At this writing, it's just before 6 a.m. in Cairo on Friday morning. Within hours, thousands of Egyptian protesters from all walks of life will be in the streets of Cairo and other Egyptian cities, chanting, "Down with Mubarak."
What will be the response of the U.S.-backed Egyptian government of Hosni Mubarak to these protesters? Will U.S.-supplied Egyptian security forces shoot unarmed demonstrators? Will there be massive loss of life?
If there is massive loss of life, will be we be able to say truthfully that the U.S. government had done everything in its power to stop it?
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Clinton urged the Egyptian government not to crack down on peaceful protests and not to disrupt social networking sites. As of 5 a.m. this morning Cairo time, we had some preliminary data on the Egyptian government's response to Secretary Clinton's urgings.
"Egypt: Internet down, police counterterror unit up," the AP reported.
Internet service in Egypt was disrupted and the government deployed an elite special operations force in Cairo on Friday, hours before an anticipated new wave of anti-government protests.
The developments were a sign that President Hosni Mubarak's regime was toughening its crackdown following the biggest protests in years against his nearly 30-year rule.
The counter-terror force, rarely seen on the streets, took up positions in strategic locations, including central Tahrir Square, site of the biggest demonstrations this week.
Facebook and Twitter have helped drive this week's protests. But by Thursday evening, those sites were disrupted, along with cell phone text messaging and BlackBerry Messenger services. Then the Internet went down.
Will the US government now say, "Well, what do you want from us? We asked them not to do that."
Is anyone going to be convinced by that? Will anyone say, "well, the U.S. did all it could?"
As the world knows, the U.S. government has two ways of asking governments that receive U.S. military and economic assistance to do things, or not to do them.
Sometimes the U.S. asks these governments to do things.
And sometimes the U.S. asks these governments to do things, and specifies possible consequences if the ask is not met.
And when Secretary of State Clinton asked the Egyptian government not to crack down on protests and not to disrupt social networking sites, it appeared to be the first case. No possible consequence was suggested if the U.S.-backed, U.S.-armed, and U.S.-supplied Egyptian government cracked down on the protesters and blocked social networking sites.
Perhaps, you might think, the U.S. was showing respect for Egyptian sovereignty.
But that doesn't pass the laugh test. Because we have seen, over and over, that when the U.S. really wants something, it suggests that there will be consequences if the ask is not met. And then, if the ask is not met, the willingness of the U.S. to carry out threats is demonstrated.
On Tuesday, the U.S. threatened to cut off aid to Lebanon because it doesn't like the government chosen by the Lebanese parliament.
Last week, the U.S. canceled visas to leaders of Haiti's government party and implied that aid to Haiti could be cut if Haiti's government didn't agree to U.S. demands to reverse the results of the disputed November presidential election.
On Monday, the Guardian reported that in November 2008, the U.S. told the Palestinian leadership that if they changed their leadership, the U.S. would cut off funds. The U.S. wasn't just talking about a possible election involving Hamas. They were saying that the U.S. wouldn't even tolerate a change of leadership within Fatah.
This is what the U.S. does when it really wants something. It suggests consequences.
Egypt is the second-biggest recipient of U.S. foreign aid. But judging from press reports, no U.S. official has even so much as whispered that a single penny of that aid might be conditioned on whether the Egyptian government allows peaceful protests. Nor has any U.S. official so much as whispered that a cancellation of a visa might be in the offing.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley is on Twitter at this hour (@PJCrowley.) He's saying that, "We are concerned that communication services, including the Internet, social media and even this #tweet, are being blocked in #Egypt," and "We are closely monitoring the situation in #Egypt. We continue to urge authorities to show restraint and allow peaceful protests to occur."
That's great. But it is not enough. Crowley must suggest that there will be consequences if Pharaoh does not stay his hand.