Do We Even Have an Egyptian Policy?
President Obama spoke to the world Saturday night, saying that "the people of Egypt have rights that are universal, and the United States will stand up for them everywhere.” As I said on Sunday, those words were "far better" than Secretary Clinton's milquetoast speech the day before. So, how's that fine talk being turned into actions? Not very well, I'm afraid.
On Sunday, with the protests turning into a conflagration, the only word from the White House was that Hillary Clinton, our Secretary of State, was heading to Haiti to "mediate the political crisis." That's right, Haiti.
Clinton also appeared on at least three of the big Sunday morning chat shows, where she reiterated time and again that she and the President were encouraging Mubarak to "begin to take concrete steps" towards reform -- any day now, after three decades. Clinton also cited the installation as Vice President -- after 30 years of the office remaining vacant -- of a military-intelligence chief, as a sign Cairo was making progress.
The GOP response hasn't been any bolder. Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell said he doesn't "have any criticism of President Obama or Secretary Clinton at this point." House Speaker John Boehner told Fox News Sunday that the Administration "has handled this tense situation pretty well."
Obama also rang up Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and the two men issued a statement proclaiming "that violence should not be used against people and voiced the hope that the developments in the regional countries would not lead to deep and fundamental instabilities." Statements defending the wholesomeness of milk and the vileness of puppy smoothies are sure to follow.
So what's going on behind the scenes? Well, it's difficult even to guess. We have three big players for Middle East affairs -- Clinton, George Mitchell, and Richard Holbrooke. Clinton is in Haiti with her eye totally on the ball, Holbrooke has died, and Mitchell hasn't received a Google News hit since Saturday. Even that was nothing more than a TPM Café piece comparing him to Egypt's new Veep, Omar Suleiman. Our Special Envoy to the Middle East appears to have gone AWOL.
Message: Obama doesn't care what happens in Egypt.
Now I don't know if that's true or not, but that's the message being sent. And you'd better believe they're receiving loud and clear in the streets of Cairo.
UPDATE: Clinton has hit the panic button.