Released earlier this week, this January 28th photo shows Obama watching Mubarak’s speech the day before he unleashed his thugs on the protesters in Tahrir Square. It’s curious to think about the release of the picture now, though, in sync with America’s engagement in the Libya mission and Obama’s speech to the nation on Monday. Of course, it’s even more curious to look at this in light of the pullback of the Libyan resistance since the speech.
Glancing at the picture, a critic could say that the President and his people have been watching too much TV, or have been too swayed in their actions (especially the rather impulsive decision to engage Gaddafi) by the powerful imagery and day-to-day mood swings of the Middle East uprising. Click the photo to full size, and you see a particular and even more interesting detail. In all four windows on the monitor, each representing a different channel, what you see is a split screen, the President of Egypt in one pane and a snapshot of political events in the other (two of those other scenes showing things on fire).
I wouldn’t want to trade places with Obama, and I’m not second guessing the moves he’s made. I am curious, though, how much those moves in the past few weeks — as the WH photo suggests — have been spurred by emotional pictures and Obama’s own “split screen” fears (imaging, say, photos of himself at a fundraiser “side-by-side” with people in Benghazi getting fried). If the pictures themselves have played a dangerous role, perhaps they have contributed to too great a sense of immediacy — as if Obama felt that taking a pass in Libya would somehow dampen the fire of the democracy movement throughout the rest of the Middle East.
(photo: Pete Souza/White House)