We all knew it was coming. I just didn’t think it would come so soon.

“We believe, given the changing political landscape in Egypt, that it is in the interests of the United States to engage with all parties that are peaceful and committed to nonviolence, that intend to compete for the parliament and the presidency,” she told reporters in Budapest, Hungary. “And we welcome, therefore, dialogue with those Muslim Brotherhood members who wish to talk with us.”

But, she added, any such contacts “will continue to emphasize the importance of and support for democratic principles, and especially a commitment to nonviolence, respect for minority rights, and the full inclusion of women in any democracy. You cannot leave out half the population and claim that you are committed to democracy.”…

“The U.S. administration has supported dictators for decades and authorized torture, repression and colonization,” [a Muslim Brotherhood spokesman] said. “The U.S. is hated in the Middle East region more than any other country according to polls published in the U.S. If the U.S. is serious in opening a dialogue, they must first respect the people’s choices for a true democracy, independence and respect their choice of leaders. We would welcome the open dialogue, if they are serious and transparent.”

Re-read that last paragraph. That’s the sound of a man who knows he’s in the driver’s seat. Realistically, the Brotherhood’s going to take a chunk of seats in the next Egyptian parliament, and when they do, there’s no earthly way we’re going to punish Egyptians by walking away from the country. We need to maintain this “alliance” for two key reasons: First, to preserve our leverage with the army in case they get any nutty ideas about a new war with Israel or a new proxy war with Israel via arming Hamas. And second, to hold together some sort of rough Sunni front against Iran, which will be looking to reach out to the Brotherhood in the name of fundie solidarity against the Great Satan, etc. Just one krazy kwestion: Since we know we’ll have to bite the bullet eventually in making nice-ish with the Brotherhood, why bite it now — before the election — and legitimize them in the process? Our biggest weapon against them was the threat that we’d yank the $2 billion in military aid that we give to Egypt each year if they take over parliament. Granted, that’s an empty threat for the reasons I’ve described, but it might have given some voters (and the army, of course) pause. Instead, this:

Ammar Ali Hassan, expert in Islamic groups, said that the Brotherhood will likely try to float “conditions” or “reservations” on any dialogue to avoid a perception that it is allowing the U.S. to meddle in Egypt’s internal affairs. But in the end, the talks will give a boost the group, he said, by easing worries some in the Brotherhood and the public have of a backlash if the Brotherhood becomes the dominant player in Egypt.

“Now the Muslim Brotherhood will not have to worry of moving forward toward taking over power,” Hassan said. “For decades, the United States has been eying this possibility and ready to open channels with whoever is the leading force in the country,” he added.

The White House’s worry here, I assume, is that if they cold-shoulder the Brotherhood now, it’ll encourage them to campaign for parliament on anti-Americanism. Then, if they win a huge share of seats, that’ll become the storyline — that Egypt’s rejected America, and that the Brotherhood will feel compelled to follow through with anti-American policies as part of their mandate. If that happens, there’ll be no way to reach out to them later without hugely losing face. So we’re reaching out now — and thereby signaling to voters that a vote for the Brotherhood will carry no penalty in terms of American largesse or military protection. There’s an “orderly transition” for you.

GOP Rep. Trent Franks wonders how it is that we’re suddenly new best friends with a group whose core identity involves hating America. Good question. A better question: Does this mean we’ll soon be chatting with Hamas? They’re the Palestinian chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood, you know.