White House: On second thought, Egypt is still kinda sorta an "ally"

I’m not sure what this has to do with Romney’s gaffes, but I thought I’d toss it out there while we’re waiting on more gaffe news.

Alternate headline: “‘Foreign-Policy President’ terrible at foreign policy.”

“I don’t think that we would consider them an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy,” Obama said. “They’re a new government that is trying to find its way. They were democratically elected. I think that we are going to have to see how they respond to this incident.”

That comment had Egypt watchers scratching their heads, especially since technically, Egypt was designated as a Major Non-NATO Ally in 1989 when Congress first passed the law creating that status, which gives them special privileges in cooperating with the United States, especially in the security and technology areanas…

“I think folks are reading way too much into this,” Vietor said. “‘Ally’ is a legal term of art. We don’t have a mutual defense treaty with Egypt like we do with our NATO allies. But as the president has said, Egypt is longstanding and close partner of the United States, and we have built on that foundation by supporting Egypt’s transition to democracy and working with the new government.”…

Administration sources told The Cable that Obama’s “ally” comment was not pre-arranged or prepared by staff and that the question was not anticipated.

Egypt is indeed a U.S. ally as a matter of federal statute, although I wouldn’t put anything past a guy who defied the War Powers Act on Libya when it comes to ignoring laws duly enacted by Congress. In fairness to him, though, (a) statute or no, a country run by the Muslim Brotherhood is in no meaningful sense an “ally” of the United States and (b) I think his point last night, that at the moment Egypt isn’t an ally in the meaningful sense of the word, was clear enough. If you want to be annoyed with him, be annoyed that he apparently dropped that rhetorical bomb spontaneously, without discussing it with his diplomatic staff first. Who knows how the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafists might exploit a cold shoulder like that from the president of the United States to consolidate power in Egypt. Obama wasn’t thinking of that, of course; he was thinking, as always, of his own reelection, knowing that he had to say something mildly disapproving of Egypt while voters here are ticked off over the swarming of the embassy. So he covered his own ass and gambled that what he said won’t come back to bite him later. Because he’s the Foreign-Policy President, you see.

For your entertainment, one of the more awkward press conference exchanges you’ll ever see. The State Department still considers Egypt an ally, it’s just their boss who’s a little iffy on the concept. Let’s call this clip “Smart Power.”