… President Hosni Mubarak must accept that the stability of his country hinges on his willingness to step aside gracefully to make way for a new political structure. One of the toughest jobs that a leader under siege can perform is to engineer a peaceful transition. But Egyptians have made clear they will settle for nothing less than greater democracy and more economic opportunities. [...] For three decades, the United States pursued a Mubarak policy. Now we must look beyond the Mubarak era and devise an Egyptian policy. — Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee
When I heard Al Jazeera say that Sen. John Kerry was the first to call for Mubarak to step down I knew the Obama administration had finally gotten a hold of events that had thus far overtaken them.
Ruminating on Egypt before daybreak today, I couldn’t help think about George W. Bush’s disastrous “Musharaff policy,” as it was called by Joe Biden, who unfortunately didn’t take his own advice on Egypt. Today Sen. John Kerry steps forward to say it’s time for the United States to get beyond our “Mubarak policy.”
When the Egyptians began taking to the streets, Pres. Obama and his administration misjudged the moment.
Sect. Hillary Clinton then took one for the team.
“Our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.” — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, January 25, 2011
Few wrote or remarked about it immediately, though I did, but it’s now getting more and more focus as the days go by. Glenn Kessler, who has covered Sect. Clinton, today:
The history of the Egyptian uprising has not been written. But depending on how events turn out, Clinton’s “stable” statement may enter a diplomatic hall of infamy that includes Jimmy Carter’s Dec. 31, 1977 toast in Tehran in which he said that the Shah of Iran, then a key U.S. ally, was “an island of stability” in the troubled Middle East.
Kessler’s wrong about one thing in this comparison, however. Clinton’s statement was the Obama administration message she was dispatched to deliver. Unfortunately, it’s also what Obama, Biden and Clinton agreed would fit the mood.
In a tough situation it was hard to call in the Obama world of utmost caution. It wasn’t that the carefully considered words Clinton spoke were “ill-timed” as much as they were a throwback in time, grabbing diplo-speak from the 20th century grab bag of knee jerk Support the Dictator dialogue.
However, it is a remark that Sect. Clinton will be remembered for, because she stepped out first and got it wrong, with the White House talking points sticking out like a political banner expressing U.S. self-interest in the face of Egyptians rising to claim their country.
John Kerry spoke up on the Vietnam war at a critical moment in U.S. history. He’s done it again, this time for all the world to hear.
Mubarak’s speech, Obama’s remarks >>>
UPDATE II: Obama’s remarks this evening are below. As Blake Hounshell :
THE PRESIDENT: Good evening, everybody. Over the past few days, the American people have watched the situation unfolding in Egypt. We’ve seen enormous demonstrations by the Egyptian people. We’ve borne witness to the beginning of a new chapter in the history of a great country, and a long-time partner of the United States.
And my administration has been in close contact with our Egyptian counterparts and a broad range of the Egyptian people, as well as others across the region and across the globe. And throughout this period, we’ve stood for a set of core principles.
First, we oppose violence. And I want to commend the Egyptian military for the professionalism and patriotism that it has shown thus far in allowing peaceful protests while protecting the Egyptian people. We’ve seen tanks covered with banners, and soldiers and protesters embracing in the streets. And going forward, I urge the military to continue its efforts to help ensure that this time of change is peaceful.
Second, we stand for universal values, including the rights of the Egyptian people to freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and the freedom to access information. Once more, we’ve seen the incredible potential for technology to empower citizens and the dignity of those who stand up for a better future. And going forward, the United States will continue to stand up for democracy and the universal rights that all human beings deserve, in Egypt and around the world.
Third, we have spoken out on behalf of the need for change. After his speech tonight, I spoke directly to President Mubarak. He recognizes that the status quo is not sustainable and that a change must take place. Indeed, all of us who are privileged to serve in positions of political power do so at the will of our people. Through thousands of years, Egypt has known many moments of transformation. The voices of the Egyptian people tell us that this is one of those moments; this is one of those times.
Now, it is not the role of any other country to determine Egypt’s leaders. Only the Egyptian people can do that. What is clear — and what I indicated tonight to President Mubarak — is my belief that an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now.
Furthermore, the process must include a broad spectrum of Egyptian voices and opposition parties. It should lead to elections that are free and fair. And it should result in a government that’s not only grounded in democratic principles, but is also responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people.
Throughout this process, the United States will continue to extend the hand of partnership and friendship to Egypt. And we stand ready to provide any assistance that is necessary to help the Egyptian people as they manage the aftermath of these protests.
Over the last few days, the passion and the dignity that has been demonstrated by the people of Egypt has been an inspiration to people around the world, including here in the United States, and to all those who believe in the inevitability of human freedom.
To the people of Egypt, particularly the young people of Egypt, I want to be clear: We hear your voices. I have an unyielding belief that you will determine your own destiny and seize the promise of a better future for your children and your grandchildren. And I say that as someone who is committed to a partnership between the United States and Egypt.
There will be difficult days ahead. Many questions about Egypt’s future remain unanswered. But I am confident that the people of Egypt will find those answers. That truth can be seen in the sense of community in the streets. It can be seen in the mothers and fathers embracing soldiers. And it can be seen in the Egyptians who linked arms to protect the national museum — a new generation protecting the treasures of antiquity; a human chain connecting a great and ancient civilization to the promise of a new day.
Thank you very much.
UPDATE: According to experts and tweets, Mubarak is setting up a situation where constitutional changes could be made to exclude independent candidates, but also looks to me could potentially pave the way for his son Gamal to run. He also announced investigations, while blaming “political groups,” aka the Muslim Brotherhood, for the protests. I simply can’t imagine this speech will be enough, since he’s saying he plans to stay in office for the next 8 months. According to tweets the Egyptians in Tahrir Square interrupted Mubarak’s speech with “Erhal,” which means leave in Arabic.
Screen capture via Huffington Post.