President Barack Obama’s foray into Egypt’s internal affairs has contributed to the crisis by embracing the wrong policy, launching mixed messages, failing to coordinate across his staff, and displaying a remarkable naiveté about the Mideast. That performance is just his latest Mideast debacle that drains American influence.
Obama’s Mideast record reads like a Shakespearean tragedy, ending in the death of the major characters. Every Obama Mideast initiative has failed or is failing: Israeli-Palestinian peace, Iran’s rush for atomic weapons, terrorist Hezbollah’s Lebanon takeover, Turkey’s joining Iran’s camp, Pakistan’s uncooperative role in the Afghanistan war, the unfettered spread of extremist Islamists to Yemen and the Horn of Africa, and so on. Now Egypt , one of our best anti-terror allies, is Obama’s latest victim.
Consider the results of Obama’s interference.
President Hosni Mubarak, an elected official, is gone, and Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces—the military dictators—is running the country. The generals promised the anti-Mubarak protesters nothing, much less a pluralistic political system.
Human rights and opposition groups accuse Egypt’s military of torture, beatings, and arbitrary arrests and disappearances over the past weeks. Time will tell whether those accusations are true and whether the military is Egypt’s savior, or whether the soft coup that Obama favored is an empty victory for Egyptian pro-democracy dreamers.
On Saturday the military council issued a communiqué that outlines the military’s intentions. It will preserve the regime—it isn’t dismantling Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party—and it alone will set the state’s agenda, not the protesters.
Egyptians are expected to cooperate with police by clearing the streets, and the council stands by “all regional and international obligations and treaties.’’ That means the 1978 Israeli-Egyptian peace accord remains intact, which keeps U.S. military aid flowing to Egypt ’s military dictators and Israel breathes a momentary sigh of relief.
The communiqué does not declare martial law. However, martial law remains an option, especially if the generals see Islamists threatening Egypt’s stability.
Egypt has a long history of Islamist militancy that could explode anew, especially after the prison breaks associated with the recent unrest. Reportedly many jihadists escaped Egyptian prisons during the unrest, and there are reports other extremists are flowing into Egypt from the Gaza Strip.
The past three weeks might have turned out differently if Obama had not jumped into Egypt ’s domestic quarrel. His interference has hurt our relationship with Egypt, the Arab world’s core country, and tainted our relationship with other regional allies.
The following illustrates some of Team Obama’s inept interference.
First, Obama called for an “immediate” transition to democracy in a country with a questionable democratic history, no truly representative political parties, and a constitution that requires an election within 60 days. Obama’s call for “immediate” transition was at odds with reality and his call for an “orderly” and “genuine” transition.
A hurried-up election, which Obama says is “What I want,” would create chaos, and besides, a truly democratic election in overwhelmingly Islamic Egypt would result in something like the democratic takeover of the Gaza Strip by the terrorist group Hamas. That is why the Egyptian military opposes “immediate” elections, and so should Obama.
Second, Team Obama sent mixed messages. Soon after the protests began, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described Mubarak’s government as “stable” and said Mubarak was “looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.”
A few days later, Obama sent envoy Frank Wisner, a former U.S. ambassador to Egypt, to deliver a message to Mubarak. Wisner’s message was “President Mubarak’s continued leadership is critical—it’s his opportunity to write his own legacy,” according to National Review Online.
And last week Team Obama’s message changed twice. Mubarak promised he would not run for reelection and Obama responded that he favored a gradual change. But on Wednesday, Obama changed his message again, calling for Mubarak’s “immediate” departure.
A Los Angeles Times article attributes Obama’s morphing message to a split within the administration’s staff. Senior administration staff favored a long-term transition that avoids instability and reassures other governments, but Obama apparently listened to National Security Council members Ben Rhodes and Samantha Power, who, according to the Times, contended a go-slow approach would make Obama appear to side with Mubarak.
Third, Obama seemed to be blindsided by the crisis, which is evidence of either an intelligence failure and/or an out-of-touch staff.
Obama reportedly sent word to National Intelligence Director James Clapper that he was “disappointed with the intelligence failure to predict the outbreak of demonstrations that ousted Tunisia’s President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.” A government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to the Associated Press, said there was also little warning before Egypt’s riots.
But Central Intelligence Agency official Stephanie O’Sullivan told Congress two weeks ago Obama was warned of instability in Egypt “at the end of last year.” Sen. Saxby Chambliss ( R.- Ga. ) asked for a written record of the timetable of Obama’s intelligence briefings.
Further, CIA Director Leon Panetta testified last week that there was a “strong likelihood” Mubarak would step down on Thursday (Feb. 10). But according to Fox News, when agency officials were asked about the basis for Panetta’s prediction, they were told the director’s statement was based on media broadcasts, not secret intelligence.
It may be that Mubarak delayed resigning because, as he said on Thursday, he would not be pushed out by foreign powers—read Obama. Mubarak called Obama’s bluff, and then resigned the following day.
Finally, there is a remarkable naiveté within Obama’s administration about the Mideast. Specifically, last week, Intelligence Director Clapper testified that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is a “largely secular” group and a peaceful organization, not one disguising an extremist agenda.
The Brotherhood’s slogan is “Islam is the solution,” and its strategic plan calls for Islamic dominance and the application of Sharia law. And the Brotherhood’s current supreme guide, Mohammed Badie, in sermons delivered in Egypt last year, said, “Waging jihad is mandatory” for all Muslims, and he called for liberating the Muslim world by “all forms of resistance.”
Also, Obama demonstrated poor judgment by humiliating Mubarak, a prominent Mideast ally. Obama called on Mubarak to “immediately” step down, and then threatened to reconsider America’s annual $1.4 billion in aid to Egypt. But when Obama spoke with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah about Egypt, the king said he would replace any funds the U.S. withdrew from Egypt. The king recognized that if Obama is willing to humiliate Mubarak by pushing him out of office and using aid to leverage that decision, he would do the same to others.
President Obama’s role in Egypt’s coup seriously damaged America’s Mideast influence, and his administration’s fumbling demonstrates why this crisis is yet another one of the President’s parade of Mideast debacles.