The Administration Dithers on Egypt

To most observers, certain elements of the situation in Egypt are clear. On one hand, we would like to see Egypt move toward a freer and more democratic society. On the other hand, the most coherent, organized and probably sizable opposition to Mubarak’s regime comes from Islamic extremists who want to establish sharia and support international terrorism; that is, the Muslim Brotherhood. While this isn’t an easy situation, it is, to some degree, a clear one. For Mubarak’s downfall to lead to a new regime dominated by the Brotherhood would be a disaster for Egyptians, for us, and for our allies in the region.
So at a minimum, the Obama administration should make it clear that the cause of freedom cannot be advanced by those who are unalterably opposed to the exercise of freedom by others, and consequently, the United States will not give its aid to any government in which the Brotherhood plays a significant part. Unfortunately, the Obama administration is incapable of stating any position with clarity. Robert Gibbs dithered today when reporters asked him about the Brotherhood:

QUESTION: I wasn’t entirely clear from the president’s comments yesterday in which the Muslim Brotherhood, whether in that broad spectrum you’re talking about, he is comfortable with that group being part of the conversation; in fact, whether he — he sanctions them.
GIBBS: Well, the — those that will be involved in the discussions about what happens next in Egypt, as we have said on — on — throughout many occasions, are not — will not be determined by us.
I also think, if you look at what has happened, again, over the last 10 to 14 days, I think the notion that somehow all of what you’ve seen is the result of one political faction or one set of beliefs is not at all the case.
There are a whole host of elements throughout Egyptian society not represented in its current government, seeking the rights that we’ve enumerated in here that they have sought, that want to be part of this discussion.
And, quite frankly, we strongly support democracy in Egypt.
QUESTION: But I guess…
GIBBS: The whole — let me say this.
But democracy is — again, I said, probably more than a week ago, democracy is not one group hijacking a process so that they can take power from another group that they didn’t think fairly represented their views and their rights. That’s not democracy. Democracy has to be a broad section of people that are represented in what would be a free and fair election.
QUESTION: Well, the reason I asked, in particular…
GIBBS: And I think it’s important — one more interruption — and I think it’s — it is very important to restate, as we’ve said many times, we will be a partner to a government that does exactly what I describe, and we would expect that that partner would uphold particularly the treaties and the obligations that the — the government of Egypt, and ultimately the people of Egypt, have entered into.
Did I just…
QUESTION: I’m asking, in particular, about the Muslim Brotherhood, because, in his answer yesterday the president acknowledged — I don’t have the exact wording, but there’s an anti- American strain to some of their thinking.
GIBBS: Sure.
QUESTION: So the American people might look at that and say, “Well, where does this president stand, if that group is going to be involved?”
GIBBS: Look, again, who is involved in the larger process is up to the Egyptians to determine, understanding, again, that the only — I think it would be horribly inaccurate to simply say that there are two factions in Egypt; one is the Muslim Brotherhood and the other is the government of Egypt.
That’s clearly not the case, and clearly wasn’t the case in what we — what we’ve seen transpire on the streets.
But obviously, as the president said, the anti-American rhetoric and the anti- — the rhetoric that goes very counter to the very regional peace and stability that I spoke of is, of course, not something that is supported by the United States. …
QUESTION: Just to follow on Ben’s question about the Muslim Brotherhood, I know you keep insisting that this is something for the Egyptian people to figure out; it’s not for the United States to interfere. But would the White House be comfortable with the Muslim Brotherhood playing a significant role in Egypt?
GIBBS: Again, obviously, we — as I said, we have significant disagreements with — with — we have not been in contact with the Muslim Brotherhood.
But, again, we don’t — the United States doesn’t pick leaders of other countries.
I’m not talking about picking them, but would you be comfortable if they became — took on a leadership role?
GIBBS: Look, we have said in other countries in the world that becoming part of — you have responsibilities if you become part of the government to adhere to the agreements that that government has laid out, to adhere to the rule of law and to the constitution and to adhere to non-violence.
So, obviously, we have — we have many disagreements with the rhetoric of some of the leaders in that — in that organization. …
QUESTION: And you said definitively there’s been no American government contact with the Muslim Brotherhood. Last week you, sort of, left it open that we were reaching out to a broad section, so we — last week we reached out to everybody except the Muslim Brotherhood?
GIBBS: Well, no, no, what I was describing was…
GIBBS: … was some of what I was talking about earlier, which is we have fairly regular and robust discussions with a lot of different people in — in Egypt.
Again, the last time I was — I talked about this, we had — we had not conversations with them.
QUESTION: And — but that you wouldn’t rule it out, that there would be some outreach and some embassy-level, potentially…
GIBBS: Well, again, I think there is a responsibility, as I said earlier, for those that want to have responsibility in governing, that they have to do — they have to do several things. And democracy is a commitment to something larger than themselves.
QUESTION: Who did the president call last night after the Super Bowl?

Mr. Gibbs is not, of course, known for his incisiveness. But the sort of inarticulateness we see here can only be ascribed to his boss’s incoherent policies.

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