Note to White House: Stop Blaming the State Deptartment on Egypt
As I mentioned in my news round-up earlier, the NY Times did a
hit-piece story about an alleged rift between the White House and the State Dept. about how to handle the unfolding situation in Egypt. It seems pretty obvious that this was a leak from the White House to defer the criticism of the mixed messaging and place most of the blame on the State Dept. I’ve re-read the article about 5 times now and it’s extremely one-sided and relies only on unnamed “officials,” presumably from the White House.
Perhaps the NYT should have spoken to someone at the State Department to get a better idea of whether there was in fact a big rift? Because absent that, this article isn’t really journalism, it’s just a planted leak. And if the NYT did reach out to the State Dept. but were rebuffed, then tell us that. I have a feeling however that they did not reach out because they probably knew that their article would generate many more headlines by claiming a rift and if the State Dept. weighed it, they might have been forced to change the theme a bit. Again, Not. Journalism.
While at times it seemed that the administration was waffling and waiting to see which way to jump, the fact is that it’s easy to oversimplify what they should have done and how they should have done it. For decades U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, irrespective of which political party controlled the White House or Congress, has revolved around the shaky and hypocritical notion that dictators bring stability, a notion that has been proven false in the last three weeks. It just so happens that this particular administration was the one caught having to rationalize and reconcile thirty plus years of U.S. policy with our espoused ideals of democracy and freedom.
I myself was critical of the administration at times, believing that the writing was on the wall and that in order to promote our oft-professed values of freedom and democracy, we had to stand very firmly behind the pro-democracy protesters. Congress wasn’t all that helpful either. As they championed democracy they made clear it should be conditional and based upon the idea that the U.S. should try to bar certain people/organizations from taking part in the election process. That was the wrong message to be sending to the millions of people demanding freedom in Tahrir Square. So, it’s easy to sit on the sidelines and be an arm-chair general.
I have no idea if there really was a rift between the WH and State Dept. or whether at times there was just confused messaging. Lets keep in mind that Joe Biden started the ball rolling by being the first person out of the gate to speak publicly about the unfolding events and he made the bizarre and damaging statement that Mubarak wasn’t a dictator and that he should not step down. That’s a hard statement to walk back from and it was left largely up to Secretary Clinton to clean up that mess. In addition, even the press began to notice that President Obama was hiding from them, ostensibly to avoid being asked about the revolution taking place and the US response to it. In fact, the press took the unusual step of having the White House Correspondents’ Association write a formal letter of complaint to Robert Gibbs saying that the administration was not allowing them the opportunity to ask questions about Egypt. Secretary Clinton didn’t have that luxury (of hiding). In fact, the administration’s strongest pro-protester, pro-democracy statements came from the Secretary of State on last weekend’s Sunday talk shows. The fact that former Ambassador to Egypt, Frank Wisner, went off message in Munich is hardly Secretary Clinton’s fault.
Also, this gem was nestled in the NY Times article:
Despite the fervor on the streets of Cairo, and Mr. Obama’s occasional tough language, the president always took a pragmatic view of how to use America’s limited influence over change in Egypt. He was not in disagreement with the positions of Mr. Wisner and Mrs. Clinton about how long transition would take. But he apparently feared that saying so openly would reveal that the United States was not in total sync with the protesters, and was indeed putting its strategic interests first…
Ok, so if Obama was in agreement with Wisner and Clinton, where exactly is the rift?