Thursday, February 3, 2011

Memo To White House: Shhhhhhh...

 The White House needs to zip it. Be quiet.  Shut up.
Yesterday, what was once a primarily peaceful demonstration calling for the removal of Egyptian President Mubarak turned violent as pro-Mubarak forces attacked the protestors.  This was not a spontaneous event but rather a well organized attack spearheaded by members of the pro government Cairo police department.
President Mubarak had acquiesced to protestors demands saying he would not run for re-election.  But he defiantly vowed to remain in office until the September elections were held.  This delay did not sit well with the protestors and yesterday they called for a million man march into Cairo’s main square.  The peaceful march turned ugly when pro government forces attacked.  So far thirteen people have been killed and twelve hundred injured.  The protestors have now demanded that Mubarak leave by no later than Friday.  His refusal could make Friday a tipping point.    
True to form the Obama administration took to the podium to comment on the current events.  Communications Director Robert Gibbs, when asked about Mubarak’s refusal to leave office until September said: “the people want him to leave now…and now means now.”  The President has also seen fit to comment publically on the matter saying that he believes that “the Egyptian people will decide their own future.”  Translation, the people want you gone so leave.
The United States needs to be very careful here for two primary reasons. 
First of all, at least for now there doesn’t seem to be any anti-American sentiment among the protestors.  That could change very quickly if the administration comes on too strong in its rhetoric.  It is imperative for the US to maintain a favorable relationship with any newly formed government.
Secondly, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and our other allies in the area are watching us closely.  They are waiting to see if the US will support its allies when times get tough or if they will throw them under the proverbial bus for political gain.
For some reason the United States government feels the need to stick its nose in whenever and wherever a conflict occurs.  And this White House seems determined to do so in a very public way.  The President has made several comments about the matter.  Each time he has parsed his words carefully so as not to incite either side.  But in spite of his efforts his message has been clear: it’s time for Mubarak to go.  Imagine how we would react if a country that had supported us for thirty years made such public statements.  Not to mention our reaction to their meddling in our business in the first place.
There is no question that the recent events in Egypt have caused great trepidation in the White House.  No doubt the administration wants to control the outcome as best they can.  But public pronouncements are not the answer.  Back channel communications and subtle pressure from regional allies are more appropriate.  The President has a very effective State Department.  He should use it.
The situation in Egypt changes from day to day.  Given yesterday’s events President Mubarak’s certain departure seems not so certain.  Imagine the “egg on my face” conversation between Obama and Mubarak should Mubarak hang on.
The last thing the United States should be doing right now is taking sides and issuing ultimatums.  But like a moth drawn to a flame we just can’t seem to help ourselves.     

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