Western leaders, and the United States especially, have developed a strange habit of ordering particular dictators to step down while declaring their resort to savage violence “unacceptable.” What does “unacceptable” mean — to whom and how exactly so? One did not hear Churchill ordering Hitler to step down in 1940, or Truman demanding that Kim Il Sung leave in 1950, apparently because they either could not realize such threats or were first striving to create the conditions under which such monsters would be nullified by deeds rather than words. Usually those with inferior military power are the loudest; those with overwhelming force calibrate their rarer rhetoric in accordance with the planned use of force.
The problems with all this are multifold, well beyond the violation of the old precept about staying quiet while carrying a big stick. E.g., are we prepared to use force to back up our ultimatums? Is there any connection between a presidential threat and reality — that is, did Mubarak step down because we, a sizable donor and key ally, asked him to, or because the size of the resistance simply reached a tipping point? Were the two connected?