared for what the response is going to be if things develop differently from the way you hoped.
There is no evidence that the Obama administration saw the crisis in Egypt coming at all. There is no evidence that it did anything to try to influence events before they reached the crisis stage, nor is there any evidence that it had a response prepared when that stage was reached. Granted, we don’t know and should not know what was going on in intelligence circles, but the evidence we have indicates that the Obama administration was blindsided by events in Egypt and is trying to design a strategy for dealing with it on the fly.
When the financial crisis hit in the fall of 2008, then-Senator Obama turned aside John McCain’s call to postpone a presidential debate to deal with it, saying that a president has to be capable of handling more than one thing at a time. Unfortunately, President Obama has failed to be capable of doing so. Distracted by such things as health care, stimulus packages, and golf, his administration failed to properly keep track of what was going on in a major Middle East country. It now scrambles to play catch-up, with anything it says or does appearing very likely to be too little and too late.
The time to plan for a crisis is before a crisis comes. In the case of Egypt, the Obama administration has failed to do that. The price of such failure will be paid for some time to come.