He did a darned good job of it too. He spoke for upwards of an hour, and the only useful piece of information to come out of the presser was that he wasn’t sure if The One has personally spoken to any world leaders about Egypt — including Mubarak, the strongest sign yet that the regime’s in very, very deep trouble. Before you go beating up on Gibbsy, though, let me call to the stand a witness for the defense. Over to you, John Bolton:
“In terms of how the administration has handled it, I think the reaction has been confused,” Bolton said. “Although in fairness, I will say nobody saw this coming. So I think that it may not be entirely justifiable, but it’s understandable that the initial reaction would be confused.”
Responding to a question after a speech at the 2011 Congressional Defense & Foreign Policy Forum on Friday, Bolton said a more active response from the administration on Egypt might have done more harm than good.
“I think there’s too much risk of mushy statements that just make things worse,” Bolton said.
So confounded is the administration by all this that you’ve got some Democratic foreign policy specialists saying Mubarak shouldn’t go while other Democratic foreign policy experts are calling for democratic presidential elections. Look at it from Obama’s perspective: If he sides with Mubarak and the regime falls, the anti-American backlash will be vicious. If he sides with the protesters and the regime falls, he’ll be blamed for having helped bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power. Better to stick to neutral, well-meaning pap about “restraint” and hope for the best, no? Which of course also explains why U.S. foreign policy towards Egypt has remained basically constant for 30 years through administrations as different as Reagan, Clinton, Bush, and Obama. Given the country’s Islamist grassroots, what was the alternative? Any president who came out whole-hog for democracy would have risked destabilizing the regime and empowering fundamentalists, which would in turn have encouraged fanatics across the region and potentially reoriented Sunni governments away from the Iranian threat and back towards Israel. As I recall, that was a chief “realist” criticism of Bush’s vision for the Middle East, later illustrated by Hamas’s victory in Gaza — that a democratic process doesn’t necessarily lead to a more liberal outcome. After 9/11 and the Iranian revolution in ’79, how could any American president gamble on backing reforms that might produce a net outcome that’s more Islamist? It’s political suicide.
Supporting Iran’s uprising two years ago was a missed opportunity for Obama because that net outcome realistically could have gone only one way. Iran has already been through the two standard models of Middle Eastern governance — pro-western secular fascism under the Shah and anti-western Islamic fundamentalism under the mullahs — so the likely outcome when the current regime falls is something new and democratic along the lines of what Iraq’s struggling to maintain. Egypt’s been stuck on the first model for ages, though. Any wonder that we’re worried about them moving straight to the second? Click the image to watch.
Update: Just as I hit publish, big news is breaking. Oh boy.
3 private jets leave Cairo airport under heavy security; #Egypt parliament speaker to make major announcement – NBC
Update: A conveniently timed Wikileaks release. So conveniently timed, in fact, that I wonder how the feds helped push this out as a way of doing a little belated P.R. among Egyptians.
In a secret diplomatic dispatch, sent on December 30 2008, Margaret Scobey, the US Ambassador to Cairo, recorded that opposition groups had allegedly drawn up secret plans for “regime change” to take place before elections, scheduled for September this year…
It said the activist claimed “several opposition forces” had “agreed to support an unwritten plan for a transition to a parliamentary democracy, involving a weakened presidency and an empowered prime minister and parliament, before the scheduled 2011 presidential elections”. The embassy’s source said the plan was “so sensitive it cannot be written down”.
Ambassador Scobey questioned whether such an “unrealistic” plot could work, or ever even existed. However, the documents showed that the activist had been approached by US diplomats and received extensive support for his pro-democracy campaign from officials in Washington.
Update: Mubarak’s speaking on Egyptian television now. Location and whether it’s live or recorded is anyone’s guess. Here’s a screencap. Stand by for vid later.
Update: So that explains the report of a “transitional government” earlier: Mubarak ended his speech by saying that he’s asked the government to resign and that a new one will be formed tomorrow — with him in charge, natch. I’m not sure what a cosmetic concession like that is supposed to achieve. Presumably he’ll ask Egyptian liberals and Islamists to join it to appease the protesters, but why would they accept and give him political cover? Better to keep up the heat and push him out.
Actually, maybe liberals will consider this an opportunity. If, as many assume, they’re weak vis-a-vis the Muslim Brotherhood, then pushing Mubarak out will only seal their own fate when the MB takes over. Maybe they’ll decide that joining the government and pushing liberal reforms from within is their best way to build a broad popular constituency.
Update: Tom Joscelyn has an essential piece on the Muslim Brotherhood in response to the whitewash from Bruce Riedel that I linked in the other thread. If the MB takes power and we’re forced to deal with them, you’ll hear loads of spin of the Riedel variety about how they’re really not all that bad when compared to, say, Al Qaeda. That’s true only insofar as the MB is a bit more bottom-line about its goals than AQ is. If pretending to be “pro-democracy” helps advance their agenda more than blowing up buildings does, then pro-democracy it is:
First, we must understand that the Brotherhood is not confined to Egypt, but actually operates around the globe, with full-fledged branches throughout the Middle East and influence organizations in the West. Everywhere the Brotherhood has implanted its radical Islamist seed the organization has adapted to its environment. So, for example, in Egypt, where the Brotherhood was ruthlessly oppressed by Mubarak’s regime, it began to advocate open participation in Egypt’s elections. This was a necessity, as violent attempts to overthrow Mubarak were systematically crushed. Even so, we cannot pretend, as Riedel does, that the Brotherhood has completely eschewed violence…
The Muslim Brotherhood’s most influential theologian, Sheikh Yousef al Qaradawi, has repeatedly justified suicide bombings, called on Muslims to support the insurgency against American forces in Iraq, and justified the killing of civilians. “The martyrdom operations carried out by the Palestinian factions to resist the Zionist occupation are not in any way included in the framework of prohibited terrorism, even if the victims include some civilians,” Qaradawi said in 2003, according to MEMRI. “Those who oppose martyrdom operations and claim that they are suicide are making a great mistake,” Qaradawi added…
Riedel is correct in saying that the Muslim Brotherhood has drawn the ire of al Qaeda’s leaders for being “too soft.” But this glosses over the many ideological similarities between the two organizations. They both want to conquer lands in the name of Islam and establish Sharia law everywhere they can. They simply disagree about how to best accomplish that goal. Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri, who were recruited by the Brotherhood as young men, did not leave the organization because they disagreed with its long-term goals. They were simply unwilling to compromise at a tactical level.
Much more at the link above.
Update: A vivid reminder from ABC about why it’s futile for the White House to try to line up on the protesters’ side now: The tear gas cans being used by Egyptian police are actually stamped … “Made in U.S.A.”
Update: An expert from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy tells the Daily Caller that the Egyptian military won’t let the Muslim Brotherhood come to power. I hope that’s true; if it is, then Egypt might operate the way Turkey used to, with a secular military providing a tacit check on Islamist political influence. (Not so true anymore under Erdogan, is it?) Everything depends on how Islamist the Egyptian military itself is. How lucky do you feel?
Update: Here’s the clip of Mubarak giving viewers the full Orwell, pronouncing himself a lover of democracy, etc.