WASHINGTON â€“â€“ A top White House foreign policy official on Monday rejected the notion that President Barack Obama was caught flat-footed by the protests coursing through the Middle East, though he conceded that the speed with which old regimes collapsed came as a surprise.
Dennis Ross, a staff member on the National Security Council, told a conference hosted by the liberal pro-Israeli lobbying group known as J Street that the turmoil in Arab states illustrates that governments can no longer survive by repressing populations demanding change.
The Obama administration has been pressing this point since taking office, Ross said, telling Egyptian leaders they needed â€œto open their political system.â€
That didnâ€™t happen.
â€œUnfortunately, the Mubarak government chose not to heed those warnings, just as they did not recognize the magnitude of what was about to befall them,â€ Ross said.
But he suggested the U.S. and even some of the protesters also didnâ€™t realize that Egyptâ€™s government was so vulnerable.
Ross said that â€œno one predicted the speed at which the revolution in Egypt occurred. Many of us who followed Egypt for years looked at the omnipresent nature of the security apparatus and the level of repression and assumed that in fact change could come, but it would only come gradually and not overnight. Many of the Egyptian activists themselves assumed that, also.â€
Since the fall of the Tunisian and Egyptian governments, Obama has faced widespread criticism that he ignored warnings that the old Arab dictatorships were increasingly unstable.