They put a lighthouse in Alexandria for a reason. Once again, the White House finds itself wrecked upon Egypt’s jagged coast.
At first the plan appeared to be going well. While its public support for Vice President Omar Suleiman as Egypt’s transitional figure caused an reactive uproar, Washington must have relaxed, if only a little, when opposition groups began cycling through meetings with Suleiman and Prime Minister Ahmed Mohamed Shafik. With President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Secretaries Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates all hailing Suleiman’s transition - while calling for “concrete reforms” - the White House received a fortunate bounce when opposition members initially signaled their support.
Although this support stemmed from necessity rather than compatibility, it’s possible that the White House momentarily believed it had pulled the switch. It’s also possible that the Obama administration realized the futility of Suleiman from the beginning.
Mirroring the opposition's dilemma, the White House resorted to him due to a lack of options, and this unpreparedness has manifested throughout the ensuing days of Egypt’s political chaos. With street protesters denouncing those meeting with Suleiman for misrepresenting them, the Muslim Brotherhood and former IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei tested the government’s sincerity and walked away highly skeptical. Soon those who initially supported Suleiman such as Amr Hamzawy criticized the negotiations as hollow and opaque. With President Hosni Mubarak refusing to step down, it became unavoidably clear that negotiations on “Suleiman’s” terms would dead end.
As protesters continued to flood the streets, only to be harassed or beaten by Egyptian police, Suleiman then cast his own doubt on Egypt’s ability to transition into a democracy. Not with him in power.
Now the White House has been forced to denounce the latest embarrassment in U.S. policy. After previously condemning attacks on journalists and protesters without acknowledging the government’s overt role, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters on Tuesday, "The government has got to stop arresting protesters and journalists, harassment, beatings, detentions of reporters, of activists, of those involved in civil society.”
As for Suleiman himself, "Vice President Suleiman made some particularly unhelpful comments about Egypt not being ready for democracy... I don't think that in any way squares with what those seeking greater opportunity and freedom think is a timetable for progress."
Is that so?
Although this news leaked days ago, its sudden repetition in the U.S. and international media provides a suitable opportunity to post the actual WikiLeak that Suleiman is Israel and America’s inside man for “regime change.” Whether Mubarak fell fatally ill or a revolution tipped the country into a “transition,” Suleiman was expected to uphold the Egyptian elite, preserve U.S. and Israeli interests, and enable a friendly president to assume Mubarak’s vacuum. And the U.S. is fully clear of Suleiman's inclination for democracy.
Gibbs repeatedly invokes the disingenuous claim so often spouted by the White House: “I want to be clear. I speak for the President of the United States of America. We are not here to determine who leads Egypt and when they lead Egypt. That’s a - that is a problem that only Egyptians can solve.”
It’s become an accepted fact that the Obama administration’s reaction to Egypt is handcuffed by a lack of options. While this notion may present realism on its surface, it neglects the realistic demands of developing alternative policies. U.S. policy in the Middle East has been cast as pragmatic and realist by its proponents, believing the support of autocratic regimes trumps potential instability from "Islamic radicals." Egypt’s revolution is shining the real light on U.S. policy: an idealistic conception of the Middle East based on servitude and the status quo. A policy doomed to eventually crumble.
And officials within the Obama administration admit that no response was developed for Egypt's impending transition.
The real question is why U.S. policymakers believed so recently in Suleiman’s appointment, as this strategy is backfiring into a wall of new opposition protests. Did they really fail to anticipate another WikiLeak? Furthermore, the objective of securing Israel’s defense and maintaining the status quo in the Palestinian territories is also leaning towards counter-production. Suleiman’s opposition to Hamas is no secret to the group, but WikiLeaks notes that Suleiman wanted Hamas “isolated,” and thought Gaza should "go hungry but not starve.”
"We need to wake up in the morning with no news of terrorism, no explosions, and no news of more deaths,” he told U.S. diplomats - and they agreed to this counterproductive policy as well.
Thus Suleiman appears to confer few tangible, lasting advantages upon America and Israel. So much of their policy is predicated on Suleiman holding onto his transitional authority, yet his continuation of Mubarak's regime will ultimately destabilize the region just like the last years of Mubarak’s shaky rule. One can only argue that Mubarak provided temporary stability in the region, and he came with the price of greater instability in the end.
Suleiman, a pointless point-man, is especially similar to Mubarak in this regard.
"I think that the people that are expressing their desire for greater opportunity and freedom are going to continue to express that desire,” said Gibbs, “until the government takes the very concrete steps that I outlined a minute ago to address those concerns. And if they don't, then those protests will, I assume, continue."
At least he got one thing right. So why has everything else gone horribly wrong?