“The President must stay in office in order to steer those changes through. I therefore believe President Mubarak’s continued leadership is critical. It’s his opportunity to write his own legacy. He has given 60 years of his life to the service of his country and this is an ideal moment for him to show the way forward.” — Frank Wisner, Pres. Obama’s U.S. Special Envoy to Egypt.
Well, wasn’t that helpful. There are so many ironies in this story today it will take the entire Super Bowl to decipher them all.
Pres. Obama might as well have sent former Vice President Dick Cheney to see Mubarak. It would have had the same results. Tony Blair’s playbook has become the consensus.
“He’s been a good man, a good friend and ally to the United States,” Cheney said. “We need to remember that.”
But when you’re choosing someone to represent you in Egypt it might behoove you to actually pick someone you can trust, but who also isn’t moored in 20th century thinking. Of course, the other side of this “special envoy” business is that Mr. Wisner is a free agent, so he’s not bound to say what the boss wants and clearly doesn’t respect the Administration’s line. But it was certainly highly predictable that someone like Mr. Wisner would deliver rhetoric sounding more like Dick Cheney than Barack Obama. It’s the same talking points handed down since before Ronald Reagan.
The Obama administration has disavowed Wisner’s remarks, but the damage is already done. When you have your special envoy contradicting you it makes Pres. Obama look out of control on his own foreign policy, but when it’s done in the Middle East it makes him look like weak and foolish, which is dangerous for the U.S.
And I understand the enthusiasm of the Huffington Post blaring “PROTESTERS WIN MAJOR CONCESSIONS,” which was Richard Engel’s line on “Meet the Press” as well, but I think a little caution is in order. Do promises to people mean anything coming from Mubarak?
The Administration now has the same problem on Egypt as they did on stopping Israeli settlements. They got out in front of the settlement issue, but didn’t exert any leverage, which led to Biden being humiliated when he landed on Israeli soil. The U.S. wants an “orderly transition” to begin “now,” but what leverage are they willing to apply?
As an aside, Arabs will never take us seriously if leading journalists like David Gregory don’t become more balanced. Talking to El Baradei about the Israeli peace agreement with Egypt, Gregory delivered AIPAC’s question for them on “Meet the Press.” He said if Egypt’s next government equivocates on the peace deal with Israel it makes everyone nervous. That is no doubt true, but 80 million Egyptians wanting a government that represents them is well apart from Israel right now in the land of the Pharaohs. Gregory was mindlessly ignorant about the Egyptian people in his broadcast today, which should have been an embarrassment to NBC News.
Now that Obama’s own special envoy has directly confronted the Administration’s policy in public, this further greases the launch pad for what Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and many Tea Party activists began some time ago, further delegitimizing Pres. Obama.
However, the Republican campaign against Obama “losing Egypt” comes at a particularly ironic moment, all of this happening on Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday.
Mr. Reagan “cut and run” on Lebanon, sending an early signal to our adversaries, some of whom became Al Qaeda, after 241 Marines were murdered by a suicide bomber in Beirut. He was instrumental in creating what Pakistan is today through his friendship with Zia to help the U.S. in Afghanistan, building on Pres. Carter approving initial funding, all part of the Reagan Doctrine. The Gipper called Afghanistan’s mujahideen “freedom fighters,” one of whom was Osama bin Laden. Reagan’s C.I.A. Director William Casey cultivated his own little war that crossed the Afghanistan border into the former Soviet Union, right under Reagan’s nose, which was recounted in Bob Woodward’s book, “Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1987.” If Iran-Contra had happened in his first term Reagan would have been the second Republican president in two decades to deserve impeachment proceedings. But Reagan’s “nuclear zero” was important and among a long list of Republicans no-nos that would have gotten him a Tea Party challenger today. If nothing shows Sarah Palin’s foreign policy ignorance it’s her chirpy genuflections of Ronald Reagan that don’t come close to representing the man. There is Mr. Reagan’s moral abdication in leading a fight against HIV-AIDS; that he opened the amnesty door without a solution for people; implemented a payroll tax hike; then another tax hike to hide the disaster of his first tax cut; and the whopping deficit he left behind, which didn’t get cleaned up until William Jefferson Clinton came into office.
If Reagan taught us anything it’s that brilliant “Mad Men” marketing to sell a product pitch man to the public may work, but it does not make a good president, which takes a lot more than acting the part.
From an old Newsweek article no longer available online recalling reality, not the Peggy Noonan – Sean Hannity – Rush Limbaugh – Sarah Palin myth of a very mortal man beaten by the weight of the presidency.
The podium was shorter than usual, but even so, Ronald Reagan seemed diminished as he stood behind it — “smaller and frailer,” one friend thought, with lines of strain around the eyes and mouth. Sounding tentative, he stumbled twice over his lines as he thanked the three-man panel he had asked to pass judgment on his handling of the Iran scandal; whatever the commission found, he promised to “enact the proper reforms.” Then, in a din of shouted questions, he was ushered protectively to the door of the briefing room on the arm of the diminutive chief judge, former Texas Sen. John Tower. Reagan’s stricken look was fully justified: he had already heard the verdict.
The Tower commission’s report was devastating — a calm, searing appraisal of Reagan’s presidency that threatened to shrink him to irrelevance for the rest of his lame-duck term. The only good news was that Tower and his colleagues, former Secretary of State Edmund Muskie and former national-security adviser Brent Scowcroft, believed the president’s story that he genuinely wanted the truth to be told about the Iran-contra affair and that he hadn’t intentionally misled the nation. For the rest, he emerged as a careless, remote and forgetful leader, too indifferent to supervise the reckless swashbuckling of his aides. His Iran policy was found to be foolish and counterproductive, and it was carried out unprofessionally and perhaps illegally. None of the officials involved in the dealings escaped criticism; in Tower’s words, the president “was poorly advised and poorly served.” But Reagan himself “clearly didn’t understand” what was going on: he let his emotions rule him, never ordered a critical review and allowed his aides to manipulate him and make their own foreign policy as they lied, diverted arms profits and tried to cover up the scandal.
Part of Reagan’s legacy is he “clearly didn’t understand” what was going on at times. It now collides with his son Ron’s recounting his own personal experiences watching his father during his second term, after he was shot. Real questions now part of history about the very real possibility that Pres. Reagan had Alzheimer’s while he was president.
Pres. Obama continues to struggle with breaking with the past and the old guard ways that created this foreign policy mess in the first place, which the choice of Mr. Wisner proves. It’s the same things he’s dealing with in Afghanistan and Israel, but also Pakistan. I don’t know when we’ll get 21st century leaders in Washington ready to turn the page on the past, but it won’t be until leading Democrats, starting with Barack Obama, demonstrably distance themselves from the legacy of Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy.