Almost a week ago, the Obama administration decided to get off the fence on Egypt and start pushing for Hosni Mubarak to resign as president of Egypt. On Tuesday night, Barack Obama told the US that Mubarak needed to transition to a new government that had support from the people, and he sent Frank Wisner to Egypt to send the message to Mubarak personally. Wisner, however, sent an entirely different message back to the US:
The latest challenge came Saturday afternoon when the man sent last weekend by President Obama to persuade the 82-year-old leader to step out of the way, Frank G. Wisner, told a group of diplomats and security experts that “President Mubarak’s continued leadership is critical — it’s his opportunity to write his own legacy.”
Jake Tapper, David Kerley, and Kirit Radia report for ABC that the White House began distancing itself from its own special envoy:
The Obama administration on Saturday distanced itself from comments about Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak made by a man the president had used as an envoy to Mubarak just days before.
Saying he was speaking for himself, former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Frank Wisner said at a security conference in Munich, Germany, that “President Mubarak remains utterly critical in the days ahead as we sort our way toward the future.”
Wisner said that Mubarak “must stay in office in order to steer those changes through. … This is an ideal moment for him to show the way forward.”
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said, “We have great respect for Frank Wisner and we were deeply appreciative of his willingness to travel to Egypt last week. He has not continued in any official capacity following the trip. The views he expressed today are his own. He did not coordinate his comments with the U.S. government.”
But that sentiment wasn’t limited to Wisner within the administration, either:
Just hours before offering her correctives of Mr. Wisner, Mrs. Clinton made the case at a gathering in Munich that the entire process would take time, and must be carefully managed. “Revolutions have overthrown dictators in the name of democracy,” she reminded her audience, “only to see the process hijacked by new autocrats who use violence, deception and rigged elections to stay in power.”
Apparently, the Obama administration didn’t bother to brief Wisner on his objectives very well, or they chose their envoy very poorly. Or maybe Wisner figured that he was supposed to be more than a messenger. Wisner spent five years in Egypt as the American ambassador during the Reagan and Bush 41 administrations, as well as three years in Zambia for Carter and Reagan, a year in the Philippines for Bush 41, and three years in India for Clinton. Wisner must have thought he was chosen to not just discuss the American position with Mubarak, but also to assess the situation for the White House and advise them on the best path forward.
Obviously, Obama isn’t interested in his advice, despite Wisner’s long experience in Egypt and in diplomacy. The White House would rather stick to their own decisions in this crisis, which so far look like attempts to climb onto whatever bandwagon still has wheels at any given moment. From this point forward, if Obama wants to just send messages, he should stick with Western Union.