Monday, January 31, 2011

"Behind the curtain: Egypt erupts in the WH"

"The eruption in Egypt has dampened spirits in the Obama White House, where officials were having their best run in more than a year. “We’re struggling to figure all this out,” said a top official who spent much of the weekend on the crisis. Obama’s closest aides have been enjoying three Rs: political resurgence, economic recovery, and a White House reorganization that most West Wingers applaud. But now these officials fret that new instability in the Middle East will 1) distract from President Obama’s jobs-and-innovation message, 2) dim hopes for a breakthrough in the peace process, and 3) stall the economy if the revolutionary tsunami spreads to other Arabian states, driving up the price of oil. In a live special last night, CNBC warned of “economic contagion.”
Those are the big-picture threats. More immediately, aides are debating how aggressively to prod President Mubarak to step down and/or get the ball rolling on free elections. Western diplomats are convinced Mubarak is UNLIKELY to survive in office. But stranger things have happened in that neck of the woods, so President Obama is being cautious, both to avoid a backlash if the U.S. is seen as trying to engineer a successor, and in deference to other Arab allies. “It's just a very tough line to straddle,” a senior administration official said. “If [Mubarak] guts this out and stays, we're going to continue to need him and work with him, and he might not appreciate that we pushed. Bottom line, Egypt's destiny is Egypt's to decide, and we'll work with whoever emerges or is left standing.”
Moreover, administration officials confess that they are uncertain who should replace him. “There’s no horse to bet on,” said a Democrat with intimate knowledge of the conversations. “There’s no opposition leader to get behind.” So the government now is trying to parse the leaders of the revolt, to build an on-the-fly Who’s Who of potential post-Mubarak powers. The top official added: “There isn’t a natural successor. And if we were to embrace a particular person, it does more harm than good. It’s a classic dilemma for America.
OBAMA’S APPROACH, per a senior administration official: “The President has been very closely monitoring the situation in Egypt. He’s requested multiple briefings each day, and has personally made key decisions. For example, at approximately 4:15pm on Friday, the President dropped into a previously scheduled Principals Committee meeting on a different topic so that he could discuss Egypt with his top foreign policy advisors. At that meeting, the President decided to call President Mubarak and to make a statement to the American people. That said, it has not interrupted his domestic policy schedule at all. As you’ve seen, the President’s national security staff has been churning throughout the weekend. [Deputy National Security Adviser] Denis McDonough chaired a [Deputies Committee meeting] on Sunday, and [National Security Adviser] Tom Donilon chaired a [Principals Committee meeting]Saturday before leading a briefing for the President.”
THE ADMINISTRATION HAS DEVELOPED A 4-PART MESSAGE: “First, the Egyptian security forces must not use violence against peaceful protestors. At the same time, of course, those who are protesting have a responsibility to do so peacefully, and the looting must cease. Second, we support the universal human rights of the Egyptian people, including the right to freedom of expression, of association, and of assembly, as well as freedom of the press, to access information, and to communicate. These are human rights and the United States stands up for them everywhere. Third, we support an orderly transition to a government that is responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people. … Fourth, this is about more than just Egypt. The people of the Middle East, like people everywhere, are seeking a chance to contribute and to have a role in the decisions that will shape their lives.”..."

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