With his usual visual flair, Michael Ramirez depicts President Obama’s halting reaction to the crisis in Egypt; click to enlarge:
As I’ve said before, I’m not sure this perception of Obama’s performance in the present crisis is fair, but it does seem to be widespread. Presumably this is why administration officials have anonymously leaked the claim that Obama “has criticized American spy agencies over their performance in predicting and analyzing the spreading unrest in the Middle East.”
With respect to Egypt, it does seem that the administration was caught flat-footed by the sudden popular revolt against Mubarak’s regime. This strikes me as odd. While the exact timing of such a revolt couldn’t have been predicted by the intelligence agencies or anyone else, the likelihood of such uprisings in Egypt and across the Arab world has been recognized for a long time. The U.S. military does not wait for a crisis to appear before it starts to develop contingency plans. On the contrary, such plans are continuously evaluated and updated: if we had to invade Iran, how would we do it? What response options would we have if North Korea started firing missiles toward Alaska? And so on.
It is hard to believe that the State Department doesn’t prepare similar contingency plans for diplomatic crises. If it doesn’t, and if that is why the administration conveys a sense of unpreparedness and drift, Obama should direct his criticism toward Foggy Bottom rather than the intelligence agencies. Of course, it it possible that the administration did have a plan for how to respond to unrest across Arab North Africa, and we are watching it.
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