Friday, February 11, 2011

Hosni Mubarak Saves Face

When the crisis in Egypt began I was confident of only one thing: that the Obama administration would mismanage it.

For a time it looked like I was wrong. Obama seemed to be the man in charge; his handlers made him look like he was actively engaged, even to the point of making him look like the man who was pulling the strings.

Since most people were dreaming of a quick and favorable resolution, with liberal democracy breaking out in Egypt, they were more than happy to accept this hopeful vision of presidential leadership.

Until yesterday, that is.

All of a sudden it seemed as though someone had pulled back the curtain. Now we saw that the Wizard of Oz was really a rather ordinary man pulling a bunch of levers. Obama was not going to turn everyone‘s dreams into reality.

Several important things happened yesterday.

First, Obama’s Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, announced at a Congressional hearing that the Muslim Brotherhood was “largely secular” and had “eschewed violence.“ Clapper made it sound like the Brotherhood served a benign social function while trying to participate in the political process.

Later, Clapper’s office retracted the statement, explaining that, of course, he knew that a group calling itself the Muslim Brotherhood was a religious organization.

Everyone else knows that the Muslim Brotherhood is an umbrella organization that foments terrorism, that murdered Anwar Sadat, that has supported al Qaeda, that gave rise to Hamas, and that was banned from participating in the political process. It's good works are merely a cover for its Islamist aspirations.

After all, Hamas and Hezbollah do a lot of good works; they provide public assistance and run schools. This does not mean that we should be whitewashing their terrorist activities.

Clapper’s mistake matters because, in the context of administration policy, it does not appear to be a mistake. If your life depended on your reading of administration policy, would you assume that Clapper misspoke in a prepared statement or that he was trying to throw the administration’s support behind the Muslim Brotherhood?

The Obama administration had already been doing its best to legitimize the Muslim Brotherhood, the better to pave their way into a power sharing arrangement.

Obama had invited representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood to his Cairo speech, and had established contact with them.

Also yesterday, at the same Congressional hearing where Clapper gave his blessing to the Muslim Brotherhood, CIA Director Panetta announced that there was a “strong likelihood” that Hosni Mubarak was about to resign from office.

Later reports suggest that our CIA Director had been duped by press reports. Or perhaps he was just mistaking his dreams for reality. Apparently, Panetta does not have his own top-secret intelligence sources.

And then, President Obama, unable to contain his pride any longer, announced that we should all keep an eye on Cairo, because there we could watch history in the making.

Clearly, he was trying to tell the world that it was about to see Barack Obama make history. He was the puppet master, the Wizard, who was pulling the strings. Now we were going to see the outcome of his smart diplomacy.

Last night, of course, we did. We heard that Hosni Mubarak had not gotten the message.

And therein lies a tale.

As you know, Mubarak chose to retain his title while handing the reins of government to his vice president, Omar Sulaiman.

Apparently, this would make him a figurehead, but he seemed to think it was better to be a figurehead than to lose face.

No one had expected that Mubarak would defy the wishes of the administration. Even the punditocracy was taken by surprise.

From Peggy Noonan to Tom Friedman pundits expressed their dismay and outrage: Mubarak had not read his lines correctly. Didn’t he know that he was playing a part in a great historical narrative, the one that Barack Obama had written, and that he, an American satrap, had to follow the script?

Hadn’t Mubarak heard Obama tell him to leave “now?” Why wasn’t he following the stage directions?

In truth, the person most responsible for Mubarak’s last attempt to cling to the trappings of authority was Obama himself.

Once Barack Obama instructed Mubarak to go, Mubarak could not leave without looking as though he was being pushed around by the America president. He would have lost face; he would have been humiliated.

In Mubarak’s words: “And I tell you here, as a head of state, I do not find any embarrassment at all in listening to the youth of my country, and to satisfying their demands. But the embarrassment would only lie in the fact — and I would never permit — is that I would listen to any sort of intervention that would come from outside, from the outside world, whatever the source is, whatever the intention behind them are.”

Or, as commenter Gray noted on this blog a couple of days ago, when you are trying to avoid conflict, you must always allow your opponent a face-saving exit.

Once Obama had shut that door, Mubarak could not do otherwise than to craft his own defiant face-saving exit. He relinquished power while retaining his title.

People whose expertise lies in the world of psychology have assumed that Mubarak defied the leader of the free world out of personal pique. His ego had gotten the better of him. He had gotten so wrapped up in his personal power that he was unwilling to let go of it, no matter what the consequences for Egypt?

The real question is: Did Mubarak just place himself on the wrong side of history? Or did he just show us that history does not follow a narrative script?

What difference could it possibly make for Mubarak to retain his title but not his power for the next six months? How much would it matter if it appeared that he had been run out of office by an unruly mob led by an American president?

Here the analysis becomes difficult and murky. Because there’s more to the face saving than ego gratification.

Humiliating Hosni Mubarak does not just involve a man named Hosni Mubarak. Given Mubarak’s military background, his loss of face would also make the Egyptian military look like a bunch of American stooges.

At a time when most thoughtful people believe that the Egyptian military is the only force that can maintain law and order and prevent the nation from descending into the kind of chaos that would lead to a power grab by the Muslim Brotherhood, it is perhaps not a good idea to discredit the Egyptian military while you are accrediting the Muslim Brotherhood.


Anonymous said...

TO: All
RE: Sooooo....

....Clapper says one thing about the Muslim Brotherhood to Congress and another thing from his office.

Tell me....

....when Clapper testified to Congress, was he under oath?

Sounds like perjury to me.


[The Truth will out....and this [mis]administration is NOT going to like it....]

Anonymous said...

TO: All
RE: And NOW....

....that Obama's ability to influence events in the world—as well as in the US—is on the wain, the Saudis diss him.

And this is all for the 'good' from the Muslim perspective. A weak US is not as effective in assisting Israel.


[Sibling rivalries are always the worst.]

Anonymous said...

TO: All
RE: Mubarak Has 'Resigned'?


Why am I reminded SO MUCH of what happened in Iran in 1979?

NOW....let's see who's 'on top' when the dust FINALLY 'settles'. My money is on the Muslim Brotherhood. THEN, watch what happens with the Suez Canal and the price of oil.


[May you live in 'interesting' times. -- Ancient Chinese curse]

P.S. I suspect the Chinese are laughing up their sleeves over all of this.

Anonymous said...

P.P.S. Meanwhile....

....back at the 'barn', i.e., the US, Obama keeps suppressing the development of more oil fields and the 'greens' keep resisting the development of ANY energy sources.

Anyone else here seeing something of a 'pattern of behavior'?

Stuart Schneiderman said...

First reports suggest that Mubarak was forced out by the Egyptian military. I suppose that that's better than looking like you were forced out by the Americans.

The key to the process was maintaining the credibility and reputation of the military.

As for the dancing in the streets and the cries that Egyptian youth have overthrown the tyrant and so on, I am with Chuck.

Perhaps if the military tightens its control over the country, things will remain stable. But if a new government contains representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood-- which seems very likely given the way the Obama administration has been playing to them-- I agree with Chuck, to the point that the situation might eventually start resembling Iran....

We are all thrilled for the students who believe that they have flexed their muscles. From there to liberal democracy is a very, very long ride. Especially since the founding principle of liberal democracy is that governments are not changed by riots in the streets. And to go from there to a free market economy is longer still.

Anonymous said...

TO: Dr. Schneiderman
RE: Speaking of the 'Shah in Iran' Similarities....

...the Shah fled Iran on 11 Feb, too.

Pushed out by a 'popular' uprising backed by Muslim extremists.

And I do believe the the 'military' of Iran held sway until the Muslim extremists could get their people into power.


[History repeats itself. That's one of the problems with History.]

Anonymous said...

Barry Rubin has a good article

Anonymous said...

TO: All
RE: Correction

The Shah of Iran did not leave on 11 Feb.

Rather, on 11 Feb the rebel forces overthrew the military regime government that the Shah had left in control of Iran after he fled the preceding January.

So, if history is going to repeat itself, we'll see something similar in Egypt within the next month or two.


P.S. Anyone want to place any bets?