Barack Obama’s assertion that he doesn’t consider Egypt an ally stunned NBC’s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel. Engel, reporting from Cairo, tells Chuck Todd that he needed to “sit down” after hearing that statement. Engel reminds Todd that the US had two major Arab allies in the region when Obama took office, on which it spent a significant amount of foreign aid to keep it that way — Egypt and Saudi Arabia. If we’ve lost Egypt as an ally, Engel asks, wasn’t supporting the effort to overthrow Hosni Mubarak a huge mistake?
Here’s a partial transcript:
TODD: I just want to get your first reaction, before you give me a report, of the President saying Egypt was not an ally or an enemy.
ENGEL: Yeah, I almost had to sit down when I heard that. For the last forty years, the United States has had two main allies in the Middle East — Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the other ally in the Middle East being Israel. For the President to come out and say, well, he’s not exactly sure if Egypt is an ally any more but it’s not an enemy, that is a significant change in the perspective of Washington toward this country, the biggest country in the Arab world. It makes one wonder, well, was it worth it? Was it worth supporting the Arab Spring, supporting the demonstrations here in Tahrir Square, when now in Tahrir Square there are clashes going on behind me right in front of the US embassy?
You can see now teargas coming — teargas being fired into a crowd of demonstrators who are trying to get close to the embassy, which is at the end of the street, and throw rocks at the US embassy. A very different scene here, a very different Egypt before, when the United States — President Obama — was supporting the demonstrators, President Mubarak was in power, and Egypt was very much an ally. The President doesn’t seem to be sure if Egypt is an ally any more, and some demonstrators who the Arab Spring helped give a voice to are trying to attack the US embassy.
Who lost Egypt? Barack Obama. His administration waited eight whole days when those demonstrations erupted to demand Mubarak’s ouster, and then insisted on immediate elections — even though the only opposition organized well enough at that point in time for elections was the radical Muslim Brotherhood. In both Egypt and even more in Libya — where Obama applied military force to dislodge and topple Moammar Qaddafi — the White House left power vacuums that allowed the most radical elements to seize control. Critics of Obama’s policies in both regards warned of this very outcome eighteen months ago, to no avail.
It looks like the media may have finally decided that Mitt Romney’s criticism of an embassy statement that even the Obama administration ended up disavowing isn’t the biggest issue at stake here. We’re watching the collapse of decades of diplomacy and the Pax Americana within a few short weeks. Engel’s not the only one who has to sit down over the stunning declaration that we’ve lost Egypt as an ally.
Addendum: Here’s a good question: What lesson has Obama taught our other major Arab ally, Saudi Arabia, over the last two years?