Metaphor As Faulty Analysis

During the recent protests (and reactions thereto) in Egypt, several U.S. T.V. and newspaper reporters remarked that the Obama administration was “caught off guard” by developments, or “left scrambling,” etc. And on the radio today, I heard that a Republican presidential hopeful thought that the administration had been a “Tower of Babel,” speaking myriad messages during the crisis.

Of course, the GOPer is to be forgiven (or not); he’s a politician.

But the reporters?

What evidence is/was there that the administration was caught off guard? As flawed as U.S. intelligence may be, one has to assume that the administration knew the protest was coming but didn’t know (how could it?) what precise shape or duration it would take.

Also, aside from communicating through back-channels, how is a U.S. administration supposed to “stand guard” (to play with the metaphor) over a protest in another country? The administration, like everyone else, had to wait and see. How would the police, the army, and Mubarak in Egypt react? The administration, any administration, will try to influence things, but the limits on that are severe, aren’t they?

So, Mubarak–delusional and/or trying to save face–allows as how he’ll still be in charge even as he’s shuttled off to a resort. Obama returns to the White House to meet with advisers. Caught of guard? I doubt it. Probably more like a chat about Mubarak’s going slightly off script. Scrambling? In what sense?

Some on the Left wanted Obama, and I quote, to “man up.” (Block that metaphor.) I assume they wanted him to speak fiercely in favor of the protest. Whatever! How would fiercer words spoken by a U.S. President change anything on the ground in Egypt?

This is not a defense of President Obama. It’s a critique of reporters and their reliance on metaphors that suggest melodrama where there is none. The drama was and is in Egypt. The administration is and was a spectator, to a large extent. If something occurs on stage, as it were, that is unexpected, it doesn’t mean the audience is caught of guard. It means the audience is observing a turn of events.

And Obama’s (or any president’s) being on guard, speaking guardedly, not “manning up” rhetorically? What exactly is wrong with that in such a situation?

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