Rudderless in the White House

Reuters has put together a timeline of the White House’s various and varied responses to the ongoing political crisis in Egypt — and it’s worse than you think.

Obama doesn’t get around to taking anything close to a firm stance or decision until Day 7, when he dispatched Frank Wisner as Special Envoy. On day 11, the White House calls for “concrete steps” to a transition. The very next day, Wisner flatly contradicted the new policy and is called back to the U.S.

On Day 14, “State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, acknowledging doubts about the credibility of the transition process, says: ‘Our advice would be: test the seriousness of the government and those who are participating to see if it can deliver.'” I don’t know what that means. Nobody knows what that means.

On Day 15, “Vice President Joe Biden speaks again by telephone to Suleiman, stressing U.S. support ‘for an orderly transition in Egypt that is prompt, meaningful, peaceful, and legitimate.'”

On Day 16, “After appearing to throw its support behind a transition process led by Mubarak’s new vice president, Omar Suleiman, Washington shows growing irritation, saying it has still not seen ‘real, concrete’ reforms.”

Then of course yesterday, CIA Chief Leon Panetta said Mubarak was probably on his way out, right up until Mubarak said he was staying. Power, however, seems to lie with the Army and Vice President Suleiman — who has held the three-decades-vacant office by appointment for all of twelve days. One wonders if this is what Biden considers “meaningful” or “legitimate.”

And then there have been things like the false assurance to Congress by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper that the Muslim Brotherhood is “largely secular,” and Biden’s insistence that Mubarak is not a dictator.

Things didn’t get really bad, however, until Obama began insisting, quite publicly, that Mubarak take all those “concrete steps” to leave office. It’s a generally accepted rule of diplomacy that you don’t make demands in public unless you know in advance the answer is Yes, or that you have the means to enforce your demand if the answer is No.

We saw this same behavior when the administration was young and still trying to find its footing. Remember when Obama traveled all the way to Denmark to win the Olympics for Chicago, only to get rejected in the first round of voting? Same thing now. If you’d been hoping Obama would grow into the office, those hopes just got dashed against the stones of the Presidential Palace in Cairo.

Instead, we have a president determined to prove to the world that he and his administration are ignorant, indecisive, and impotent.

Let’s call them the Three I’s of the Obama Doctrine.

UPDATE: The New York Times app just flashed that Suleiman just announced Mubarak has stepped down. No doubt, the White House will claim this is a great victory for its Egypt policy — but which policy?