National Journal has the transcript. I was expecting praise for the protesters tempered by warnings about “gradual” change, the importance of “stability,” and so on. Nope. This was a love letter to democracy, little different from what Bush would have said at his most glowing moment of neoconservative idealism. The strategy over the past few weeks, I thought, was to hedge between support for liberal reform and support for Mubarak as a U.S. ally in order to reassure Jordan, Yemen, and the Saudis that we won’t dump them too the minute they run into trouble. Are we now telling them that, if push comes to shove, we will dump them? Or, as Greenroomer Karl suggested on Twitter, does this prove my point from last night that U.S. influence in the Middle East is now so minuscule that no one, including regimes allied with America, much cares what the hell O says publicly anymore? That may actually be the rosier of the two possibilities here — that America matters so little to the region that we’re basically goof-proof. Terrific.
The one nod at “stability” in this is his praise for the Egyptian military, the head of which — and new de facto leader of Egypt — is defense minister Mohamed Tantawi. I speculated yesterday that there must have been a power struggle shortly before Mubarak’s speech; well, now we know who won.
Suleiman gave a brief statement on Egyptian state-owned television announcing that Mubarak had formally stepped down and assigned the “higher council of the armed forces to run the affairs of the country.” In a telling indicator of the new power hierarchy, the primary spokesman for Egypt’s armed forces was standing directly behind Suleiman as the vice president announced the military council had supplanted him as the country’s top authority.
“This gives us a bit more insight into what happened yesterday: there was some kind of power struggle going on, and Tantawi won,” said Joshua Stacher, an Egypt expert at Kent State University who lived in the country for nine years. “Omar Suleiman isn’t in control anymore. This is now a military government.”
Gates has called Tantawi five times since the protests began and Mike Mullen has spoken to his counterpart, Sami Enan, four times, so there’s a third possibility for why O said what he said today. When push comes to shove, the U.S. won’t support the people or their oppressor; they’ll support the military, the ultimate keeper of the peace in the region. Can’t see how that doesn’t make the Saudis, Jordanians, et al. nervous, and of course it reduces what Obama says here about popular sovereignty to near-farce, but oh well. We’re too deep in the weeds of hypocrisy for rhetoric to matter much anymore. Exit question via the Anchoress: Where was this speech when the Green Revolution first got going in Iran?