Does anyone care anymore what they have to say? Even in Egypt? I’m going to quote it for you because it is, in a very technical sense, news, but there’s no mystery why The One is now opting for written statements in lieu of camera time. Each new public utterance by him and his cabinet reminds the world that not only do we have no meaningful leverage here, we really have no reliable sense of what’s going on. Remember, Egypt is supposedly one of our closest Arab allies. We bankroll their military, the seat of power in the country, to the tune of more than a billion bucks per year. We’ve dealt with Suleiman, their intelligence kingpin, for decades. And yet day after day for the past two weeks, our diplomatic apparatus has been de-pantsed onstage by its inability to get in front of events.
I asked this on Twitter an hour ago but let me ask it here too: Has there been a single smart, effective moment or soundbite from anyone on our side since this crisis began in late January? I know it’s a horribly difficult situation — I didn’t call it a “shinola sandwich” the other day for nothing — but I can’t recall even one news story since January 25 claiming that the U.S. accomplished something useful with back-channel diplomacy or cleverly applied some financial leverage towards a productive end. It’s been one dumb talking point after another, from Hillary’s dopey assertion about Mubarak’s “stability” to Frank Wisner’s mystifying Mubarak-must-stay rhetoric to the endless Gibbs tapdance about soon/gradual “transitions” to today’s utter fiasco of our CIA director suggesting there was a “strong likelihood” Mubarak would be gone in hours while our DNI insisted that the Muslim Brotherhood was a “largely secular” group. The best that anyone seems able to say in our favor is (a) sure, we’ve embarrassed ourselves, but we haven’t really made the situation appreciably worse, and (b) we might have helped convince the Egyptian military to hold its fire against the protesters, thereby sparing innocents from a horrible massacre. The second point would be a bona fide achievement if it’s true, but I’m not so sure that it is. I haven’t seen any analysis asserting that U.S. influence was the deciding factor in the army’s calculations; I have, however, seen analyses claiming that the army values its prestige among the people too much to squander it by shooting at them, i.e. that Egyptian politics is the restraint here, not U.S. greenbacks. And given where we’re at right now, we might well see the army start shooting within the next 24 hours, which would prove decisively how little influence we have.
So tell me, and I mean this seriously, not rhetorically: Can anyone point me to hard evidence that we’ve accomplished anything meaningful over the past few weeks? Anything?
And with that as your narrative frame, here’s tonight’s pointless statement.
The Egyptian people have been told that there was a transition of authority, but it is not yet clear that this transition is immediate, meaningful or sufficient. Too many Egyptians remain unconvinced that the government is serious about a genuine transition to democracy, and it is the responsibility of the government to speak clearly to the Egyptian people and the world. The Egyptian government must put forward a credible, concrete and unequivocal path toward genuine democracy, and they have not yet seized that opportunity.
As we have said from the beginning of this unrest, the future of Egypt will be determined by the Egyptian people. But the United States has also been clear that we stand for a set of core principles. We believe that the universal rights of the Egyptian people must be respected, and their aspirations must be met. We believe that this transition must immediately demonstrate irreversible political change, and a negotiated path to democracy. To that end, we believe that the emergency law should be lifted. We believe that meaningful negotiations with the broad opposition and Egyptian civil society should address the key questions confronting Egypt’s future: protecting the fundamental rights of all citizens; revising the Constitution and other laws to demonstrate irreversible change; and jointly developing a clear roadmap to elections that are free and fair.
We therefore urge the Egyptian government to move swiftly to explain the changes that have been made, and to spell out in clear and unambiguous language the step by step process that will lead to democracy and the representative government that the Egyptian people seek. Going forward, it will be essential that the universal rights of the Egyptian people be respected. There must be restraint by all parties. Violence must be forsaken. It is imperative that the government not respond to the aspirations of their people with repression or brutality. The voices of the Egyptian people must be heard.
The Egyptian people have made it clear that there is no going back to the way things were: Egypt has changed, and its future is in the hands of the people. Those who have exercised their right to peaceful assembly represent the greatness of the Egyptian people, and are broadly representative of Egyptian society. We have seen young and old, rich and poor, Muslim and Christian join together, and earn the respect of the world through their non-violent calls for change. In that effort, young people have been at the forefront, and a new generation has emerged. They have made it clear that Egypt must reflect their hopes, fulfill their highest aspirations, and tap their boundless potential. In these difficult times, I know that the Egyptian people will persevere, and they must know that they will continue to have a friend in the United States of America.
So there you go. They’re on the side of the protesters, but not so much that they’re willing to say Mubarak or Suleiman must leave immediately, which is … what the protesters want. We’re back in “orderly transition” territory, with a timetable not quite as urgent as “‘now’ means ‘yesterday'” but clearly a bit more urgent than Mubarak coasting all the way to September. So I say again: Who cares? Is there anyone in Egypt still paying attention to this lame windage except maybe the increasingly forgotten Mohamed ElBaradei, who might be waiting for some bold stroke from the United States to make him relevant again? As the Iranians like to say, America cannot do a damn thing. As best I can figure, this rhetorical garbage is simply the White House’s way of still pretending that we can.
Here’s Chuck Todd describing to Brian Williams how the West Wing is “scrambling” to appear slightly less than totally ineffectual.